How it’s New York: Catskills Irish Arts Week takes place in East Durham, New York, and everybody in the Tri-State area comes
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).
Then I went to the CD launch for The Drunken Gaugers, the new CD from All-Ireland fiddler Dylan Foley, Lúnasa flutist Kevin Crawford, and guitar player Patrick Doocey at the Blackthorn Hotel at midnight before returning to Gavin’s Irish Country Inn to begin this post.
That’s where I figured it out.
Special guests that played with them included Dan Gurney and bodhrán player Brian Casey. The place was packed: I bumped into All-Ireland fiddler Brian Conway, up for the weekend, and it seemed like teachers and artists were everywhere: Joanie Madden. Caitlin and sister Bernadette Nic Gabhann. Bridie Dal Pizzol. And of course the musicians and students. When the musicians changed tunes, there were huge cheers (not polite “hups”). When Dylan got fancy with “Foxhunter’s Reel” there were shrieks.
Kevin called accordion virtuoso Dan Gurney (who plays with Dylan in the group The Yanks) and said they would play some jigs, and since Dan knew the name of this one since he’d named it at the session, he must know it.
And there it was. The tune of the week. The jig is “Hardiman’s Fancy,” also known as “Joe Derrane’s.” I’d played earlier at a session at The Shamrock and someone started that jig, and because it was at a slow tempo, I played it too, then asked banjo player John Nevin, who runs the Dempsey’s session in NYC, what it was. He didn’t know.
Now I do.
And New York Irish Arts says: “Hardimans’s Fancy” is the tune of the week.
Or maybe it’s the A jig version of “Lark on the Strand,” which was also played repeatedly at sessions, also with people muttering “what is the name of that tune we just played?” I heard it at least five times, once at the Mike Rafferty Memorial Session Saturday night at The Shamrock House, where Mary Bergin, Mike McHale, Julie and Patrick Ourceau, Willie Kelly, Sean Clohessy, Liz Hanley and wonderful players I’m forgetting all played together, and played with their students too.
Earlier that day Billy McComiskey, family and friends played “Lark on the Strand” at the Saturday concert.
“The Drunken Gaugers” by the way is an amazing CD, fresh from an incredible launch. The sounds are bright, rhythmic, trad but modern, energetic and surprising. Doocey’s chords add a lot of texture, and the exuberance of Dylan and Kevin’s playing makes you understand the Irish term “lift.” You’ll feel lifted out of your seat. The music was so good that during the last reels the dance teachers in the house and some others got up and formed sets, then did step dancing. Paul Keating, who is a set dancer (and formerly ran CIAW; Paul also writes for The Irish Voice), said “when the music is so good how can you sit?”
I also heard a lot of “Come West Along the Road,” so there’s that, too.
Were you there? What tune did you hear everywhere?