Concert Report: Black Brothers lead Bay Area St Patrick’s Day music Festivities

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Shay and Michael Black with fiddler Bobbi Nikles
How It’s New York:  Many of the players there come here, and vice versa.
How It’s Irish:  March is the Irish musician’s season!  Check out the bounty the Bay Area got this year!

Tom Clancy brings San Francisco’s St. Patrick’s Day to New York in his post! A report on the Black Brothers in concert and a mouth-watering list of all the traditional players serenading California this month!

The Black Brothers annual St Patrick’s Day engagement at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley is the highlight for many Irish music fans. This has been ongoing now for longer than Shay and Michael (and many of the regular attendees) can remember. It’s always a vocal extravaganza: many songs feature what Shay calls, “…big fat choruses,” that require audience participation.

Their repertoire ranges widely over Dublin street songs, music hall favorites, contemporary songwriters and Irish, English and Scottish ballads with death, tragedy, betrayals and broken hearts -samplings from the Jerry Springer Book of Ballads, as Shay describes it.

He is one of the most polished raconteurs among current Irish performers with a lovely line in good-natured irreverence. His endless fount of stories, deadpan remarks, and jokes are always fun like this conundrum overheard in a pub on Rathlin Island: 

“Why do scuba divers fall out of the boat backwards? 

 Because, if they fell forward, they’d still be in the boat.”


Their regular band for a number of years includes Bobbi Nikles on fiddle, Myra Joy on cello and Bryan Seet on piano, all very accomplished musicians in their own right. Nikles runs the highly-regarded Fiddlekids program each year at the Freight.

Highlights of the night were the perennial showstopper, We for one Another, sung by Shay; The Willow Tree, sung by Michael; Stan Kelly Bootle’s ethnographic classic, Liverpool Town, sung a capella, and a revival of the Barack O’Bama song just in time for the presidential election.

The Freight is usually ground central for Irish music March madness. Irish-American supergroup Solas played on March 16. Earlier in the month squeezebox virtuosos the Munnelly Brothers played there and Melanie O’Reilly, the under-appreciated Celtic jazz chanteuse, appeared.


Wake the Dead

But all the music action was not at the bigger venues. Karan Casey and John Doyle played at at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz and in San Francisco before the big day. Molly’s Revenge members John Weed and Stu Mason got together with singer Colleen Raney, uilleann piper Zac Leger and the Rosemary Turco Irish Dancers to perform at Don Quixote’s in Felton, CA.
 Local legends, The Gasmen, played on March 17 at the Fairfax Brewfest, inthe picturesque Marin County town that was the site for a first ever Irish Music Festival in 2011.
Wake the Dead, a collection of Northern California’s finest acoustic musicians who put a Celtic spin on the songs of the Grateful Dead, performed at the Turf Club at the Monterey County Fairgrounds on St Patrick’s Day.

And the music isn’t over yet. Dervish, the enduringly great Sligo band appeared at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz on Wednesday, March 21 and also plays at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center on March 24.

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Copyright 2012 New York Irish Arts
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