The Mayor’s St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast

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How It’s New York:  What could be more New York than breakfast with the mayor at Gracie Mansion?  And Dan Neely also is an important guy here:  he runs the session at Lillie’s on Saturdays, one that attracts some terrific musicians, and is the leader of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, and is the new trad music columnist for the Irish Echo.  We’re so glad he’s here!

How It’s Irish: The breakfast was on St. Patrick’s Day, the day (really the week) when Irishness is everywhere.

If you’re on the Lillie’s Session mailing list, you know about Dan’ Neely’s tongue-in-cheek, persuasive style.  He may write about “then-Mayor Lenny” and his decision to “release the unjustly incarcerated Ghostbusters,” but, I assure, you, he really did play at Gracie mansion on Saturday!   “Then, with a few minutes to spare, we all took quick turns posing at the podium, trying our best to look mayoral. It was some mad craic.”

The Mayor’s Breakfast is one of those uniquely New York gigs that seem to get passed around from musician to musician every year. I was excited and grateful for the opportunity – after all, Gracie Mansion is where Dr. Peter Venkman’s passionate speech in 1984 convinced then-Mayor Lenny to release the unjustly incarcerated Ghostbusters after they were forced to deactivate their containment grid (they went on to save the lives of millions of registered voters, by the way) – and since I was told the musicians would not only get our picture taken with Mayor Bloomberg but would also be mentioned in his remarks, I figured that doing the gig would at the very least give me a good “in” in case the zombie apocalypse ever finally came and I needed an influential ear.

With the gig secured, I needed musicians. So, I figured I’d ask the folks who played on my recent small-scale recording project called Ochtapos to see if they’d have any interest in joining me. I was in luck. Ivan Goff (flute) and Martin O’Connell (button accordion) were both available and game. I’d heard that Dylan Foley (fiddle, whose brand new album is awesome) might be in the City, so I asked him and it turned out he was up for the gig as well.  Marie-Louise Bowe (fiddle) was a final, last minute addition, and rounded out what by any standard was a very solid group.

We were told to be there at the ungodly hour of 6:00am and all arrived on time, passing through security quickly. We were set up to play in Gracie’s “Susan B. Wagner Wing” on a stage we shared with a few flags and a blue velveteen-covered podium with a heavy cast seal of the City of New York. If you’ve never been to the Susan B. Wagner Wing, it is an open and attractive space that gets nicer as the sun comes up. (Damn, it was early…it’s one thing to be playing tunes at that time after you’ve been up all night, but it’s a totally different thing if you’ve been to sleep and had to wake up.) While the event planners and catering staff put the last minute touches on the morning’s preparations, we tuned, warmed up and had some coffee and snacks. Then, with a few minutes to spare, we all took quick turns posing at the podium, trying our best to look mayoral. It was some mad craic.

Around 6:30am we were told that they were letting people in so it was time to play. And play we did – the tunes came fast and furious as the Mayor’s guests filtered into the mansion. The thing about St. Patrick’s Day is that people love traditional music – we could tell that pretty much everyone enjoyed what they heard (who smiles like that at 6:30 in the am, amirite?), and more than a few stopped over to tell us how much they liked what we were doing.

After a while, we were asked to stop and then directed into an opulent room just to the left of the stage. Before I knew it, we were surrounded by political influence – Mayor Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Consul General Noel Kilkenny and his wife Hanora, Irish Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, and a host of others I probably just didn’t recognize. As promised, the musicians were introduced to the Mayor, and we all had our photo taken with him. The Mayor, by the way, has a firm but not overbearing handshake and made appropriate eye contact, which I found reassuring.

Dylan Foley (@Dan Neely)

Then, it was time for speeches. We all waited patiently in the little room while the Mayor and company addressed the crowd. No one made any allusion to an impending zombie apocalypse, but Bloomberg did tell a funny story about how Bono once sent a piper to his office as a greeting and joked how he was going to someday send back a klezmer band in retaliation. It was some mad craic.

Before long, it was back to work. By this time the Mayor and his cohort were already off to the next event (the Governor’s Breakfast, if I’m not mistaken) but the people who remained became a little more effusive in their praise of us. Sure, it might have been the lack of political oversight, but something tells me it may also have had something to do with the Irish coffee that was served all morning. Anyway, as we wound down our immediate audience changed from 50-something gentlemen in sashes (who left to take turns having their pictures taken at the Mayor’s podium) to 30-something parents with young children (who left slightly later to have their pictures taken at the podium). Strangely enough, I noticed that if they’re untrained, older men and young children actually have a similar Irish dance style – just one of the many interesting things you notice when you’re having tunes and people watching at the Mayor’s Breakfast!

We were told to stop at around 8:30am, which gave us enough time to get to our next gig. After packing up and rushed around to say hello to everyone we knew who was still there, it was time to check out the grounds. The view from Gracie’s porch is unbelievable – who knew New York could look like this?

On balance, I had some surprisingly good tunes with some great musicians and crossed it with a little elbow rubbing with the quality. All in all, it was a great Patrick’s Day experience – can’t wait for next year!

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