Podcast #40: Catskills Irish Arts Week

How it’s New York: Catskills Irish Arts Week is in East Durham, New York.
How it’s Irish: The “Irish Catskills” were once vacation land to Irish Americans, a way to get out of the city. Historical, full of boarding houses and motels, the week in July of music classes, concerts, sessions, dances and more is a draw to everyone even a little interested in trad.

We spoke to CIAW Artistic Director Reidín O’Flynn, musicans Joanie Madden and Billy McComiskey, and CIAW founder, and flute master, Mike McHale, as well as an older student, Pat, who has learned keyboards in the Catskills.

This podcast is a special, perennial mini-doc.

Featured tunes: set dances from Billy’s 2014 CD, “Out of the Box.”


New York Tradfest, for the fourth time!

How it’s New York: See the title! This festival of trad music and dance is put together by New York’s
Tony Demarco, center, plays fiddle at New York Tradfest. ©Newyorktradfest

Tony Demarco, center, plays fiddle at New York Tradfest. ©Newyorktradfest

own Tony Demarco, who runs the session at the 11th Street Bar and Swifts Hibernian Lounge. It will be full of players from the tri-state area.
How it’s Irish: It’s a celebration of Irish traditional music.

Fiddler Tony Demarco started the New York Tradfest in 2013, to give New York its own night of Irish music. Sure, we have Irish music throughout the year, and various “mini” festivals, but this one brings a big group of musicians to one place, on one night.

Tony, originally from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, runs the Swift session on Tuesday nights as well as the 11th Street session, known as the ones where the pros go. He know everybody: people beginning, people visiting with instrument in hand. Once, Tony said, there was a music festival at Irish Arts Center, but IAC hasn’t had one in about 20 years. That’s not to say IAC hasn’t been hugely supportive: in fact, Tony appeared with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill on Sunday, Oct. 23. IAC is one of the collaborators, along with many local pubs, 11th Street and Swifts of course, but also Paddy Reillys pub, Pier A Harbor House and many more.

For the past few years, the Tradfest has taken place at Connollys in Times Square. While the venue is easy to get to, it also gets crowded quickly– and its backstage is, well, a curtain and about a foot and a half of space, if you can call it that.

This year the festival will take place downtown at Pier A Harbor House, 22 Battery Place, beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased  at eventbrite at the door.

The venue is right on the Lower Manhattan waterfront, with a gorgeous view of the river and the Financial District skyline. What better place to hear the Auld sound than at Pier A, which opened in 1886 as the headquarters for the New York Harbor Police and Department of Docks? (and of course, there’s a long tradition of Irishmen in the police of all kinds!)

If you’re just in town for the weekend, this event will blend New York tourism with the trad music you love.



‘New York City: A Shining Mosaic’ review

How it’s New York: Tales of immigrants who arrived in New York City.
New York City: A Shining Mosaic produced by Charles Hale. September 27, 2016. 1st Irish Theatre Festival. Featuring Niamh Hyland, Walter Parks, Elsa Nilsson, Eleanor Dubinsky, Laura Neese, John Duddy, Jack O'Connell, Mala Waldron, Yuri Juárez, Julie Kline, and Charles Hale at Pier A Harbor House, New York City.

Photo courtesy of Mitch Traphagen.

How it’s Irish: Those arriving left lives behind in Ireland. This piece was part of Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish 2016.

Were this event staged a few years back, before the advent of the so-called “information age,” there’s quite a chance that attendees of this extraordinary production may well have invited encyclopedia salesmen into their home, to peruse their wares, and purchase a volume or two, to look up a few of the fascinating tidbits that Charles R. Hale’s modern masterpiece had informed them of.

“New York City: A Shining Mosaic” is so much more than a play: it is a series of vignettes, a song and dance revue, a carefully interwoven collection of biographies of several characters, some seen, others merely mentioned.

It is a story which unravels elegantly, a timeless tale that reminds us that there were generations here before us, dozens, scores, hundreds of them: men and women who had less, but yearned for more. Brooklyn had them by the thousands. :New York City: A Shining Mosaic,” directed by Niamh Hyland (music), Julie Kline and Charles R. Hale, is brought to us by Artists Without Walls, and is a production celebrated aptly right within sight of the arrival of all of those millions of immigrants who made it to New York, at Pier A, which looks out on New York Harbor, with Lady Liberty and Ellis Island calmly watching in the wings.


