This year marks a big anniversary for Irish music in Ithaca: the 20th consecutive year of the local weekly music session, known in Gaelic as a ceili (pronounced kay-lee; meaning "visit"), featuring informal sets of traditional music on fiddle, flute, guitar, tin whistle, accordion, and bodhran (a hand drum).
The ceili - or, simply, session - was started in 1987 by Mark Bickford, who went on to form the enduring band, Traonach. Joel Cowan, also of Traonach, was an early participant in the first sessions, which were held at the Rongo in Trumansburg.
The session changed venues over the years, located at various times at the Chapter House, Micawbers, the Nines, and Kilpatrick's. Not many players have fallen away, while a a new generation has joined.
Reflecting the youth movement is a show on Friday 29 June at Felicia's Atomic Lounge, not your father's (nor anyone's) traditional Irish pub. The friendly hipster hangout, at 508 W. State Street, will host a 5 pm show by cousins Oona deFlaun Grady and Marie Grady Demott, on fiddle and flute.
Ed McGowan, fiddler for Traonach and a family friend of the cousins, is delighted by the headliner status of the young women. He instructed Oona as a girl, and notes that both women have played intensively since early childhood. In recent years, the cousins studied music at university in Ireland.
McGowan compares the Felicia's show to an event one might find in downtown Manhattan or Brooklyn, and not many other places. He notes that for years the Hudson Valley was a hotbed of Irish music, perhaps the foremost in the U.S., but seems to be fading, while Ithaca's scene grows. A weekly ceili held in that region for 19 years is ending, according to the Irish Echo newspaper.
McGowan is planning some informal celebrations of the anniversary of the Ithaca session - partly, he says, to let the wider community know that perhaps Ithaca is the regional capital of the music now, if not the national one.
"The music critics at the Echo are engaged in a certain amount of hand-wringing right now," he says. "They should know that the scene is alive and well up here. We've been doing this for twenty years, and it's better than ever."
for Ithaca Blog