Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Traditional Irish Music Session

Every other Wednesday, Vicki Gish and Scott Vocca host a Traditional Irish Music Session at Claddagh Cottage Irish Pub (4308 Curry Ford Rd) starting at 7:30pm till whenever. Vicki and Scott are from the band "Crooked Road" and I had recently seen them perform at the Mennello Museum Folk Festival. The bar is a real hole in the wall with dark oak booths, tables and chairs. There is a sign near one table that says, "Reserved for Musicians." The electric piano was set up and there was an accordion a fiddle and some bows on the tables. A few patrons were eating dinner but everywhere there were tall glasses of dark Guinness.

Natalie Doyle the groups pianist offered me a pint to sip as I sketched. I couldn't refuse. She explained that the accordion player was Gerry Hanley from Galway, Ireland. She explained that he had given up playing for a while but now he was back into the swing of things. Kathleen Cavanagh on pipes entered a little late and she let everyone know that she had Girl Scout cookies back in her car if anyone was interested. Soon the magical traditional Irish music filled the bar. The musicians closed their eyes as in a reverie and swayed to the beat. The two women having dinner beside me were ecstatic. They had wandered into this hidden gem by chance.

An Irish Session is a gathering of musicians playing traditional Irish music (occasionally including other Celtic genres such as Scottish, Brittany, Cape Breton, and French Canadian) on traditional Irish instruments. Traditional Irish music is made up of dance tunes such as reels, jigs, hornpipes, slides, and a few other miscellaneous forms including polkas, set dances, airs and songs. It is not so much a performance but a sharing of traditional tunes among the musicians and those who care to listen. The instruments might include fiddle, flute, accordion, uilleann pipe, concertina, tenor banjo, whistle (a.k.a. penny whistle, tin whistle), mandolin, bodhrán, guitar, and sometimes piano. An Irish Session is not a "jam session".

An Irish elder gentleman named Shawn wanted to meet Gerry from Galway. They shook hands and told tales of the homeland for a bit. Then Shawn sat down and began to sing a traditional Irish ballad solo. Scott shushed the room trying to silence the loud talkers at the end of the bar. Then everyone joined in on the chorus singing, "I met her in the garden where the praties grow." With his second song, I sang along, "Come down from the mountain Katie Daly." I'm Irish on my mothers side and warmed by the beer and music, I glowed. A woman dropped off a small Teddy bear holding a heart beside the old gentleman singing. When he was finished singing, someone explained, "You have a secret admirer." The sketch ebbed and flowed with the music taking form almost on it's own without any second guessing from me. After I drained my Guinness and finished the sketch, I had to go. I needed to start fresh on a new job in the morning. I shouted good night to Natalie and Vicki who stood and shook my hand. I owe these amazing musicians a beer, but I know I'll be back. If you haven't been to one of these sessions, you have to go.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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