New York Tradfest going on now!


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


Dan Gurney, Dylan Foley, Brendan Dolan

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[pullquote]”It’s a labor of love,”[/pullquote]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.

And for Demarco, Brooklyn born and raised, there needed to be a festival here in the metropolitan area.

Tony Demarco

Anyone who takes classes at Irish Arts Center (who are hosting one night of the three day festival), or plays in sessions in the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) will recognize the names: Don Meade. Donie Carroll. Dan Gurney. Willie Kelly. Matt Mancuso. Jerry O’Sullivan. Joanie Madden. And that’s the tip of the iceberg.

There are too many to list in an article, really. There are All-Ireland champions. There are up-and-comers and well known names.

After running 11th Street on Sunday nights for 15 or 16 years (he wasn’t sure), Demarco basically knows all the great players in town. 11th Street, after all, is where Danú, Battlefield, The Chieftains, come to play when they’re coming through the city. And if you’re visiting the city on a Sunday night, be ready to stay up late. The sessions during the APAP conference in the winter (Association of Performing Arts Professionals) and after Catskills Irish Arts Week in the summer are legendary.

Professionals “feel comfortable playing,” Demarco says. Instead of sitting at the bar in order not to intimidate beginners, “with me, they come in and play.” And because it’s NYC, there might be a Broadway singer or Grammy Award-winner stopping in too.

So bringing talent together for the Trad Fest is the easy part.

“The singers and dancers are all my buddies,”

Demarco says. The hardest thing is scheduling venues and not conflicting, because fall is such a busy time in the city. He likes to begin about four months ahead of time, which is still “too late,” he says, laughing.

The culture Demarco wants to present in the Trad Fest includes other ethnicities besides Irish. This year, he will present Deep Singh, an Indian percussionist who plays the tablas. Singh came in to play at 11th Street a few nights, Demarco explains:

“I’ve had a band going with that kind of music, fusion, Afro-Cuban. I’ve been dabbling in that type of music for years.”

Other non-Irish acts include Appalachian banjo player John Updike (not the late author), dancer Megan Downes will clog with him; and jazz fiddle player Andy Stein, formerly of Prairie Home Companion. Duncan Wickel will play bluegrass and Old Time fiddle. Most of the musicians will perform in the main festival, on Nov. 18, at Connolly’s, where the festival debuted five years ago.

“My idea generally is to have an Irish Trad and Folk Festival, so that it encourages different ethnic styles that we have in New York City,”

De Marco says.

On the 19th, at Glucksman Ireland House, New York Trad Fest presents Moloney talking about the Amazing Flanagan Brothers in a “Masters of Trad” event.

The Trad Fest has had events at Irish Arts Center before, and it feels right to De Marco to be back there.

“I’ve been with Irish Arts Center since it started in the 70s,” he says with a laugh.

Back then, it was in a private apartment in Brooklyn. IAC has a budget to build a new space on West 51st and 11th, where the small building is next, and De Marco says hopefully they will be able to break ground soon (architectural plans can be seen at He loves the intimacy of the old space but knows a larger venue with a proper green room would be a huge boon.

Keeping the history alive while moving forward to bigger and better: that’s what the New York Trad Fest represents, too.

MC “Tradmaster” Don Meade –

Donie Carroll –

Tony DeMarco –

Gabriel Donohue –

Megan Downes – 

Dan Gurney –

Willie Kelly and The New Generation Trad players – TBD

Joanie Madden – 

Patrick Mangan – TBD

Don Meade –

John Nolan –

Matt Munisteri –

Eamon O’Leary –

Jerry O’Sullivan –

Deep Singh –

Jonathan Srour –

Andy Stein –

John Updike – TBD


Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.