How to get my jig on?
January 27, 2009 9:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be in Dublin this weekend (Thursday through Sunday) and have discovered that TradFest 2009 in Temple Bar will be running while I'm in town. I've spend a fair few happy hours swilling Guinness and listening to traditional Irish music, but I don't know much about it. Is there anything on the schedule that is a must-see?

There is a list of Live Acts which appears to be the big guns. Perhaps it is better experienced as a pub crawl? Any advice welcome.
posted by Lame_username to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can't decide whether to be jealous or start planning this trip for next year.

Go see Solas for sure. You won't be sorry. I've seen them several times and they're fabulous. The Saturday big guns, whose names I can pronounce but I won't humiliate myself by trying to spell, are also good, at least in the studio--I haven't seen them live. I don't know most of the names on the pub crawl or I'd recommend some of them.

Have a Guinness for me and enjoy the music!
posted by immlass at 10:00 PM on January 27, 2009

Response by poster: If I tell you that I got plane tickets from DC to Dublin for $189 all-in, it will probably make things worse. Thanks very much for the advice.
posted by Lame_username at 10:30 PM on January 27, 2009

Best answer: Moya Brennan is Enya's older (?) sister, I love her music. Solas are great live. Lucky you!
Word of warning though, Temple Bar has become the place that English Stag nights go for a night or two out, although that thankfully is on the wane. It is also the most expensive place in Dublin for a pint. Were those tickets with Aer Lingus?
posted by Wilder at 11:46 PM on January 27, 2009

Best answer: Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (of Altan) is always worth it live- don't miss her.

Wilder has a point. Although Temple Bar is starting to sort itself out a bit now, I would still recommend you go a little further afield in the city centre to drink- the Long Stone in Townsend St does an excellent pint, for one.
posted by psychostorm at 1:48 AM on January 28, 2009

Response by poster: The tickets were on US Airways, which is fairly odd. I'm staying near St. Stephen's Green in an attempt to have a place to dodge the crowds. Last time I was there I did a fair bit of drinking at O'Donoghues nearby, which was a bit touristy but good fun.
posted by Lame_username at 6:06 AM on January 28, 2009

That line-up looks so good, I could cry. You absolutely can't go wrong with any of the listings under the "Live Acts" section.

If you're new to going to trad Irish shows, I'd recommend some of the "fuller" bands over the duo acts, if only because newcomers to Irish music tend to start off with a lower tolerance for long stretches of hearing tuneage on a single melody instrument. The Thursday night with Solas or the Friday night with Michael McGoldrick/Genticorum would be great "band" nights. If you like singing mixed in with your instrumental stuff, then Solas or the incredible Saturday lineup would be great. If you want to say you've seen a true-blue legend of Irish music, go and see Paddy Keenan on the Thursday night.

If I were you, I'd split myself in two, Southland-Tales-style, and go see everything. The venues will probably be packed, so go early to get a good spot to whatever show(s) you choose!
posted by Hellgirl at 6:39 AM on January 28, 2009

Best answer: To some extent, I think what's a "must see" depends on your personal taste. The Saturday lineup is all female singers from Donegal, although at least some of them also play instruments. Several of them have a penchant for New Age stuff. I would probably go to that, but I think there's a pretty good chance that I'd want to slit my throat halfway through the concert. That isn't to say that they're bad, because they're in fact all pretty wonderful. I just have a limited tolerance for high, pure voices, and I like acts that combine songs with tunes or that just play tunes.

Of the ones with which I'm familiar, I think that Solas is the most likely to appeal to a casual trad fan. If it were me, though, I would actually go to see Paddy Keenan and Tommy O'Sullivan at that time. That's just a matter of personal taste: Solas is an awesome super-group, and Paddy Keenan is an awesome uilleann piper, and I personally just happen to prefer the two-guys-with-instruments experience to the big band experience. I guess I would just urge you not to overlook the people at the Project Arts Centre.
posted by craichead at 8:06 AM on January 28, 2009

Response by poster: craichead wins the award for most apropos screen name. I'm fully convinced about Solas since virtually everyone seems to agree on that. I'm conflicted about the Saturday line-up since a lot of New Age music makes my teeth hurt. I wish I could offer more information about my tastes in Irish music, but most of what I have loved was in obscure pubs, particularly in and around Galway. The only "name" band I can think of that I've seen is Altan, which I adored. They sort of fit my flute & fiddle mental idea of traditional music, but I'm open to anything. I've sat through lots of avant-garde jazz -- I can handle anything!