Riverdance at 20 is as good as you remember – only better

The "Riverdance" ensemble. (Photo courtesy of Amanda-Rachel Garcia/Prana Marketing)

The “Riverdance” ensemble. (Photo courtesy of Amanda-Rachel Garcia/Prana Marketing)

How it’s New York: The show had its U.S. debut at Radio City Music Hall in 1996. Current musical director and fiddler Pat Mangan is a Brooklyn boy. Tapper Christopher Broughton has some Broadway credits to his name.
How it’s Irish: Riverdance. You can’t get more Irish than that, can you?

The pre-recorded show greeting came first in Irish, then in English: You are welcomed to this 20th anniversary production of “Riverdance.”

Two questions were running through my head as I was setting into my seat, way up in the third tier at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark:

“Is it going to be as good as I remember?”


“How on earth has it been 20 years already?”

I’m afraid I really can’t answer the second question. But to the first question, I say: Yes. This incarnation of “Riverdance” was every bit as good as the original – and then some.


Ireland Rising – Words and Music for a New Century: A Special Benefit Performance for Irish Arts Center

Irish Arts Center_ Almost Home_Page_1

How it’s New York: Took place in New York at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side.
How it’s Irish: Benefit performance for the building fund for the new Irish Arts Center.

This past Friday I was honored to be among those treated to the best the Irish Arts Center has to offer.  The overriding sentiment of the night was that when the Irish Arts Center calls, you stop everything and rush right over to support them.  And that is just what the phenomenal performers featured in this varied night of song and story brought to the party.


A testament to the true diversity that has become the norm at the Irish Arts Center, this show offered something for everyone. The show opened with the ethereal voice of Christine Tobin moving through the audience, followed by the gorgeous “Beautiful World” from Declan O’Rourke.  A luscious orchestra, under the direction of Henry Hey, laid the groundwork for the performances to follow which ranged from a country tinged “Raglan Road” from Cork singer Nicole Maguire, a bluesy tune from JD & The Straight Shot, a number of greatest hits tunes from Paul Brady, as well as a couple that he wrote with lyrics from poet Paul Muldoon.

One of the highlights of the evening was the vocal quartet Women of the World, a delightful group singing backup for a number of the other artists, most impressively with the powerful singer from Sierra Leone, Loah.  

Liam O’Maonlai teamed up with jazz singer Cassandra Wilson for a powerful rendition of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” and O’Maonlai sang a few of his own songs and trad standards.

IAC staples Joanie Madden, Athena Tergis, Mick Moloney and Billy McComiskey contributed a lively set of barn dances and a few songs as the Irish Traditional section of the evening.

Curtain Call for "Ireland Rising, Words and Music for a New Century. Symphony Space, NYC. The Irish Arts Center. Friday, April 22, 2016. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Curtain Call for “Ireland Rising, Words and Music for a New Century.” Symphony Space, NYC. The Irish Arts Center. Friday, April 22, 2016. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Comic relief and pathos were provided by readings from Peter Quinn, Zadie Smith, Mick Laird and Cólm Toibín. The major plea for pledges was delivered by none other than the Queen of Ireland herself, Panti Bliss in all her glittery glory!

A true treat was 17 year old jazz guitarist Andreas Varady from Limerick who has already been signed to a major label, and with good reason.  His dexterity and musicality is up there with any of the jazz greats and this young man is an excellent example of the innovative programming that is keeping the Irish Arts Center at the top of its game.

The finale of the evening brought out Riverdance alum Jean Butler to do a duet of pieces with the band, with her precision percussion as sharp as ever.

Overall the evening was lively, diverse and delightful, as are so many of the programs that will be even more impactful once the amazing new home for the IAC is finally funded and built.  There is still a long way to go, and if you have a bit of loose change knocking about and looking for a good home, you can contribute to the building fund here:


Here’s to many more years of incredible music, art, theatre, dance and education in their fine new home.


Concert review: Altan and friends sure-footed on a slippery Sunday night

How it’s New York: Snowy winter night downtown at  City Winery, March 1st20150301_221340
How it’s Irish: Donegal, that’s Irish, right?

Fiddler Des Hurley describes the ideal of an Irish traditional music session as a team sport where all players are aware of every other team member and anticipate each other’s moves and runs. Altan exemplify that in the subtleties of their ensemble playing and that is what makes them such a great live act. Looking at the formation on stage: on the left and right you have the guitar and bouzouki in the calm hands of Dáithí Sproule and Ciarán Curran providing a sensitive and responsive pulse; in the middle you have the twin fiddles of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Ciarán Tourish playing off each other, with Mairéad’s short-held bow ever primed for attack. (more…)

She Lives Life to the Fullest – My InterReview with Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock, The Face of Lanvin

How it’s New York: Jacquie Murdock is a native New Yorker

Face of Lanvin 2012

How it’s (Irish) Scottish: She’s Scottish

Yahoo is currently featuring an article called “Awe-Inspiring Women of 2014.” But my choice is Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock, featured in the documentary Advanced Style, and a Face of Lanvin 2012. In two generous interviews, Murdock impressed me as being one of the most dynamic and courageous women I have ever known.

