The month of April now drawing to a close had so many wonderful trad music events happening that I had to double-check the diary to make sure that March and the St. Patrick’s season hadn’t overstayed its place in the calendar.
After a quiet Easter weekend the pace quickened starting with the Comhaltas Parsippany convention, closely followed by a marathon weekend of six events finally closed out by a sublime late Sunday early evening soiree in Mineola.
Couldn’t do justice to them all in this space, so I was looking for the common thread when the quote above from musician Donahue was posted online in a reply to James Keane’s comment about the very enjoyable fireside session at the Mineola Irish American Center this past Sunday.
The spontaneous phrase jumped out at me as more inspiring than a litany of who played what with whom and when and where. Certainly it was all the people and their passion who turned out for traditional Irish music that was the common bond among the listeners and dancers and musicians playing for their delight.
Last week’s column dealt with the factual details of the recent CCE gathering at the Parsippany Hilton over four days. But the email and personal comments that continue to flow in to the local organizers paint an astonishing picture of how healthy the local music scene is, and what a magnet it is attracting folks from thousands of miles away to come and share in it.
Perhaps the iconic box player from Peterswell, Co. Galway, Joe Cooley, who at death’s door was recorded saying that “Irish music is the only thing that brings people to their senses” was onto something there.
Over 20 members of the San Francisco CCE branch, the Cooley-Keegan Branch named in his honor, and his fellow Galwegian box player Kevin Keegan arrived into Parsippany for five days to enjoy the craic and the Comhaltas community. They returned renewed enough to assure that they would keep that tradition very much alive on the West Coast.
The following weekend held many choices unusually for an April weekend, and try as I might I could only attend five of the six concerts (one was in Albany, you understand).
I missed a Drew University Concert hosted by Mick Moloney and Earle Hitcher, but 400 other people did not and were treated to a great concert.
That same night the Irish Arts Center opened its public concert series to allow the public to peer in on the week-long collaboration between the trad duo of Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill meeting classical violinist Gregory Harrington.
Thanks to the stunning success of two earlier versions (Paul Brady and Sarah Siskind and Andy Irvine and John Doyle) anticipation and expectations were high as well as ticket demand.
My own take is that while the opening performances was technically very good, it was lacking something that prevented it from being a groundbreaking tour-de-force that I had hoped to see. Perhaps it was by the last show on Sunday night as the artists may have jelled a little more and evidenced a bit more passion, particularly in Harrington’s case as the jet-lag from his recent China trip wore off.
Granted that Hayes and Cahill had the decided advantage in performing previously the central piece of the show, composer David Flynn’s Music for the Departed suite that they debuted at the Masters of Tradition Weekend organized by Hayes a couple of years ago.
Blending traditional and classical music, Flynn’s score evoked different emotions after the death of a loved one. It seemed to me that the traditional voice was stronger in conveying the earnest feeling that went into it. Others may view it differently.
Douglas native Donie Carroll launched his new CD Down the Slippery Gap the same night at Glucksman Ireland House, and so long was the coterie of performers along to celebrate that I was able to catch most of the second set. With such great friends in the audience and performing with the popular Corkman, it ended just after midnight.
On Saturday night, April 17, the last house concert of the season for a new series in the Albany home of Jimmy and Anne Kelly was a very attractive draw. It featured long-time friends of the couple with whom ceili drummer extraordinaire Jimmy Kelly often played in the Catskills, fiddler Pat Keogh, accordion player Billy McComiskey accompanied by Brendan Dolan on keyboard.
Pat Keogh, who trained with Pete Kelly and closely followed Andy McGann, is a seldom seen and regrettably seldom heard fiddler who also is a fashion plate with his custom made suits that are as flashy as his fiddling.
McComiskey revels in opportunities to play with Keogh as it reminds him of the many legendary nights and people in the bar at Erin’s Melody adjoining the resort Keogh’s cottages owned by Pat’s parents in East Durham.
The music was spectacular and singular for the occasion but the setting was even more amazing. The Kelly’s finished basement, a shrine to Irish music down through the years, was packed to overflowing with an attentive and fun-loving crowd of friends, neighbors and music aficionados.
A new and important tradition has begun now in the Kelly basement -- no, make that Kelly’s Hall of Fame -- as they pick the crème of the crop to entertain in the one of a kind household. Talk about a Teach Cheoil as a house of music with passion a plenty!
Greenwich Village’s folk music links are well established, and it has also been a very fertile beachhead for Irish traditional music thanks to the Clancy Brothers and the Eagle Tavern in days past and new venues today.
Hobnobbing on a busy Sunday evening, my first stop was to the spacious Brass Monkey Pub underneath the beginnings of the new Highline Park where an early Sunday evening session takes place.
Anchored by Eamon O’Leary and Dana Lyn, this day Rose Flanagan and John Creaven came a visiting from Pearl River, and banjoist John Walsh from Alaska was in town for a trade show as well. Bodhranista Tom English and family were also on hand.
Great tunes and grub and a good start to a foray across town and below Houston Street for the Grainne Murphy CD release party at Arlene’s Grocery. In convincing fashion for four hours, Grainne led and hosted a bevy of talented young musicians like Isaac Alderson, Dana Lyn, Deirdre Corrigan, Anna Colliton, Alan Murray and others who fuel many of the great New York City sessions weekly exhibiting all the fire and gra for the chunes and talent galore that also included volcano refugee Nuala Kennedy.
All that talent couldn’t be held in check either at one place, so a musical pilgrimage uptown to the East Village Sunday night redoubt, the 11th St. Bar was in order, where its session was already in full swing thanks to session master Tony Demarco and friends like the previously mentioned Eamon O’Leary who easily absorbed the new wave of the future.
The lure of the bright lights of New York and the talented Lunasa at the Highline Ballroom on Monday assured me of another good night made great by sitting at the same table as the charming and talented Pearl River musicians and teachers, Rose Flanagan and Margie Mulvihill out for a well-deserved night of listening to great music.
The past Sunday was a more subdued occasion but no less heartfelt as James Keane and Sean Quinn teamed up for a great little fireside chat and musical display that simply doesn’t happen often enough either in our Irish cultural centers, Comhaltas monthly meetings or other musical get-togethers.
Fair play to the Mulligan Quinn CCE branch in hosting this wonderful night at their home base in Mineola and putting the spotlight on dedicated musicians like this and their music. As great as the music is, it shouldn’t drown out the conversation that takes place all around it because that is its lifeblood and where the longest and deepest friendships and memories are made as Sean and James reminded us all evening.
Once again I was in good company, seated at the table with Gabriel Donahue’s mother Mary visiting from Athenry in Galway and his brother Rich and his friend Ana.
Gabe is one of those unsung heroes (at least on Sunday as he yielded the vocals to guest Mattie Connolly) who as a performer, producer and accompanist of the highest order shares his many gifts with the Irish music community. His mother was delighted to witness such a great session beaming with pride and enthusiasm.
No matter where the Irish roam, they are always at home where there is Irish music and the friendship that goes with it.