By Daniel Neely
Over the past few months I’ve written a couple of times about the legal and financial challenges Irish musicians who want to tour in the United States face, and specifically about what these hurdles mean to the success of domestic small businesses like festivals and music venues. However, this is a small facet of a much larger and more important question that’s been raging about immigration and immigrants’ rights, and about civil rights in general. I’m sure many of the readers of this column are interested in and perhaps even affected by these issues. They’re certainly important to the traditional music community.
It is pretty obvious that the future of immigration policy isn’t bright and it has musicians all around rightly concerned. With this in mind, a group of Boston-based musicians, including Noel Scott, Seán Clohessy, and George Keith, have stepped up and responded by organizing a collective action that will take place on this Sunday, March 5, at venues throughout the country called “Sanctuary Sessions: Trad Music for Civil Rights.” The goal is to make music, encourage positive dialogue, and raise money for the American Civil Liberties Union’s continued effort to defend citizens’ rights under the Constitution. So far, the response has been overwhelming.
I recently spoke with Scott, who spoke about the event with great pride. “It basically started as an impulse and was small in scope. We put some initial work into getting the word out in a limited way. But people got really excited about the idea and it caught on quickly and spread organically all over the place. It feels like there’s a strong federation of like-minded musicians in this, working together for a common cause, free from any self interest or ego. It’s really inspiring.”
Originally dubbed “The Liberty Sessions,” the name had to be changed because it seems it was already in use by the pop band Duran Duran! However, Philadelphia-based singer Marian Makins suggested “sanctuary” in its place, a name that echoed the name “sanctuary cities,” or the cities that have been in the news as of late which limit the use of municipal resources for the enforcement of national immigration laws. Her suggestion stuck and has proven a brilliant choice.
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What’s notable here is that this action has been organized and driven almost entirely by instrumental musicians. Although there have been politically outspoken singers in traditional music’s past – folks like Andy Irvine, Christy Moore, Frank Harte, to name a few – no one can remember a time when traditional instrumental musicians have ever come together so uniformly and organized for a common cause so vocally.
The speed with which this has happened is remarkable. The initial conversation about the need for an event such as this was only first broached three weeks ago. At the time of writing, there are events planned in twenty cities, including Arlington, Va., Boston, Mass.; Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; South Bend, Ind.; Portland, Me; Milwaukee, Wisc.; Montpellier, Vt.; Baltimore, Md.; Silver Spring, Md.; St. Louis, Mo.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Charlottesville, Va.; Asheville, N.C.; San Francisco, Calif.; Los Angeles, Calif; and Dublin, Ireland. The event in New York City will take place from 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. at the Four Faced Liar and will feature a host of the City’s finest musicians. By the time this article goes to press, it’s expected that additional events in new cities will have been added.
America is a nation of immigrants. Although traditional Irish music has taken root in this country, we should be mindful that it was brought here from Ireland and represents the hopes and experiences of those who carried it with them. “Sanctuary Sessions: Trad Music for Civil Rights” understands this and will be an important show of solidarity in support of a positive immigration policy. It should prove a landmark event and one that should recur in the future. There is strength in this traditional music community, and we’ll see it in action on March 5th. To learn more and to find an event close to you, visit tinyurl.com/sanctuarysessions and click on the “Events” page.