When you are immersed in the field of entertainment either for business reasons or cultural ones, it is very easy to overlook people who fly under the radar for getting ink, airwave or digital attention for their efforts, but on closer examination things would not succeed without them.
For my purposes I would like signal out just a few here on my periscope on the cultural side of things because of a timely nature.
I’m just down from the Catskill Mountains from the first harbinger of the summer season in East Durham, that being the 34th annual East Durham Irish Festival over the Memorial Day Weekend.
Shepherding it all those years has been its director, Tom McGoldrick, who has been a Catskill legend since his family ran one of its more popular resorts for many years, the Weldon House on Route 145 in the heart of the important and historic Irish American village.
Over that time he could write a book about the fortunes and misfortunes of the Irish American resort area, but he has organized this event for over three decades that draws thousands of people into town for the weekend and has put countless amounts cash into the coffers of the businesses and the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre rooted there helping to keep the Irish tradition alive.
Trying to set any attendance records in this economy is very tough, but there was great life around the hamlet all weekend with the houses full and hopeful for a good season. McGoldrick’s festival is still a very big draw and attraction when it can sport a reunion for one of the great Irish bands like the Whole Shabang as one of the weekend highlights.
The big resorts like Gavin’s, Shamrock House and the Blackthorne Resort all catered to their crowds and showed off new additions to their properties to stem the tide of a soft economy and the gradual decline of business in the region in general.
The Quill Centre also looks forward to opening up its own televised transmission of the weekly GAA games from Ireland now being shown in the former Irish American Heritage Museum building (2267 Route 145) which they own alongside their office at Tir na Og.
Thanks to the organization provided by volunteers Mike and Madge McGuire and Mary and Jimmy Gleeson, the games are shown once again this season. You can be sure there will be a cead mile failte and cuppan tae and coffee for all those who come.
And thanks to Andy Cooney, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan has agreed to share his rather large stature and voice in a fundraising effort for the Quill Centre on Saturday, July 23 on their Festival Grounds. Tynan has no trouble garnering publicity, and Cooney has worked very hard to keep East Durham as an entertainment destination despite his own very busy tour and performing schedule. For more information call the Quill Centre at 518-634-2286. They can also share information about the 17th Annual Catskills Irish Arts Week (www.catskillsirishartsweek.org).
Moving back into New York City, I would like to salute Robert Browning, 70, of the World Music Institute (WMI) who is retiring from his demanding job as executive director of the bastion of multicultural programming and concerts in the Big Apple.
For many years some of the finest concerts presenting Celtic folk music in venues big and small -- most notably in recent years at the Peter Norton Theatre at Symphony Space -- were under the auspices of Browning and his wife Helene and the WMI.
That was only a small part of the universe they gave voice to in a city with many choices and ethnic cultures, but so many Irish and Scottish performers were given a wider audience and exposure through their professional efforts down through the years. We wish them a great retirement which I am sure won’t take them too far away from the music which was their passion at the WMI.
Another cultural icon in the folk song world is the venerable Dan Milner, who has had as storied a career as many of the colorful songs he inhabits while performing.
Dan was an important denizen of the Eagle Tavern days on West 14th Street where Irish folk song and music had a welcome home for many years as the revival progressed in the in the 1970s and 1980s and recently at the South Street Seaport. He is well known as a singer and collector in his native England, Scotland and Ireland.
A master of the descriptive and literary ballad tradition, especially from the British Isles and its American descendants, he comes to the Irish Arts Center this coming Saturday, June 4 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Using a lecture and workshop format titled “Finding Your Own Voice in Traditional Song,” he explores the heart and soul of Irish traditional songs and how they migrated with the Diaspora and their impact.
If you are already a singer in public or a singer at heart and would like to learn how to develop your craft and sensibility for choosing songs that suit you or the occasion, then Milner is your man on this day.
The workshop comes on the heels of another timely CD launch on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (www.folkways.si.edu) by Milner (with David Coffin and Jeff Davis) entitled Civil War Naval Songs which carries a lot of history in song and verse (also through an insightful booklet enclosed in the CD) in this the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. To register for the class call 212-757-3318, ext. 209 or email [email protected]
Milner will also join buddies Len Graham and Robbie O’Connell as part of the singing tutors at the Catskills Irish Arts Week this summer along with Mary Staunton.
As it happens there are also master classes in guitar and banjo that day that other may want to avail of. Corkman Patsy O’Brien is in town from his home in Minnesota and will be doing beginning and intermediate level guitar workshops, while Irish Arts Center tutor Pio Ryan is doing banjo classes. Again Rachael is the person to contact.
And speaking of Patsy O’Brien, he joins another wingman in fiddler Matty Mancuso from Brooklyn, both of whom work as accompanists for singer/songwriter Cathie Ryan when she tours the U.S.
The sidemen move center stage for their own concert this week on Thursday at Paddy Reilly’s on Second Avenue and 29th Street in New York at 8 p.m.
While Ryan is usually the featured attraction while on tour, it is imperative for her to have two reliable and very accomplished musicians working and traveling with her over here when she comes from Ireland to perform.
Both have a wide realm of experience in Irish music, contemporary and jazz which round out her show and allow her to concentrate on her role as singer and percussionist.
The boyos took some time to record a CD together called Road Work last time Patsy was killing time around New York to sell as they tour and give themselves a bit of limelight. They have planned a CD escape party rather than a release party for the Paddy Reilly gig.
Finally, a couple of new CDs came into my hands in the past week from Jameson’s Revenge (While Yer Up) and Girsa (A Sweeter Place).
At first blush they are very impressive recordings showing a lot of originality in both old and new material. Jameson’s Revenge has distilled into a fine quartet featuring Dennis (fiddle) and Brian (percussion) O’Brien, Andrew McCarrick (flute, whistles and vocals) and John Walsh (guitar and vocals) usually found tearing it up around Woodlawn at the Rambling House and the Catskills.
Girsa features eight young college students (with two recent college graduates in Maeve Flanagan and Deirdre Brennan) who have made great strides between their first and second CDs. All the CDs are available at CD Baby or at gigs.
You can see both groups at Connolly’s Pub in Times Square on Saturday, June 11 at the official Jameson’s Revenge CD release party. Be there in the Square for some great live music and fun with two wonderful ensembles where anything could happen.