Billy Bragg at City Winery

How it’s New York: City Winery is a winery and music venue located in lower Manhattan.

How it’s Irish: Billy’s been known to play the old Irish folk song,“The Croppy Boy,” in which the narrator is a young Irish revolutionary in the 1798 rebellion. 

Singer songwriter legend Billy Bragg played two sold out shows at City Winery on Monday, October 16th.

In the early show, Billy played new songs from a just released six-track EP, “Bridges Not Walls”, slated for release November 3rd. Included on the new EP is his Dylan re-write, “The Times They Are A Changing Back”, and a new single entitled “Saffiyah Smiles,” both commentaries on our current political landscape. Billy also played “Levi Stubbs Tears,” “A New England,” and “The Milkman of Human Kindness” along with three tunes from his 1988 album, Workers Playtime.” 

Characteristic of his work, these songs emphasize the importance of bringing a new humanitarian spirit to our present times.

Billy brought the audience together with stories drawn from the road and his life and gave his considered take on our current political situation.  For him, his new songs are “my way of trying to make some sense of what’s going on. And there’s been a lot going on.” He stressed how we must all fight not to become cynical – that optimism, dogged and determined, needed to be the order of the day.

I was lucky enough to have traveled with Billy and Joe Henry as they recorded their album of folk songs, “Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad”, an album that went to number #1 on the UK’s Americana Albums chart after its release September 2016.

It was wonderful to see Billy again. We had coffee the following day and I had a chance to tell him what a galvanizing show it was and how much the crowd really needed to hear that reminder to keep fighting and to not give up.

Joe Henry, who recorded “Shine a Light” with Billy, has a brand new album, just released this week entitled Thrum.” On it, Joe sings: “Oh come let us be hungry in the world.” Billy Bragg and Joe Henry are artists who hunger for a better world. Both seek to remind us through their music that we are all united in song and in life.

Here’s that special film project I directed for Billy & Joe:

 

Here are some photos from the City Winery show:

 


Dylan Moran’s Wit and Wisdom at Theater 80

How it’s New York: Theater 80 is in New York’s East Village
How it’s Irish: Dylan Moran was born and raised in Navan, Co. Meath

Dylan Moran ended a 4-night run at theater 80 in the East Village on Saturday night, which I was lucky enough to attend. In short, my body heaved with laughter, a sure sign of a successful performance.
His big themes were politics, family, middle-age, millennials, technology, and the past, with a scattering of comparisons between New York, England and his native Ireland. (more…)

Queens Gets A Film Fest – The Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

 
How it’s New York: The movie extravaganza took place in Queens
How it’s Irish: The fest featured films from the Celtic Nations including Canada and The UK

 

 

Earlier this month, Queens played host to the inaugural Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. The Fest, which ran from August 4th-13th, screened over 150 features and shorts at the Queens Museum and Kew Gardens Cinemas, which is the borough’s only operating art-house theatre. There were free panels as well on subjects such as Women in Independent Film and The Dos and Don’ts of Distribution. With the Unisphere close by, it was fitting that the selections came from a veritable United Nations of countries like Canada, Romania, Pakistan, the UK and the US.

Although Ireland didn’t have anything in the fest, the Celtic Nations were well represented. I saw the Canadian feature “Grand Unified Theory”, which won Best Screenplay. In keeping wit the themed programming the organizers created for the fest – science and outer space were the theme for what I saw- was accompanied by a music video from the British band Jenny Got Famous called “Loneliest Hour”. The charming video is about an astronaut in a spaceship made entirely out of cardboard, which director Karl Dixon explained in a Q&A after, took three months to build. (more…)

‘Woody Sez’ will break your heart and lift your spirits

How it’s New York: “Woody Sez” takes place at Irish Repertory Theatre, one of the city’s best residential theatres. Guthrie

David M. Lutken plays Woody Guthrie in “Woody Sez.” ©Carol Rosegg.

influenced the Clancy Brothers and Christy Moore. Andy Irvine, of Planxty, has a wonderful song tribute to Guthrie in his “Never Tire of the Road.”
How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Woody Guthrie was of Scots descent, and his mother sang old ballads to him. The show has been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and in Belfast.

Listen to our podcast with David M. Lutken here!

Somewhere during the thrilling performance of “Woody Sez” at Irish Rep I began to feel depressed.