I didn't even notice the Project Arts Centre stuff, thanks for that.
posted by Lame_username at 10:55 AM on January 28, 2009

Best answer: How did you feel about Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh's singing when you saw Altan? That will be a good gauge of whether you'll like a night of her and other voices like hers singing. I don't know that "New Age" is the best descriptor for what that Saturday night show will be like. Yes, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill has a bit of a propensity for playing awful synth pads on keyboard, and Moya Brennan is, em, Enya's sister in more ways than one, but it looks like the night will be focused on the traditional songs of Donegal, which might dodge the "New Age" bullet a bit. Here are the Ní Dhomhnaill sisters in action:

And here's Moya Brennan and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill together:

That's certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but if you enjoyed the sing-y bits of Altan, you might enjoy Saturday night a bit more than craichead would!
posted by Hellgirl at 12:06 PM on January 28, 2009

Response by poster: I thought Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh's voice was achingly beautiful. I also was entranced by the first YouTube link you posted. The second link was pleasant enough, but hours of that might be more than I'd rather. I assume that it is the more upbeat pacing of the former that I prefer, but I'm not certain. Certainly a song like Dún Do Shúil/Close Your Eyes is not a dance tune, but I find it so lovely I want to cry.
posted by Lame_username at 1:04 PM on January 28, 2009

Oh, that clip of Dún Do Shúil was just stunning! If you do end up going to the Saturday night, would you mind doing a very quick follow-up post about how it went? It sounds like you're going to have a blast of a weekend no matter what you do!
posted by Hellgirl at 1:37 PM on January 28, 2009

Yeah, I demand a recap, too! Incidentally, keep your ear to the ground about which pub the musicians are going to go to after the shows. They might end up having an impromptu session at some point, and if that happens, that's bound to be the absolute highlight of the weekend.
posted by craichead at 2:01 PM on January 28, 2009

Response by poster: I'm about to get on the plane, but I promise a recap when I get back. I will check the thread once I arrive in case any more great advice comes along. You guys have really been great thus far.
posted by Lame_username at 3:15 PM on January 28, 2009

Response by poster: Well, I'm back safe and sound. I had the most amazing time -- Ireland is always such a hospitable place for tourists and I found it even more so in the dead of winter. Due to a misunderstanding exacerbated by serious jet lag, we wound up missing Solas on Thursday. I talked to people who said it was brilliant, although I'm told that Paddy Keenan and Tommy O’Sullivan were even more amazing.

