Daniel Figgis launches two new albums

How it’s New York: The launch takes place at New York’s Irish Arts Center
How it’s Irish: Daniel Figgis is Irish


Rhiannon Giddens and Dirk Powell – Masters in Collaboration at Irish Arts Center

How it’s New York: At the Irish Arts Center in New York
How it’s Irish:  Presented by the Irish Arts Center and featuring Rhiannon Giddens who now lives in Ireland

Photo courtesy of Anthony Mulcahy – Mulography

Now in its 12th season at the Irish Arts Center, Saturday night brought a magical presentation from singer, historical banjo and fiddle master Rhiannon Giddens and multi-instrumentalist and singer Dirk Powell.  This series gives a peek inside the creative process of artists collaborating to bring new work to their audience.  A truly intimate and organic process, this evening showed the many insights, talents and inspirations of both performer.

I was very excited for this event, having only heard Rhiannon Giddens amazing voice and playing skills on television and online.  It was an awesome experience to be in the room and watch the creative mastery and emotion that she brings to her work.

Long a student and champion of the early African-American musical genres from the South, Giddens brings a wealth of knowledge and a fire in her belly that comes through in her singing.  A number of the songs they performed over the evening came from a current project on the Massacre in Wilmington, North Carolina of 1898.  A very sad event wherein the KKK was allowed to overthrow a fusionist  African-American party in an election, giving them the ability to replace all the local politicians with their hand-picked candidates.

The song selections included many from their recent release together, Freedom Highway and some written as recently as the day of the show.

Dirk Powell played a lovely Creole waltz Bon Soir Moreau that he learned from the playing of Cajun accordion player Amédé Ardoin.

With Powell switching to piano, they played a new song called Lament for Francisco’s a restaurant they searched for on a recent trip to New York, only to find it had closed just a few weeks before they arrived.  This was during the time that they were in town while Rhiannon was auditioning to replace Audra McDonald in “Shuffle Along” on Broadway.  A job, which she got, but the show closed before she had a chance to go on in the part.  Something that she referred to a number of times throughout the show, but which allowed her to fly out to LA when she received a call to screen test for the TV show Nashville, where she did end up playing the part of Hanna Lee “Hallie” Jordan for 2 seasons, singing some of the songs she has been writing with Powell.

The newest song they performed was a haunting tale of an African-American woman who has to act as her husband’s housekeeper so that they won’t get found out.  The imagery of the song is of the woman striving to make everything white, the floors, the dishes, the laundry, echoing her own wish for an easier life, had she been white.

The final song of the first half was an almost operatic tale, written in the style of the late 1800s, about the wife of an African-American newspaper man, bemoaning the loss of her husband and the business in a fire set to stop the paper which was informing the African-American community.

Part 2 of the evening they dubbed as “Songs in the key of…”  It included homages to Sarah Vaughan, Alberta Hunter, Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton, with Giddens slipping into each of their singing styles like a comfortable pair of shoes.  The most hilarious of this set was with the song in the key of Dolly Parton which referred to a woman telling her man, “if you don’t know how good you have it, you better get out my kitchen!”

Throughout the evening Giddens moved seamlessly from her original Negro banjo, to the modern banjo, fiddle and Powell from guitar to banjo, accordion and piano.  Their vocal harmonies blended deftly with each other and their repartee shows the comfort of people who have been collaborating for a long time

Photo courtesy of Anthony Mulcahy -Mulography

They finished off the evening with We Could Fly and the iconic Julie, from the Freedom Highway record.  Julie, the tale of a slave woman and her master watching the soldiers coming to get them during a civil war battle was one of the most heart-wrenching of the night.  Giddens truly let down all her defenses and channeled the spirit of the women in these making them vividly appear in front of us.

The entire night was a wonderful conversation between the two musicians, sharing the inspiration behind their songs and the process they have gone through in creating them.  Thanks to the IAC for bringing them to us, and please bring them back again!

Checkout all the wonderful events in the current Irish Arts Center Season here: http://irishartscenter.org/whats-on

Glen Hansard Launches Between Two Shores in NYC

How it’s New York: Concerts in New York to launch the new album Between Two Shores 
How it’s Irish: Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard

Starting on January 19th, 2018, Glen Hansard arrived on our shores to launch his new CD and gave two wonderfully different gigs at Town Hall and Brooklyn Steel.

Friday night Glen started off a with a very intimate feeling show at Town Hall peppered with guest appearances, loads of songs from the new CD and plenty of old favorites.


Remembering The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan: Portrait of a Lady


How it’s New York: The Cranberries defined a certain kind of Indie sound beloved by alternative-music-loving New Yorkers.  The Cranberries are still a staple on New York radio with such hits as “Linger,” “When You’re Gone,” and “Zombie.”
How it’s Irish: Dolores O’Riordan, of the Cranberries, was Irish, as were the rest of the band, formed in Limerick in 1989. Members were Niall Quinn, guitarist Noel Hogan, bassist Mike Hogan, and drummer Fergal Lawler. O’Riordan replaced Quinn in 1990.