When did the working man stop believing in unions? When did labor throw in with management? How did this happen? Would Guthrie, whose guitar had “this machine fights fascists” on it, be dismissed as “Antifa” today?

There has hardly been a rally this year that didn’t close (or open) with Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Maybe, like me, you learned the song in kindergarden (along with “If I Had a Hammer,” written by Pete Seeger, a long-time collaborator of Guthrie’s). Maybe you forgot this song was composed by a 20th-Century American.

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), the subject of the devised musical byby David M. Lutken with Nick Corley and Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein, is considered the father of American folk-music. Rightly so. His music, which chronicled the Dust Bowl years in particular and fought Fascism, had an impact on not only folk singers but also rock singers.

“Woody Sez” at Irish Rep is already on my Top 10 list. It is one of the best shows of the year.

I know, the year’s not over. This show will not be edged out of Top 10. It will probably stay in Top 3. Hell, it may stay at the top.

It was meant to end in June, but it kept extending. It now will end on Sept. 10. You can still see it: hurry up!

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Canada’s Genie Bouchard Comes To New York To Make Her World Team Tennis Debut

How it’s New York: World Team Tennis, which has a local team, The New York Empire, plays here
How it’s Irish: All the teams have players and coaches from a wide array of countries including Canada, Great Britain and the US.

For tennis enthusiasts looking for a fix between Wimbledon and the US Open, there is courtside action to be found locally thanks to Mylan World Team Tennis, co-founded by Billie Jean King in 1973. World Team Tennis is like the tennis equivalent of minor league baseball, and offers fans a relaxed evening of on-court action, contest giveaways, amusing mascots, trivia and a lot of music. Literally after every point the announcer played a few seconds from a vast array of songs.  Last week the big news was the arrival of Canadian Eugenie Bouchard who joined the home team, the New York Empire, coached by two-time Olympic gold medal winner Gigi Fernandez.

Genie Bouchard

New York Empire Team Members Neil Skupski, Kirsten Flipkens and Coach Gigi Fernandez

I attended last Friday night’s match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing. There was a considerable amount of construction going on in preparation for the US Open at the end of August and the audience had intimate seats inside Court 17. The New York Empire faced off against the San Diego Aviators, the reigning champs. Along with Bouchard, the Empire, which is like a mini United Nations, included Americans Mardy Fish and Maria Sanchez, Brit Neal Skupski and Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.

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Canada’s 150th Birthday: NYC Rocks The Great Canadian Songbook At Joe’s Pub

How it’s New York: Joe’s Pub is a longstanding performance space in Noho.

Christina Bianco impersonates Celine Dion on Canada Day. All photos ©Shani R. Friedman.

How it’s Irish: Several of the artists covered, like Joni Mitchell and Alanis Morrisette, are of Irish descent and a number of the performers, like Greg Naughton, are Irish American.

On July 1st, Joe’s Pub had its annual celebration of Canada Day with an evening of comedy, music and of course, the national anthem. For the 15th year, Joe’s Pub raised a glass (or many, as Canadians, like the Irish, are known to enjoy a drink) to the country’s many songwriters and artists, like Rush, The Weeknd, Joni Mitchell, The Tragically Hip and Alanis Morrisette.

Most of the performers were not Canadian but FOCs (Friends of Canada) and virtually all of them have come back year after year to interpret their favourite songs. A number of the singers are well known locally like Christina Bianco, Greg Naughton, Alyson Palmer and Tylee Ross.

The evening kicked off in the red and white-mittened hands of charming Master of Ceremonies Jeff Breithaupt. He explained that he created the Canada Day fest because his friends kept asking him whether Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are Canadian and exasperated, he told them yes, they belong to us!

Before the singing, comedian and storyteller Ophira Eisenberg, perhaps best known to New York audiences as the host of NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” shared some laughs. Looking out at the crowd she declared,

“Look at these faces. So white!”

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Review: Sinking Ship’s ‘A Hunger Artist’ feeds the soul

How it’s New York: The show takes place at the Connelly Theater, one of those theaters inside an old school (?) you may never

Jon Levin in ‘A Hunger Artist.’ Photo by
Kelly Stuart

have known was there but is wonderful, and is presented by The Tank’s Flint & Tinder series, which makes space available to artists.
How it’s Irish: It’s Celto-Slav, really. But the Irish do have an affinity for Kafka.

