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Masters of tradition back for more

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Martin Hayes

Though I have never been to the hilltop farm on the Maghera mountain belonging to the Hayes family, it must be a mighty vantage point yielding perspective and leadership that allows them to see far beyond its horizon.

The father P. Joe Hayes was a founding member of Clare’s fabled Tulla Ceili Band who established a regular toe-hold in the great ceili band wars of the 1950s, and even appeared at Carnegie Hall in 1958.  He led the band for 50 years and toured all over Ireland and the U.S. until his death in 2001.

His son Pat Hayes followed his father, running the family farm. He is also a county councilor, having just wrapped up a week long visit to New York as the current mayor of Clare trying to stoke business investment back in the Banner County.

Martin Hayes shared his father’s love of the fiddle and passion for playing, but wanderlust would take him far from Maghera back in 1984 when Chicago beckoned.  It seemed like his magical, mystical musical adventure was only just beginning.

Traditional music was still in his heart, but making a living from it proved difficult over here. Experimentation and paying gigs in a rock and roll band called Midnight Court became a fortuitous choice for him because he first met Denis Cahill there in Chicago.
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They became friends and later formed one of the more extraordinary and successful duets almost 20 years ago. They still have a popular following and high recognition in the performing arts arena. 

Accolades and attention have come Martin Hayes’s way, especially in recent years when TG4 acknowledged him as Traditional Musician of the Year followed shortly after that by a civic reception in Clare as a music ambassador around the world.

But for those who have followed him and his career over the years, the unassuming artist with the long-black curly hair never really feels comfortable with the spotlight on him, but he would prefer it to be about the music.

Thankfully he is very thoughtful and reflective about his native music and the musicians that he shares it with, and he is a keen observer of what other musicians are doing at all times.

So it is no surprise that everywhere you turn these days, Martin Hayes has his hands in another collaborative project with top musicians who share his craft and intensity and love for traditional music.  It seems like every chance encounter or shared bill at a festival or summer school has potential. 

Along with Cahill, whom he still enjoys playing with, he has toured with Kevin Crawford and John Doyle as the Teetotalers, and as Triur with Peadar O Riada and Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, and also the Gloaming with Iarla O’Lionaird, Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh, Cahill and Thomas Barlett.

One of Hayes’s primary laboratories is his own Masters of Tradition Festival held in the second week of August in Bantry, Co. Cork organized for the classical music organization West Cork Music (www.westcorkmusic.ie). 

As artistic director he indulges himself in choosing the artists who will perform there every year, confident that his choices will readily take on the challenge of producing wonderful straightforward traditional music worthy of such an august manor house like Bantry House.

Imposed strictures or guidelines are wholly unnecessary because we are dealing with the cream of the crop here, and it is a privilege to be asked to play there in Bantry. 

In fact, one such gathering including O’Lionaird , Mairtin O’Connor, Cathal Hayden, Seamie O’Dowd, David Power and Cahill which lived up to the billing as Masters of Tradition helped draw interest down under in Australia.

With the help of Culture Ireland, they were able to bring the essence of the Masters of Tradition Festival to the Sydney Opera House in 2009 and to showcase it in January 2011 at Lincoln Center to mark the opening of the Imagine Ireland 2011 campaign. 

Those seeds produced the first U.S. tour for the concept, and the artists featuring the greatest contemporary sean nos singer O Lionaird from Cuil Aodha, uilleann piper Power from Waterford, and the dynamite trio of O’Connor, the Galway accordion genius, Hayden on fiddle (Tyrone) and O’Dowd on guitar and vocals (Sligo) anchored by Hayes and Cahill as an ensemble not to be missed.

In a phone interview, Hayes described what people can expect to see and hear.

“We will give you a broad picture of traditional Irish music at its core, almost an evolution of it, while giving a broader picture of the possibilities within it,” he said.

Their first stop is New York on April 13 at 8 p.m. at Symphony Space sponsored by the Irish Arts Center (www.irishartscenter.org). On April 14, they travel to Boston for a show at the Somerville Theater (www.worldmusic.org) and April 15 down in Philadelphia at the Annenberg Center (www.pennpresents.org/tickets), winding up their East Coast swing in Alexandria, Virginia on April 16 at the Birchmere Music Hall (www.birchmere.com). 

The final two dates are in Olympia, Washington and Denver, Colorado. Visit www.martinhayes.com.

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