Dolores O’Riordan died suddenly at age 46 on Jan. 15, 2018.

Johnny Cash’s passing  in 2003 saddened us, of course it did.

He had, however, walked his line and worn his black. He’d burned, burned, burned, and traveled a long road. He’d faced his enemies, and climbed aboard that train he heard a-comin’, alongside other legends that went before him, Ray, Bing, Duke, Ella, Frank, icons all, who’d served their time, earned their praise and deserved their plaudits.

David Bowie’s shocked us, though 69, and having been ill for some time, he’d outlasted so many of his contemporaries, Jim, Jimi, Janis, Freddie, Marc, John, Brian, George, and younger artists, whom he may well have influenced, Kurt, Amy and George. There were those who lived publicly, and often dangerously, Sid, Phil, Keith, Judy, Frankie and the Tims, whose passings saddened, but didn’t truly shock us. Illnesses, gunshots, overdoses, murders, accidents, they’ve all combined to rob us, whether prematurely or not, of the voices we grew up with, listened, tapped feet, banged heads and shaken hips to.

Those whom we raised glasses to, eyebrows at and children with.

Then there’s Dolores. Poor Dolores.

At a mere 46 years of age, Dolores O’Riordan, vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with The Cranberries, one of the biggest selling acts in the world, during their heyday, left us on Jan.15. Although the cause of death had not been confirmed at the time of writing, it matters little.


“The Dead, 1904” is agonizingly beautiful

How it’s New York: This immersive theater adaptation of James Joyce’s novella, “The Dead” takes place at The American Irish

Photos by Carol Melissa.

Historical Society at 991 5th Ave, New York, New York.
How it’s Irish: Another stunning production from The Irish Repertory Theater.

This Christmas production began last year and continued through this one. It sells out fast, so we hope this will give you some ideas for next year: this review came in at the very end of the run.


“The Dead, 1904,” based on James Joyce’s novella, portrays an Ireland haunted and paralyzed by its past. Adapted by Paul Muldoon and Jean Hanff Korelitz, the play is in its second seasonal year at the Irish American Historical Society. Director Ciaran O’Reilly’s original and innovative staging brings to vivid life an evening of musical entertainment hosted by the elderly Morkan sisters (Patricia Kilgarriff and Patti Perkins) in their Dublin home for their annual epiphany festivities. As their guests, the audience joins in the merriment, and is lead through toasting, singing, dancing, and poetry and finally to a feast. Dinner, inspired by the holiday fare described by Joyce, includes marinated beef tenderloin, ‘floury’ potatoes and cranberry and pineapple relish, served on fine china and accompanied by wine in crystal glasses.


Mesmerizing Camille O’Sullivan performance

How it’s New York: Camille O’Sullivan performed at the Irish Arts Center in Hell’s Kitchen 
How it’s Irish:  O’Sullivan is half Irish and half French and was raised in Cork  

The mesmerizing cabaret performer Camille O’Sullivan delighted audiences in October with an intimate, five-night tribute, Camille O’Sullivan Sings Jacques Brel. She grew up listening to the Belgian Brel who had a new style of storytelling. “He blew people away,” she said admiringly. In the program notes for the show she explained that Brel is the reason I’m a singer today—I essentially ended my career as an architect to become a performer after falling in love with singing his music.”

Photos courtesy of the artist

On the penultimate night of the run, O’Sullivan was dressed all in black, including a black lace veil, but her sparkly silver boots added a pop of colour.

As she walked up to the stage she stroked a number of audience members’ heads, including mine.

Awaiting her were trusty white, plastic rabbit, familiar to anyone who has seen her before, and her band, also dressed all in black.

She was backed by her longtime collaborator pianist Feargal Murray, drummer Paul Byrne, guitarist Andrew Zinsmeister and

Charlotte Glasson on flute, violin, saxophone and musical saw.

She kicked things off with an a capella version of Marieke, followed by a rousing Vezoul that brought the band boisterously to life. Her voice was a half rasp, half shout.

She came back out to the audience and caressed my face and others.

Brel is the reason I’m a singer today”


Mercy Centre Benefit Concert with Donie Carroll and Friends

How it’s New York: at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City
How it’s Irish: Irish singer Donie Carroll and friends raise funds for the Mercy Centre orphanage in Thailand

Last week at the New York Irish Center local Cork transplant Donie Carroll brought together  a host of Irish and area talent to raise money in his annual concert for the Mercy Centre Orphanage in Bangkok Thailand.  I’ve been to this concert over the past few years and it is always a treat.

Featured in the show were Donie’s longtime cohort in supporting the Mercy Centre , multi-instrumentalist and singer Mick Moloney, joined by a trio of lovely fiddlers, Liz Hanley, Heather Bixler and Haley Richardson.


New York Tradfest going on now!

How it’s New York: It’s the New York Trad Fest!