Murdock, a former dancer with the Apollo Theater, had always known who she was. After church in 1930’s Harlem, her cultured, middle-class family (Her father was a restauranteur.) attended salons at inspiring hosts’ beautiful homes that were filled with wonderful music and conversation. One day, at the age of 5, this youngest of three daughters announced to her family that she wanted to be a ballet dancer. This would not be exceptional by today’s standards but back then, it wasn’t an considered an acceptable occupation for a well-brought-up young lady – or a lucrative career choice. So her parents – Scottish, Jamaican-born Edward Templeton Campbell and his Jamaican wife, Izilda Fyffe Campbell (childhood sweethearts who grew up and married in Jamaica, lived in Cuba, then emigrated the United States in the 1930s) – gave her piano lessons. This did little to deter Murdock’s ambitions, for she was born to stand out.

06_ADVANCED STYLE_Photo Credit to Ari Seth Cohen

I was always a fashionista

Then her mother sent 8-year old Murdock for sewing lessons. Tall, with the looks and posture of a dancer, she became her mother’s seamstress’ model. She was finally in the spotlight. (Murdock allows that she might be related to Naomi Campbell. “I was always a fashionista,” she assured me.)

Her dancing was never far behind, though. This was the time of Cafe Society, and Murdock performed at famed NYC ballrooms when she was 15: the Renaissance, the Savoy, the Audubon. But she “grew up at the Apollo.” Frankie Manning and Norma Miller were

She grew up at the Apollo

looking for tall girls who could dance, and Murdock began to dance there when she was 17. When she turned 20, she found that she couldn’t get a show, so Murdock took a typing job at Universal Films – the first black woman to get a job there. Then she joined Eubie Blake’s show, “Black-Skinned Models.” She was 25, and she took off!


New York Tradfest’s Saturday Night Concert: A Remarkable Showcase of Music and Dance

How it’s New York: The New York Tradfest Saturday evening concert took place in Connolly’s Klub 45 near Times Square, New York, NY and showcased many Big Apple musicians and dancer

Alice Ryan


How it’s Irish: The New York Tradfest Saturday evening concert consisted mostly of Irish music and dance.

visit John Kearns at his own site, Kearnscafe

On Saturday October 18, 2014, the second annual New York Tradfest, organized by fiddler extraordinaire, Tony DeMarco, held its evening concert at Connolly’s Klub 45. Hosted fluidly by a leader of the traditional music scene in New York, the multi-instrumentalist and singer, Don Meade, the concert featured an all-star lineup of the traditional musicians and dancers of the Big Apple and beyond. The event offered five hours of top-notch music and it is hoped that this event will become an annual tradition.

The first performer I saw when I arrived was Alice Ryan, a sean nos singer from California who performed some beautiful songs in English. Ryan would also take to the stage as a dancer with a few of the other acts that followed. (more…)

The Stepcrew makes a big splash!

How it’s New York: It was the Stepcrew’s debut performance in New York City.
The Stepcrew at SubcultureHow it’s Irish: The show features Irish music and dance.

I arrived at Subculture Underground Arts at 7:20 PM last Thursday, after a long day in the recording studio, for a show by The Stepcrew.  The theater was completely packed, and an air of anticipation filled the warmly lit theater before the show began.

There were simultaneous conversations about other shows people had been to recently, and about what Stepcrew shows had been like in the past… but a only a couple things stood out.  Everyone was genuinely happy to be there, and everyone was exited to see the show.   Subculture as a venue is a perfect example of a place in a busy city where time slows down for a few hours, and where people can truly enjoy the arts firsthand.

There is something about the energy of the dancers that makes you want to dance.

The Stepcrew is an energetic and original new show which brings together three styles of dance forms – Ottawa Valley stepdancing, Irish stepdancing, and modern Tap.

With virtuosic dancers and musicians from The Chieftains, Cherish The Ladies, and Bowfire,

these artists and musicians take the audience on a wild ride to demonstrate the similarities and differences of these three unique dance forms. (more…)

New York Trad Fest 2014: Bing bang and boom… no flopping!