Sinking Ship Productions
The Connelly Theater
220 East Fourth Street (between Avenues A & B)
Through Tuesday, June 27
Presented by The Tank

 

Sinking Ship Productions adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” makes you want to stand up and cheer.

It’s only June and I’m calling it now as possibly the best solo performance of the year.

It’s smart. It’s funny (and Kafka is really funny. Seriously, he is. The word “Kafkaesque” really should mean dread AND FUNNY, not just  scary as Hell. Though it’s scary as Hell too).

And it’s highly theatrical.

Inventive. Fresh. Physical.

Presented by The Tank, at the Connelly Theater (one of those theaters in an old building you probably have never been to), this is a work that is everything new theater should be.

And astonishingly, all of the roles are played by performer Jonathan Levin, including the fat producer, and the skeletal Hunger Artist. (more…)

Donovan at The Cutting Room!

How it’s New York: Donovan made a rare New York City appearance this past Tuesday, June 6th. It’s said that it’s Donovan who wrote the words on the cue cards that Dylan tosses accompanying the masterful “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” in D.A. Pennebaker’s film “Don’t Look Back”. That scene was shot here in New York City.
How it’s Irish: Donovan now lives in County Cork, Ireland, with his family.

Donovan played all his big hits this past Tuesday at a sold out show at New York City’s The Cutting Room. The audience was full of fans who were excited to hear Donovan who rarely plays live.

It was just Donovan and his acoustic guitar for the evening. He opened with the beautiful “Catch The Wind” and ended the night with “Sunshine Superman”, “Season Of The Witch” and lastly “Atlantis”.

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Leaving the Cake in the Rain: A Celebration of the Music of Jimmy Webb

How it’s New York: The concert took place at the legendary Carnegie Hall.
How it’s Irish: Jimmy’s ancestry is part Irish; one of his biggest hits, “MacArthur Park”, was recorded by his dear friend, legendary Irish actor Richard Harris, and every morning he has a double shot of Bewley’s Irish Breakfast Tea.

“When we need a song, we go to Jimmy”.

The Carnegie Hall stage came alive on a recent Wednesday evening with a lineup that featured several living legends armed with an impressive collection of pop culture prizes – everything from Grammys to Oscars to Tonys to Hall of Fame immortality – but the real stars of this particular show were the songs of Jimmy Webb.

“The Cake and the Rain,” a celebration of Webb’s musical career that also

served as a benefit concert for the Alzheimer’s Association and the I’ll Be Me Foundation (in honor of his longtime friend and fellow music icon Glen Campbell) featured many of the colleagues, collaborators, and disciples of the fabled songwriter, who paid tribute by singing his tunes and telling some stories. Hosted by Michael Douglas, the incredibly diverse program included Judy Collins, Johnny Rivers, BJ Thomas, Dwight Yoakum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Shelea, Liz Callaway, and Graham Nash, who acknowledged the famous venue with the rousing If These Walls Could Speak. (more…)

The Pictures of Dorian Gray

How it’s New York: Visit to a New York bar.
How it’s Irish: It’s an Irish bar named for an Oscar Wilde character.

In the East Village of New York City there is a bar called Dorian Gray and this week I made my inaugural visit. It styles itself as Simple, Cheery, and Charming—which it is, and that will have to suffice as a review as I was only there long enough for one beer. And therein lies a tale.

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Tribeca Film Festival: ‘The Public Image is Rotten’

How it’s New York: Documentary aired at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.
How it’s Irish: Focuses on the work of John Lydon, the London-born son of Irish immigrants.

He’s lived the life, of that there can be little doubt,  and the man at the forefront of Britain, no, the world’s, punk explosion back in the mid 1970s is still living it. Perhaps it’s not the ostentatious existence of obnoxiousness which representatives from other musical genres are, for reasons unknown, proud to display, but John Lydon, a man who shocked, even disgusted, most of the population while enjoying his heyday as the UK’s supposed public enemy Number 1, is still here, and has no plans on going anywhere. His supposed alter-ego, Johnny Rotten, may have been somewhat forced into semi-retirement many years ago, and while the attitude has softened somewhat, and the ironic sneer has metomphorphozed into a cheeky grin, the charismatic personality that some of us loved, and more loved to hate, is here, at Tribeca, and on the big screen.