Dan Gurney, Dylan Foley, Brendan Dolan

How it’s Irish: Trad. We said Trad. Best Irish and Celtic music players in the tristate!



An earlier version of this story was published in Irish Music Magazine.

Tony Demarco  was in the car when he spoke to us about Tradfest, because he splits his time between

“It’s a labor of love,”

Pennsylvania and NYC. In fact, he was off to split firewood for the winter. Even driving didn’t make him uptight when he spoke.

An accomplished fiddler, Demarco runs the 11th Street Session on Sunday nights, the one where professionals are comfortable, was not concerned. The festival is going on today and tomorrow.

But Demarco, Italian and Irish-American, was taking it all in stride. This is the fifth annual New York Trad Fest.

“It’s a labor of love,” he says.

“As far as I know it’s the only traditional music festival in New York, expecially around the city. The beauty of it is there’s so much talent, especially around the New York area, I don’t have to go far to get amazing musicians.”

Years ago, he says, Irish Arts Center ran such a festival in Snug Harbor, Staten Island, but got hammered a few times by weather and it ended.


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:


Karl Geary – Montpelier Parade Launch at the Irish Arts Center

How it’s New York: In New York at the Irish Arts Center
How it’s Irish: Irish writer Karl Geary launches his first Novel Montpelier Parade.

Karl Geary reading from Montpelier Parade at the Irish Arts Center – photo by Andy Ryan

He has crafted a compelling story of longing, love, loss and isolation with vivid characters and a driving narrative that made me not want to put the book down, and sad when I was finished reading.

What a delight it was to get the chance to hear my old East Village pal Karl Geary read this past Tuesday night at the Irish Arts Center!  It was yet another wonderful evening of collaboration put together by the innovative folks at the IAC, with Jenna Nicholls and Gerry Leonard providing musical counterpoint and an insightful conversation with Poet, Playwright and Actor Dael Orlandersmith.  I got a chance to sit down with Karl before the show and it was fantastic to get a further look inside the characters and inspirations behind this fantastic first book.



Podcast #42: Gavinstock and Woody Sez

How it’s New York: Gavinstock is the second annual Gavin’s Irish Music Festival, consisting of some of the best Irish bands in New York. “Woody Sez” is a show about Woody Guthrie, playing at New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre.
How it’s Irish: Gavin’s Irish Country Inn— need we say more? but it’s in East Durham, New York, the Emerald Isle of New York, and the bands are all playing Irish music. Woody Guthrie was Scottish descent.


We talk to Bernadette Gavin,  of Gavin’s Irish Country Inn, about Gavinstock, as well as to Kevin McCarthy  of Shilelagh Law, one of the bands playing there. We then talk to David Lutken, performer and co-deviser of the phenomenal “Woody Sez” at Irish Repertory Theatre.


Featured Tune: “Together in the End,” about 9/11, by Shilelagh Law

Podcast #41: ‘Find Your Way Home’ and ‘The Journey’

How it’s New York: ‘Find Your Way Home’ plays Symphony Space on Tuesday, July 25. ‘The Journey’ had a New York premiere.
How it’s Irish: The musical ‘Find Your Way Home’ is about an Irish family in 1910. ‘The Journey’ fictionalizes in film an encounter between Ian Paisley and IRA leader Martin McGuinness in 2006, as they attempt to end the conflict in Northern Ireland.

We spoke to “Find Your Way Home” co-author Jimmy Kelly, and to “The Journey” director Nick Hamm.

Featured song: “Heaven Hear Me Now,” from “Find Your Way Home.”


This year’s tune: Catskills Irish Arts Week 2017

How it’s New York: Catskills Irish Arts Week takes place in East Durham, New York, and everybody in the Tri-State area comes

Kevin Crawford, Dylan Foley, David Doocey launch “The Drunken Gaugers” at The Blackthorn.

who can (and many from further away).
How it’s Irish: It’s a week of intensive Irish music, dance, and arts. Some teachers are Irish, some are Irish-American, all love their subject. And East Durham, we’re told, looks a bit like Ireland.

There’s always one.

One tune you hear everywhere you go, in the Catskills. The first summer I came it was “Pipe on the Hob.” One year it was “Brendan Tonra’s jig.”

This year I think there were two.

It’s usually a jig, but not always.  If you’re in a building with several classes in different rooms, say the Yellow Deli (the  restaurant with wonderful baked goods open all night during this week), you might hear strains of it floating down the hall as concertina and fiddlers and whistlers all pick it out.

This year, I thought, maybe there isn’t one. I’d been to a few sessions, a few “listening rooms” (close-up concerts by some of the amazing guests: Michael Rooney on harp with June McCormack on flute stand out– gorgeous stuff– her flute playing is clear and pure and what he does with a moving base line and complex chords somehow suggests Cape Breton piano and Burt Bacharach at the same time), and of course, the concerts held at the Michael J. Quill Center in the evening (before the sessions and listening room and CD launches).



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!”