The pub crawl element of the TradFest was not as exciting as you might have hoped. It turns out that it was mostly the usual Temple Bar scene with a few more posters. Maybe I'm just old and grumpy, but the elbow to elbow crowds of revelers weren't really what I was hoping to experience. We later found out that almost all the acts were the usual Temple Bar performers at each pub. We went to several on Friday night, including the Auld Dubliner. The Quays and a few others, but honestly were a bit unimpressed. We were starting to worry just a bit that we weren't going to find what we hoped for. However, on the strength of a tip from a helpful MeFite, we went to An Góilín, apparently one of the first singing clubs. Their website suggested that non-singing visitors were "as welcome as flowers in May." The location was the Teacher's Club, an interesting multi-purpose venue that had many meeting rooms and hosted wedding receptions and much more. The room for the singing club was not posted and we had a brief moment of panic when we couldn't find it. However, we found the pub upstairs and the barman helpfully provided directions along with our Guinness and off we went. He did have a chuckle when we asked if we were permitted to take our beer along with us. Apparently their beverage control laws are not as strict as ours. Although we arrived at 10:15 for a 9:30 gathering (already billed as Irish time, meaning 10-ish), we were seated before anything began. It was a medium sized room ringed with tables and open in the center. Participants lined the walls and there were maybe 25 people there all told. Each person in turn had a chance to sing a song and they moved around the room clockwise. There was a bit of gentle teasing when we declined to sing, but all in good humor. Some singers were stunningly good and some were merely enthusiastic, but it was the perfect antidote to the commercial crush of Temple Bar. These were good people, sincere in their love for Irish music and warm friends to each other and equally hospitable to us. As we chatted between songs and on breaks, several of the members took it upon themselves to rectify the many gaps in our musical education. They agreed with us that the Temple Bar pub scene was no place to appreciate good music and we were given a full calendar of proper Irish pubs to go to for each hour of our remaining few days, assignments for CDs to purchase and email addresses to correspond with when we were done with those. Our initial concerns about the trip were dissolved at once and we now had more things to do and hear that we could fit in a month of trips. Many of the songs that night were protest songs and songs about the Spanish Civil War, I believe to honor someone who had recently passed away. Once someone thought of a song theme, it influenced the next singer and so on. There were also rollicking humorous tunes and hearty sing-alongs. People sometimes forgot a word or three and even lost the thread of the song completely once or twice, but someone else would pick up the tune for a bit until the original singer found their place again. It was not a polished concert, but was one of our best travel experiences in any country. You felt not so much a tourist as a visitor, briefly part of an ancient pastime shared with infectious enthusiasm by those who love and cherish the traditions they nurse. It was an evening I will never forget as long as I live.

Saturday night was a dramatic contrast, although equally fantastic. We had tickets to see Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Moya Brennan. We arrived a full hour before the show was scheduled to start and the place was already full to the rafters. We got quite lucky with a pair of seats at a big round table in the back of the venue with a quartet of Dublin women on a night out. I regret that I lack the vocabulary to do a proper revue of their performance, but it was mesmerizing. Moya played the harp the entire time, with Tríona handling the keyboards. I wondered how mega-stars like they would gel, but it went together brilliantly. The ladies had better chemistry that you might expect, both in terms of their harmonies and their on-stage patter. At one point, Moya was telling the story behind a song when Mairéad interrupted to point out that any time a Gaelic song mentioned chestnuts that you knew it was a dirty song. All the ladies got into a giggle over that and they barely got through the introduction as it went downhill from there. The audience was in stitches. I know from more knowledgeable people sitting close by that some of the songs were world premiers from Mairéad's upcoming solo project, while others were from each of the other ladies catalog with a mixture of favorite traditional songs mixed in as well. They did "Two Sisters" which I thought was a Tom Waits song. They also did a Joni Mitchell song, but the name escapes me at the moment. There was a song about a mermaid that Google suggests is called An Mhaighdean Mhara that I especially enjoyed. At one point a new friend I made in the audience was educating me on the finer points of the concert thus far, and she made me laugh when she very proudly told me that all four women were from Donegal. It didn't take a detective to guess where she was from. The only low point of the concert was when they stopped. Tríona's voice was the least pleasing to me, but that is at most a minor quibble. Moya was far beyond my expectations. In my view, she seemed the most adaptable, seeming to find different harmonies in every song. Her voice was just so strong over such a wide range, I've heard little to equal it. Here is a nice photo I found on the interweb of the four ladies at the end of the show.

We caught a tiny bit of the outdoor dance/music thing on Sunday, but it was quite cold, so we didn't linger. I suppose that is a review of sorts ;) We noticed two or three musicians walking past our hotel on Sunday, so we followed one to a pub named O'donoghues where we found a delightful gathering where musicians outnumbered patrons 3 to 1. We had a pint or two and a delightful time there. I mention this primarily because I spotted one of the players waiting for luggage when our plane landed from Dublin back in the USA. We had an assignment from our singer's club friends on Sunday to a pub on Chancery street where two different bands played and it was a small, convivial crowd that was the perfect end to our trip.
posted by Lame_username at 9:51 AM on February 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Lame_Username, sounds like you had a fantastic time! :)
posted by LN at 10:55 AM on February 3, 2009

Thanks for the update. My husband really wants to take me to Ireland and your trip and report are a definite inspiration. Glad you had such a good time!
posted by immlass at 4:00 PM on February 3, 2009

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