Gearing Up for rock and reel East Durham

In a month’s time cars from all over the country and nearby Canada will roll into a sleepy hamlet called East Durham in upstate New York ready to rock and reel at one of the U.S.’s most respected summer schools where traditional Irish music and dance are king.

Whether it is simply an annual retreat to learn and improve through the classes offered by one of the most accomplished teaching staffs assembled anywhere, or a “staycation” for many who can’t afford the luxury of going abroad to Ireland this year, visitors will relish a 24/7 environ devoted to this music.

This summer projects as one of the most prolific in years, with a wide array of fresh material from some of the veteran staffers who have made this one of the most popular gatherings for the hard core trad community either side of the pond.

Here are some highlights to look forward to. I am also the artistic director for the 16th annual Catskills Irish Arts Week taking place all around the Irish American resort area from July 11-17 in a variety of venues and settings conducive to creating an Irish village atmosphere for the week.
The school is known for a strong focus on the role of Irish America in propagating and preserving traditional Irish music, whether that is through the prism of the past going back to Captain Francis O’Neill, or right down to the present day where history is made anew there.

If O’Neill made Chicago famous at the beginning of the 20th century for capturing the wealth of Irish tunes in existence and publishing them, South Side fiddler Liz Carroll has kept it in the forefront into the 21st century. This summer she will launch her long-anticipated publication of a book containing most of her compositions which are played around the world now in concerts and sessions.

Also newly minted will be a CD from a group who called themselves NicGaviskey, comprising sisters Bernadette and Caitlin Nic Gabhann from Meath, Sean McComiskey from Baltimore and Sean Gavin from Detroit. The foursome met coincidentally at an early morning session in Furlongs Pub on the week’s final night last year with immediate musical sparks and social simpatico based on common backgrounds though different geography.

Out of that grew a friendship, and two recording sessions in Baltimore and Miltown Malbay that will be marked with the release of their new CD as a symbol of the cultural crossroads and connections made in the Catskills.

Also on the launching pads are new recordings from some of the Ireland-based artists who have touted the Catskills Irish Arts Week as one of the finest gatherings for traditional music in their experience.

In fact, the joint appearances for the past seven years of box player Jackie Daly and fiddler Matt Cranitch have allowed us to feature the music of Sliabh Luachra at its finest (abetted by guitarist Paul deGrae) each summer and it inspired them to record a new CD together with Arts Council support that will be launched here that week.

The marvelous Kane Sisters from Dawros in Letterfrack, Co. Galway will celebrate five years now in the Catskills performing and releasing their new recording Side by Side.

And also summering for the fifth time in New York is the concertina player-extraordinaire Edel Fox with a new CD on the way as well. Her Clare neighbor piper Blackie O’Connell has a new CD (with Hugh Healy) already launched in the Banner County and ready for East Durham.

Harpist Laoise Kelly may be making her first visit to the Catskills, but she is coming with a new CD, Ceis, in hand for maximum impact. And veteran fiddler and producer, Antoin Mac Gabhann will do a U.S. release for his commemorative double CD for Eddie Clarke, one of Ireland’s most important mouth organists from Cavan who passed away last year.

The Yanks’ side of the roster has not been slacking off either, as flute players Laura Byrne from Baltimore and Frank Claudy from Iowa, two long-time staffers, are working hard to reach the finish line on independent products, with Claudy’s recorded in Ireland with Paul deGrae and dancer Padraig O’Dea onboard.

Jerry O’Sullivan is hustling to release his second recording of O’Farrell piping tunes in time, and piping mate Michael Cooney from Lake Placid by way of Tipperary already released a new CD earlier in the year called Just Piping available via download at CD Baby.

Not to be forgotten is Aoife Clancy of the famed family who launched Irish music on a wider commercial plane. She is part of a new recording out earlier in the year called the Clancy Legacy with cousins Robbie O’Connell and Donal Clancy. That trio was formulated in the Catskills some years ago during an arts week sojourn together.

With fingers crossed, we hope the recording made by the late Joe Madden and his daughter Joanie in June of 2008 at Charlie Lennon’s Cuan studios in Spiddal emerges in time to help mark the 25th year of Cherish the Ladies which will be celebrated in true Catskills style on the Friday close to the summer school week.

Visit www.irishvillageusa.com or phone 518-634-2286 for more details via the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre in East Durham, or email irishartsweek@gmail.com.

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