How it’s New York: It’s full of players from New York and the tri-state area, and New York is in the title!IMG_0045
How it’s Irish: Trad music is on the bill, and Irish dancing as well.

A version of this article was  published in Irish Music Magazine November 2014.

When you tell someone who doesn’t really follow Irish music that there is going to be a New York Trad Fest, you might get a blank stare – what, you mean there wasn’t one before?

But there wasn’t. Not for a long time, anyway. For fiddler Tony DeMarco, now is the time to have it. He had the first one last year, thrown together quickly, and had a surprising turnout—all of the artists said yes, and the crowd came out. This year, Irish Arts Center is sponsoring too.

“Irish Arts Center used to do a traditional music festival, but hadn’t done one in awhile,”

DeMarco said. With the center building a new facility, which will break ground next year, it’s a perfect time for them to be part of a new Manhattan tradition. The festival will take place on Saturday, Oct. 18 and Sunday, Oct. 19. On Saturday, there will be speakers at Glucksman Ireland House at NYU in the afternoon, then musicians at Connolly’s Times Square from 7:30 p.m. on. On Sunday, there will be a sit-down concert at Irish Arts Center. For details and a line-up, visit newyorktradfest.org. (more…)

Mick Moloney’s “An Irish Christmas” brings holiday spirit in

How it’s New York: Presented by the Irish Arts Center and Symphony Space, this Irish Christmas concert has come to feel as much a part of the
Gabriel Byrne, courtesy of IAC

Gabriel Byrne, courtesy of IAC

season as The Nutcracker. The blending of songs and traditions is oh so New York.
How it’s Irish: It has something of the feel of an Irish house party, Mick says.

Gabriel Byrne was one of the special guests at “An Irish Christmas,” presented by the Irish Arts Center at Symphony Space last weekend. Dr. Mick Moloney has been organizing these events which blend music, dance, interview and readings. Byrne discussed his fond memories of actor Peter O’Toole, who had just died that day, and also read some of his own works-in-progress. Other special guests included Congressman Joseph Crowley, dancer Wayne Daniels, Grace Nono, Tamar Korn, guitar player and filmmaker Macdara Vallely.

The concert began with the “Trip to Athlone” medley, which has begun it most years, featuring Mick on banjo, Athena Tergis and Liz Hanley on fiddle, Donna Long on piano (who brings a lot of great rhythm and harmony to the table) and Billy McComiskey on accordion… with Niall O’Leary, “the dancing architect,” joining in too. It’s always a rousing way to begin the event.

Congressman Joseph Crowley and Mick Moloney (courtesy of IAC)

Congressman Joseph Crowley and Mick Moloney (courtesy of IAC)

New this year was Liz’s powerful singing of “Carol of the Birds,” in which all the birds find religion. It was a haunting, evocative tune that suited her husky voice. The first special guest of the evening was Congressman Joe Crowley, interviewed by Mick. Did you know Crowledy could sing? well, I didn’t– and it turns out he used to sing in bars back in the day. He did a lovely version of “Raglan Road” (he called it “Dawning of the Day,” but that’s actually another, much older song; poet Patrick Kavanaugh uses the refrain “dawning of the day” and Luke Kelly put it to that tune, but the song “Dawning of the Day” is a 19th-century song, set to an even older air. Just had to point that out.)

Mick’s interview with Crolwey and later with Byrne were outstanding– relaxed, funny, getting sharp insights and fascinating stories from both men.


Fiona Shaw’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ at BAM quenches a thirsty soul

How it’s New York: Brooklyn Academy of Music, or BAM, is a mecca for hipsters and culture vultures. The venue presents some of
Fiona Shaw and Daniel Hay Gordon (Adam Termine)

Fiona Shaw and Daniel Hay Gordon (Adam Termine)

the best theatre from all over the world, as well as film and music.
How it’s Irish: Fiona Shaw, who stars in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” is from Cork.

Stephen Orel saw Fiona Shaw at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Shaw, whom we loved so much in Colm Tóibin’s “Testament of Mary” on Broadway, is starring in a short run of an adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s eerie poem. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, the production is part of the Next Wave Festival, and closes on Sunday, Dec. 22.

Most likely, ever person reading this blog has read, or at least knows something of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner;”yet equally likely is it that unless you have heard it come alive in the voice and movements of Fiona Shaw and her silent collaborator, dancer/mime Daniel Hay-Gordon, you have never truly experienced it.