 

Lydon, who fronted The Sex Pistols, Britain’s most outrageous musical act, for three years before they imploded in 1978, is no stranger to controversy, or indeed, documentaries, having been the subject of a number over the years, most notably 2000’s ‘The Filth and the Fury’, the director of which, Julien Temple, is one of those interviewed for this one.

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Tribeca Film Festival: The strain in Spain stays mainly in the brain in ‘The Trip to Spain’

How it’s New York: It’s a “Spotlight Narrative” entry in the Tribeca Film Festival – in New York City, of course!

Filmmaker/DirectorMichael Winterbottom on the Red Carpet with Suze (Ray Foley, photographer, NYIA)

How it’s Irish (and English and Welsh): Actress Claire Keelan (“Emma“) is “from Ireland by way of Liverpool.” The director, Michael Winterbottom, hails from Blackburn, Lancashire, England. Steve Coogan (“Steve“) is an English actor, stand-up comedian, impressionist, screenwriter, and producer from Middleton, Manchester, England. And Robert Brydon (“Rob“),  is an MBE and Welsh actor, comedian, radio and television presenter, singer and impressionist.

Road Pictures: a genre as old as Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, as ground-breaking as Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, as turned on its head as Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise, and as final (please!) as what-the-hell-my-agent-said-it’ll-be-good-for-my-career as Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, John Travolta, and William H. Macy in Wild Hogs.

In 2010, Michael Winterbottom contributed his homage  to road pictures as a British television-series-turned-feature-film called

I “squeezed the kids in” but “not doing a Mick Jagger”

The Trip. The premise was a paid food and travel article gig between two buddies, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, that turned into a culinary romp through Northern England. That film was so successful that Winterbottom repeated his efforts twice more: The Trip to Italy (his favorite cuisine) and, now, The Trip to Spain. (more…)

Podcast #38: Wils Wilson on ‘The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart;’ ‘Narcan’

Play
How it’s New York: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart was a big hit Off-Broadway. “Narcan” played at Irish Screen America and at the Manhattan Film Festival.   rssheadphones1
How it’s Irish and Scottish: Jim Halpin, of “Narcan,” is from Limerick (he played young Malachy in “Angela’s Ashes.”)
“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” is by Scottish playwright David Grieg, presented by The National Theatre of Scotland and the McKittrick Hotel (home of “Sleep No More.”)

We spoke to director Wils Wilson about the brilliant and unforgettable Scottish immersive drama “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,”a campfire pub play if there ever was one, with brilliance running through each line like water inside a snowflake. Alice Farrell spoke to Peter Halpin, star of the short film “Narcan,” which may turn into a feature film Stay tuned.

Featured tune is from Annie Grace’s “The Bell.” Annie was in the cast of  “Prudencia” when we attended. We think she has a voice to rival Dolores Keane and were sorely tempted to end with two of her songs.

‘The Present’: a small gift inside a big box

How it’s New York: ‘The Present’ with Cate Blanchett runs on Broadway, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
How it’s (Irish) Australian: Blanchett hails from Melbourne, Australia; the show comes to us via the the Sydney Theatre Company. Since itis an adaptation of Chekhov’s “Platonov,” his  early (and really, untitled) play, this show is also “Celto-Slav” and Russian.

It helps to read the play first.

That’s an unusual suggestion for me– usually I like to let a work stand by itself. But here, it really helps to know what the set-up is before you go. Even if you just read an act or two.

All of the elements of Anton Chekhov’s later plays are already there in his early work known as “Platonov.” Chekhov didn’t name the play, discovered 20 years after he died himself, and it has been called “Platonov,” “Wild Honey,” and “The Disinherited,” among others; it’s been adapted by Michael Frayn and David Hare; directed with rich theatrical gesture by Jiri Pokorny. Uncut, the play would last about six hours. But it’s all there: ennui. Fading, poor aristocracy. Possibility of a marriage of salvation. Empty trysts. A smart, disillusioned, unfulfilled schoolteacher.

So there’s much to love about “The Present,” an adaptation of that early work by Andrew Upton (Blanchett’s husband), directed by John Crowley. If anyone knew how to put people, hurt, dissatisfied, unpredictable people, in a room together and see what happened, it was Chekhov (Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” owes him a lot).

Blanchett is completely luminous in her Broadway debut as Anna, a young widow who is celebrating her 40th birthday by inviting several suitors and friends to spend the weekend with her at her country estate.

That little synopsis, though, is more than you might figure out for quite a while, all but the 40th birthday bit, which is announced. (more…)