Gabriel Byrne - one of the performers at 'Other Voice - New York'

The hottest ticket in town last week was for the two-day engagement of “Other Voices -- New York City” which was another gift sent our way by Imagine Ireland 2011 gracing us this year courtesy of Culture Ireland.

The riveting stage performance blending a stellar array of musical and literary stars on both sides of the ocean took place at the Greenwich Village emporium Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street, and if it conjured up images of the earlier eras of literary and musical domination from the trendy artistic neighborhood in lower Manhattan, well that was a happy coincidence.

It actually was a visitation of a television series called Other Voices ( running in Ireland for the past decade filmed down in St. James’ Church in Dingle and produced by South Wind Blows under the direction of videographer and musician Philip King. 

The show brings together prominent musicians and writers from America and Ireland from a younger generational point of view, and conducts an exchange that reinforces the bardic tradition in Ireland.

King, along with musicians Thomas Barlett and Glen Hansard and novelist Roddy Doyle, cooked up the concept and recruited the sensational talent lineup who took to the stage last week all to benefit Fighting Words, the Dublin creative writing center founded by Doyle and Sean Love back in 2009 to reach out to Dubliners to express themselves through writing through free programs and tutoring.

The Thursday night show squeezed in 400 people in the large subterranean room with only about half that number able to secure seats for what turned into a masterful and varied three and half hour show, nimbly mixing the musical talent with the giants of Irish literature taking part like Paul Muldoon, Joseph O’Connor and Colum McCann. 
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Even Ireland’s cultural ambassador to the U.S. actor Gabriel Byrne delighted the crowd with an autobiographical and hysterical reading about his fledgling days as a young actor in Hollywood trying to find work.

Muldoon read his poem “Bob Dylan at Princeton, November 2000” and McCann read from Ulysses and more poignantly from his own work Fishing for Sons dealing with the family separation due to immigration very much in vogue once again in Ireland. 

O’Connor read from Redemption Falls and another work extolling New York in many vivid verses and images.

The musical muse was as dazzling as it was varied and indicative of the multiple influences that Hansard and pianist and arranger Barlett circulate in their own careers. 

New Englanders Barlett and Sam Amidon have a very familiar following in trad circles as well, and the appearance of Martin Hayes, Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh and Iarla O’Lionaird was no accident as Bartlett shares membership with them and Dennis Cahill in the new performance troupe the Gloaming set to appear in January in New York as part of Globalfest.  

Amidon is also an amazingly versatile performer on fiddle and guitar and a vocalist, especially when he paired up with the dynamic special guest Martha Wainwright for a cover of “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” a song written by her mother the late Kate McGarrigle.

Hayes stood out for his spotlight segment with Bartlett and O’Raghallaigh, illustrating that though the pure drop may come from the well of tradition but it just as capable of innovation as any other art form.

The evening was described at the outset as a seisuin (or session as bearla) by Byrne to describe the informal way the entertainment would flow and King would allow from his “Other Voices” and Dingle perspective. 

This night was a solid testimony to the many stranded cross connections between Ireland and America and the ties that bind.   Many of the performances have been downloaded to YouTube so you might take a gander at the Other Voices excerpts for a flavor of the production.

Here's Glen Hansard performing "It's Coming":

And here's Martha Wainwright performing "The Minstrel Boy":