Tony DeMarco

You have to go back to the eighties in New York City to see the revival of traditional music on festival stages around New York as it seemed to lag behind places like Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia in recognizing the grand old masters to be found in the metropolitan area and the blossoming Irish American generation of musicians they were spawning. 

Most notably through the Snug Harbor Irish Traditional Music Festivals out in Staten Island organized by folklorist Becky Miller for the Irish Arts Center, there were memorable performances from Jack Coen, Mike Rafferty, Martin Mulvihill, Mike Preston, Paddy Reynolds, Andy McGann, Joe Madden, Mattie Connolly and other old time masters. 

Interspersed were the up and coming touring bands from Ireland like Altan and Arcady and young musicians like Maureen Glynn, Joanie Madden, Eileen Ivers, Brian Conway, Tony DeMarco, Linda Hickman, Billy McComiskey and Jerry O’Sullivan and many others who all claimed New York as home base.

That series ran its course as did the funding, and some of that momentum moved up to the Catskills for an annual festival that became the Catskills Irish Arts Week.  But New York City itself was left bereft of a significant trad festival which is very odd given the number of very talented and committed musicians who call the metropolitan area their home. 

Brooklyn’s own Irish-Italian American fiddler DeMarco is on a mission to change that and has ambitious plans in the works for October in the Big Apple.

The veteran fiddler is a fixture not only in the local Irish session scene (11th Street Bar on Sundays, Dead Rabbit on Mondays and Swift’s on Tuesdays) but also in the lineage of New York fiddlers associated with the Sligo style going back to Michael Coleman since DeMarco first encountered Paddy Reynolds on a park bench in Brooklyn who took him onboard for lessons.

Rather than think about a larger festival on grounds that require more logistics and funding and are often held hostage to the weather, DeMarco thought more along the lines of smaller music festivals that you find in Ireland and elsewhere in venues that already cater to Irish traditional music.  

He has earmarked the weekend of October 19 and 20 for the first annual New York Trad Fest that will feature local masters in the Irish scene and also the bluegrass and old-timey spheres.

Musicians and dancers already slated to participate are Brian Conway and Brendan Dolan, Eileen Ivers and Gregg Anderson, bluegrassers Kenny Kosek, Tony Trishka and Andy Statman, old-timey musicians Allan Kaufman and Mark Horowitz  James Keane, John Nolan, Jerry O'Sullivan, Ivan Goff, Cillian Vallely, Anna Colliton, Matty Mancuso, Siobhan Butler, Kieran Jordan, Megan Downes  Donie Carroll, and a new generation of New York trad players -- Jayne and Bram Pomplas and Maeve Flanagan.  And, of course, DeMarco himself will play too.  Others may be added as venues and interest suggest.

Venues like Connolly’s on 45th Street near Times Square will be the centerpiece, with Mick Moloney and Brian Holleran offering a masters of tradition lecture about the New York legends in music followed by the premiere concert offering on Saturday the 19th . 

Look for involvement at the 11th Street Bar, the Brass Monkey, Swift’s and more possibilities as plans evolve.

DeMarco is working in conjunction with Glucksman Ireland House and also CITYLORE adding valuable cultural sponsorship to the program, and is seeking more support from the local New York community.

In that vein he has organized a fundraiser ceili at the New York Irish Center on Saturday, August 3 at 8 p.m. in revivalist fashion, unveiling the New New York Ceili Band featuring himself, Brian Conway, Ivan Goff, John Nolan, Brendan Dolan and Jimmy Kelly Sr. as the night’s musical attraction. 

It is a throwback to the mighty ceili band assembled back in 1960 to represent New York in the All-Ireland senior ceili band competition held in Boyle, Co. Roscommon taken from the cream of the crop around town back then. It included the late Felix Dolan, father of Brendan and the last surviving member of that august ensemble.

Along with a donation there will be raffle prizes to help raise some funds in advance to cover promotion of the festival going forward.  The New York Irish Center is located at 10-40 Jackson Avenue in Long Island City.

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