Sessions in the Catskills

 Ivan Goff, Matt Mancuso, Blackie O’Connell and Isaac Alderson,  5:30 at Blackthornes

How It’s New York:  They do call us the city that never sleeps.
How It’s Irish:  The music is Irish, and it’s all part of Catskills Irish Arts Week.  And of course many of the players and teachers are Irish and over just for this.

One of the things that makes Catskills Irish Arts Week special are the sessions, which start at 10 and go on until … well some of them were still going on when I left Saturday night.  There are many teaching weeks around, and some that specialize in Celtic music too.  And there would be sessions at all of them.  I had a wonderful time when I was at Swannanoa Celtic Week some years ago (it conflicts during CIAW so you can’t really do both), there in North Carolina.  I dimly recall a bottle of Bushmills and a very late singing session with Scottish singer Jim Malcolm.
But the shambolic nature of the late nights in the Catskills are like nothing else.  Anybody who plays trad at all around here hops up there if not for the week than at least for a day.  It’s at the Sessions where people cut loose, tell jokes, connect. 
Part of the fun is the Dim Sum choice of it all:  there are sessions from 4-5, which is the same time that the lectures take place (Jesse Smith gave a riveting talk on Michael Coleman– more later!).  Then following the nightly concert at the Michael J. Quill Centre, there are structured sessions all over town.  Some are Intermediate Sessions, some are Listening Rooms (but chamber music quiet they are NOT); some are Open Sessions.    Don’t lose the blue sheet with grids on both sides that artistic director Paul Keating made up!  (well, you can lose it and pick up another at your hotel, or at Lawyer’s General Store, but you always want one with you!) You always tell yourself you’ll hit two or three but  how to tear yourself away, when you’re at McGrath‘s, and Maeve Donnelly, Billy McComiskey, Charlie Harris, Gabriel Donahue, Blackie O’Connell and Brendan Dolen are wailing and the mood is alive?  You can’t! As you park your car and feel dew  (Dew!  said Lucy.  Dew!  Blissed out, after months in the Village) on your feet, and look up at the bright stars (so much brighter than in the city), you hear the tunes coming from inside.  Will this be the place you stop for an hour or two?  Who’s in there?  
Pics and video after the jump!

Many of the pubs have a 70s era feel to them; there’s something sweet about it.  The Saloon and the Stone Castle Inn are newly remodelled and gorgeous.  Stack‘s has a Kerry flag hanging. It all combines to make you feel like you’ve stepped out of time. 
Matt Mancuso, Shannon and Matt Heaton at Stacks
I went to the Hollowbrook Inn  in Greenville on Thursday night, after Máirtín de Cógáin said “where are you sessioning tonight?”  It was a ways out, so I thought I’d support him.  Got there only to find Ivan Goff standing outside, warning me I’d never find a chair!  But a barstool had my name on it, and inside it was packed.  Willie Kelly, Patrick Ourceau, Mat Mancuso and Iris Nevins, along with Máirtín, were slated; but also playing with them were Tom Dunne, Maeve Donnelly. Ivan and I’m sure I’m forgetting others.  Amy Beshara came in for a bit.  Ceilis are going on at the same time as the sessions; I only made it to the Sliabh Lucra crack on Saturday at the end, but it was a dance band from heaven:  Jackie Daly, Conal O’Grada, Matt Cranitch and Paul deGrae.  I spotted Sean Nós dancers Kieran Jordan and Megan Downes on the floor.

And when the sessions finish, people descend on Blackthornes, where there are sessions inside and sessions in the back, in and out of tents, and a late ngiht grill.  There too you hardly know where to look– over there by a picnic table might be Conal Ó Gráda and Don Meade, at the back might be Matt Cranitch and Paul de Grae, and Friday night Ivan Goff and Blackie O’Connell played duelling pipes until it was more than light.  Padraig Rynne made me take some video with my camera and I include it here– the audio’s great and the silliness of the cameras going off and people posing represents the wild joy of the week.  That’s Eileen Gannon mugging in the video at the end.
Friday night, Lucy Healy-Kelly and I didn’t leave Blackthornes until 8:30.  We couldn’t get into our room (another story), but we were not the last to leave.  Joanie Madden was still at the bar, and  Jimmy Kelly, who told me he’s writing a musical. 

Nobody wants to go home.

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Copyright 2011 New York Irish Arts