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!
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.
“I was part of Irish Arts Center before they had a building in Hell’s Kitchen, when it was at Brian Heron’a apartment in Brooklyn,” he said. “We were friends. That’s the first place I met Kevin Burke when he first started coming to America.”
Irish arts Center hasn’t done a festival in about 20 years, he said, and that made him excited to put his energy into putting up a trad music festival. He pointed out that many Irish festivals are full of Celtic rock bands, and entertainers.
“I want to represent the traditional music,” he said. “You don’t see James Keane flopping around onstage. He says it all in his music.”
Like last year, there will be some Old Time and bluegrass players salted in with the Irish players, singers and dancers. Alasdair White from Battlefield Band will represent Scottish music, Alan Kaufman will yodel, as he did on a skit on Jimmy Fallon. Rose Conway Flanagan and Margie Mulvihill will represent the Pearl River school. All-Ireland fiddle champion Brian Conway will perform. Box player John Whelan, who played with Tony in the Kips Bay Ceili Band back in the ’90s, will perform too. Also on the bill: pipers Ivan Goff and Jerry O’Sullivan, Donie Carroll, Anna Colliton, Tony Trischka, Frank McCormick, James Keane, dancers Kieran Jordan and Megan Downes, Don Meade, Marc Horowitz, Mick Moloney, Brendan O’Shea, The Murphy Beds, Joanie Madden, Eileen Ivers. And a “new generation of the New York tradition” that will open the festival, including some of Brian and Rose’s students. Singer-songwriter Brendan O’Shea is a new direction for the festival, too. Most of the performers are from NYC and the boroughs, with a few from surrounding states.
Joanie Madden, Eileen Ivers, The Murphy Beds, American fiddler Kenny Kosek, and banjo player Trony Trischka, along with Tony, are all slated to perform on Sunday at Irish Arts Center.
To see 25 artists in once concert is a great overview of the scene, Tony said. Connollys has a pub atmosphere, with food and drink, a few tables but mostly standing. Irish Arts Center is a sit-down event. The afternoon panel at Glucksman Ireland house will be led by Moloney, and feature dancer Donny Golden, whistle playing legend Joanie Madden and new fiddle All-Ireland champion Dyaln Foley discussing their music and the New York scene.
“I worked my whole life. I was never afraid of work,” he said. “It’s important for me to do it. We haven’t had a traditional music festival representing the great wealth of traditional music New York has to offer. We have so many great artists and singers and dancers.”
Learning from last year, he gave himself a bit more lead time to pull it all together, and make up flyers, postcards, get ready for radio interviews. Once again the format will have each performer on stage for 20 minutes, with a constant rotation.
“People loved it. They hadn’t seen anything like that, maybe ever for a show, with that much talent being featured,” he said. “It was bing, bang and boom. It’s a really small green room. It’s not easy getting people in and out to perform, but everybody was into it.”
Tony, who hails from East Flatbush, knows the scene well. He’s been playing since he was 17 years old in clubs and bars in the city. He lives in Pennsylvania now, but keeps a studio in the city for his gigs, which include running the 11th Street session on Sunday nights, and the session at Swift on East 4th Street on Tuesdays. The 11th Street session is known as the professionals’ session. It’s an acoustic session at an advanced level. “I keep it for the cream of the crop at 11th Street, so I get people like Kevin Burke, Martin Hayes, Battlefield Band… they feel comfortable coming in and playing, sitting in at session, which generally they don’t do so much. It’s unique in the way that it caters to professional traditional musicians coming through New York.”
The festival is under the umbrella of City Lore, and is a nonprofit, so contributions are tax deductible. Tony said he’s still looking for sponsorship. And some sponsors have stepped forward. If they didn’t, Tony would step up to the plate, he said. It’s that important to him.
“It’s a good sampler of the talent that we have. This is what traditional music is all about it. New York is unique that way.,” said Tony.
“There are hundreds of great musicians.”