Shaw, dressed all in black, starts in the pre-show by selecting members of the audience and having them model for the role either of the mariner or his forced audience, the “wedding guest,” by trying on one of two black hats, and asking them to pose, stooped, with a pole.  The show begins when she selects the last such person, sits him in a corner, and begins telling the tale.  That person, of course, turns out to be  Hay-Gordon, a dancer who uses his lithe limbs and body to simulate first the famous albatross, then the ghostly corpses of the mariner’s dead crewmates, who pay the price for his affront to nature.


“McGoldrick’s Thread” Weaves a Tale of Irish Dancing Dreams

How it’s New York: The play is set in the Bronx circa 1995.  The production was incubated at the Cell, a twenty first century salon in Chelsea, and it’s currently playing at the fabled Theatre 80 – St. Mark’s (where Gary Burghoff, Bob Balaban, and Billy Crystal got their start).  “McGoldrick’s Thread” is part of Origin Theatre Company’s annual 1st Irish Festival (which is dedicated to presenting the work of Irish playwrights in New York City).
How it’s Irish: “McGoldrick’s Thread” tells the story of the O’Reilly family who left their home in Clonmel, Ireland to raise their children in the Bronx.  Daughter Magee is an avid Irish step dancer with big dreams riding on her next competition.

©Kerry Byrne

“McGoldrick’s Thread,” a new Irish musical written by Marianne Driscoll, is steeped in references to Irish dance competitions – elaborate costumes, hours of practice, and intense pressure.  Featuring choreography and performances by former Riverdance stars Jason Oremus and Garrett Colemen, as well as original Irish dance music by Riverdance fiddler Patrick Mangan, the production is a must-see for any Irish dance devotee.  At the same time, the story’s core message of family, tradition, and cultural memory appeals to a broad audience.

Clever lyrics by Driscoll and Eliot Riskin and lovely music by Ronnie D’Addario tell the story of the O’Reilly family and the path they’ve taken from Clonmel, Ireland to the Bronx.  With three raucous sons (played by Paul Nugent, Conor McIntyre, and John Charles McLaughlin) and one dancing daughter (played by Casey Murray), the O’Reilly’s small apartment overflows with song, dance, and witty banter.  The action takes place during the course of one weekend when daughter Magee is preparing for an important feis (Irish dance competition). (more…)

Solas Lights Up Bleecker Street’s “Subculture” with the Trad Music and Multimedia, “Shamrock City”

by John Kearns

How it’s New York: Solas’s music and multimedia show took place at the new venue, Subculture, below the Bleecker Street Theatre in Manhattan’s East Village.  Solas fiddler Winifred Horan is from New York. 
How it’s Irish:Solas is a one of the finest bands in traditional Irish music, and most of its members hail from Ireland.  “Solas” is the Irish word for “light.”

On July 31, 2013, leading traditional Irish, Solas, brought its ambitious project, Shamrock City to New York for two shows at new downtown venue, Subculture, a sleek modern space reclaimed from a neglected off-off Broadway theatre.  Decorated with an awareness of the Lower Manhattan neighborhood in which it finds itself, Subculture has been hosting gigs for just three months and will open officially in September.



Shamrock City is a new CD and multimedia stage show created by all-Ireland-champion musician, Seamus Egan, and Solas.  Shamrock City was inspired by the story of Egan’s great-granduncle Michael Conway, who came to Philadelphia from the County Mayo in 1910 and who, three years later, fled the prejudice of the east coast for the Butte, Montana copper mines, where a job was practically guaranteed.  As the CD’s liner notes explain,. “Shamrock City is the story of the Butte he may have experienced.”  As the songs and tunes take us from Ireland to America and to the labor, conflicts, and celebrations of Butte, the multimedia presentation incorporates film footage, sounds of mining work, and quotes about Montana displayed on the large screen behind the band.  Shamrock City‘s broad scope demonstrates that Egan is still pushing the boundaries of traditional Irish music as he has done since mixing trad with African instruments as a member of the Chanting House in the 1990s.


Seamus Egan

In keeping with the theme of pushing the boundaries of traditional music and performance, as an opening act for Solas, the Brooklyn-based dance troupe, Hammerstep, brought its combination of hip hop and step dancing to the Subculture stage.

A lone dancer dressed in black stepped out between the propped-up instruments and began beatboxing and stepdancing at the same time, his toe tapping and stomping sometimes accompanying and other times answering his beats.  It was a revelatory and exciting performance that received an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd.  For a second number, another black-clad dancer appeared.  With lights down, their backs to the audience, and blue and white lights on either shoe, the pair performed a thunderous dance with unsuppressable energy, crisscrossing their feet with each other’s to create a memorable light show. (more…)