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
How it’s Irish: The New York Tradfest Saturday evening concert consisted mostly of Irish music and dance.
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.
Marc Horowitz and Alan Kaufman performed old timey music on fiddle (resting on a forearm rather than under a chin) and guitar and included some yodeling, with audience participation, as well. Megan Downes, American flatfoot and clog dancer, also took to the stage and performed in a loose, down-home style.
The next act was a collection of all-stars in and of itself. Mick Moloney on bouzouki and vocals, Jerry O’Sullivan on uillean pipes, James Keane on accordion, and, in one of his several appeareance on stage, fiddler Dylan Foley on guitar played a set of reels including, “The Four Courts” and “Toss the Feathers.” Introducing a set of jigs, James Keane commented on how playing traditional tunes helps keep alive the memories of people we learn them from. The band then presented “The Bowlegged Tailor” and “The Chorus Jig,” learned from renowned flautist, Jack Coen. Kieran Jordan and Meghan Downes danced along on stage.
Mick Moloney sang a song, which he called one of the best Irish-American songs of all time and, perhaps, one of the earliest Jewish-Irish collaborations in America, Ned Harrigan’s and David Braham’s, “McNally’s Row of Flats.”
“And it’s Ireland and Italy,
Jerusalem and Germany,
Chinese and Africans,
And a paradise for rats;
All jumbled up together
In snow and rainy weather,
They constitute the tenants
In McNally’s row of flats.”
Jerry O’Sullivan soloed on his uilleann pipes a slow air of his own composition, “The Green Fields of America.” O’Sullivan played the mournful yet resigned tune masterfully on the pipes’ chanter, while maintaining a consistent drone. It seemed as if a couple of musicians were creating the sounds. O’Sullivan followed the slow air with a set of reels.
Alasdair White, a fiddler from the Scottish Hebrides, performed some reels and strathspeys with lovely high-pitched tones and an accent slightly different than what we had heard before. White concluded his set with a solo performance of a long dramatic set of tunes in D, C, Am, A (I was close enough to hear him call the keys), with Dylan Foley joining in on guitar toward the end of the set.
Another all-star group of musicians followed Alasdair White: Brian Conway on fiddle, Don Penzien on guitar, and John Whelan on accordion. The band started off with some reels including “Tom Moylan’s” and “The Donegal Traveler” and sean nós Irish dancer Kieran Jordan joined the musicians on stage. Next were some jigs including, “Ed Kelly’s” and “Rosewood.” The band performed a slow air called “The Bonnie Bunch of Roses” followed by “The Mason’s Apron” reel, which elicited hoots and applause from the crowd. John Whelan soloed on the reels “Reconciliation” and “The Galway Rambler,” ending the set with a waltz, “The Balingarry Lady,” written for Whelan’s mother and used in the documentary, From Shore to Shore.
Brendan O’Shea became the first singer-songwriter to appear in the New York Tradfest when he sang his own song dedicated to miners in a trembling voice that could display power when needed.
He followed that composition with a song about New York and another about working in Saint Finian’s mental hospital in Killarney. O’Shea introduced his wife, Jenna Nichols, to belt out a song he wrote for Nina Simone, while he accompanied her with a bluesy guitar. He concluded his set with an audience participation song, “It’s Gonna Take Time.”
O’Shea’s set was followed by more songs. Guitarist and singer, Donie Carroll, and fiddler, Caitlin Warbelow played three selections from Carroll’s latest CD, Divil of a Noise. The duo began with “The Old Boreen,” an old fashioned love song about sitting “in that old mossy seat/whispering to Kate Muldoon.” “Aisling” is a song about Irish people around the world who, despite their interesting travels, often and sometimes unexpectedly long for Ireland:
“You hear a song or an Irish air./…/You long for the rare old times over there./You long to be at home.”
Carroll and Warbelow concluded their set with the comical, “West Clare Railway” about a train’s misadventures traveling around the Banner county. Donie Carroll also spoke about his upcoming benefit concert for the Mercy Centre in Thailand to take place on November 1st at the Irish Center in Long Island City.
Then Anna Colliton brought her bodhran, Dan Gurney brought his guitar, and Dylan Foley, finally, brought his fiddle to the stage. Foley played “The Rose in the Heather,” the piece he used to win the All-Ireland fiddle championship in August.
The trio of young musicians also tore through some reels and hornpipes, joined by dancer, Alice Ryan.
Fiddler Patrick Mangan and guitarist Greg Anderson played sets of jigs and reels marked by masterful interplay. It was a delight to listen to how these two musicians worked together — the fiddle notes soaring and the guitar murmuring in support.
To conclude the evening, the “Sligo Indian” himself, Tony DeMarco, joined Ivan Goff, Patrick Mangan, Greg Anderson, and a thundering collection of dancers —including Kieran Jordan, Megan Downes, Alice Ryan and others —in a rousing finale.
The Tradfest was a remarkable showcase for the traditional musicians of New York and their visiting friends.
It was heartening to see long-established musicians and younger musicians and dancers share the stage and have a fun night together. Now that two successful festivals have wowed Manhattan audiences, let’s hope it becomes an annual event we can look forward to each fall.