The Screaming Orphans.
By Colleen Taylor
Last week I reviewed some of the biggest and best Irish music fests in the continental U.S. Thankfully, our New York readers don’t have to travel far from the Northeast to encounter some of the best Irish fests and music events of the summer. Here’s what’s happening this summer in New York City, the Tristate area and a little further afield.
Catskills Irish Arts Week
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For anyone raised in an Irish-American household, the Catskills carries a certain cultural significance. To head up to the Catskills was to, symbolically, head over to Ireland without getting on a plane, to immerse yourself in this weird conclave of expat culture and vintage American mid-century design. In the Catskills, it’s as if the diaspora only just happened a few years ago. The area is a time capsule: preserved mid-20th century architecture anachronistically juxtaposed against 19th century Irish national culture forms, like ballads playing in pubs and shamrock emblems everywhere you turn. This is where dancers go to practice each summer, and even more famously, where Irish-American trad musicians go to gather, learn, and perform.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Catskills Irish Arts Week, which will run from July 14-20. Even if you are not a musician or dancer, this week has something for any Irish cultural enthusiast, including beginners workshops, lectures, and of course, ceilis. Most importantly, it is worth going to see Joanie Madden in her element. This year will feature a Thursday night concert by Cherish the Ladies, a band that, in some ways, represents the pinnacle of Irish-American cultural preservation. The band members also teach some of the week’s workshops. Finally, the week concludes with the NYU contingent: Mick Moloney’s “Green Fields of America” show, featuring Athena Tergis and Billy McComiskey. Get involved at catskillsirishartsweek.com
Great American Irish Fest
The great Americana Irish festival of Frankfort, N.Y. is, as its title might suggest, an ultimate fusion of American summer activity and Irish tradition. The festival, which runs from July 26-28 this year, involves events like the American cultural fad of “sip and paint,” raffles, a zoomobile, and bizarrely, wine slushies, as well as Irish and Scottish traditions like bagpipes, highland games, Mass in the Irish language, and whiskey tasting.
Most significant, however, is the music agenda. This year’s headliners are a powerhouse trio: the High Kings, We Banjo 3, and the Young Dubliners. Not to mention, you can also see Enter the Haggis and, if you are a fan of Irish crooners, Andy Cooney. Much to my excitement, two sister bands will perform this year in central New York, representing the growing and impressive collective of female Irish rock and trad performers gradually. First, the Screaming Orphans, four sisters from Bundoran, Co. Donegal, will take the “contemporary stage” on Friday and Saturday to showcase their new 2019 album, “Life in a Carnival,” which reached number 3 in the Irish iTunes charts. Next up is Searson, a Canadian duo of sisters who first impressed me back during my WFUV/Ceol na nGael Days with their fiery fiddles and Irish step dancing and who will play “the traditional stage” at the festival. True to the festival’s two-part cultural blend, American bands will perform as well, including Hair of the Dog and the American Rogues. This festival remains an occasion for local bands to practice on a larger stage, such as the Blarney Rebel Band and the Comhaltas faction of the area, Craobh Dugan.
The Great Irish American Festival may be three days of good fun and good music, but this festival also takes its mission very seriously. Their ethos is ultimately one of cultural preservation and exploration—celebrating Irish culture, while also exploring a local, regional history of Irish immigrants to Central New York specifically. According to their own syntax, this festival is not just about fun but about “understanding”—understanding Irish history among the diaspora and, perhaps more importantly, inviting as many visitors as possible to explore and understand Irish music and culture. Find out more at greatamericanirishfest.com
The Great Irish Fair
If you don’t feel like leaving the city, just wait for September. Celebrating its 38th anniversary, the Great Irish Fair will close off the warm summer weather at Coney Island on Sept. 21. New York Irish rock band, Shilelagh Law, will perform at the Ford Ampitheater in the historic New York setting.
Although the New Jersey and Connecticut central state Irish fests have already passed, as well as the Bergen County Irish Fest, there are some other festivals in the tri-state area to look forward to for the remainder of the warm months.
The Syracuse Irish Festival, running from Sept. 6-7 in Clinton Square in Syracuse, has a great lineup this year, including Enter the Haggis, Runa, Aoife Scott, new Limerick trad band the Conifers, and an exciting new Americana-Irish trio, One for the Foxes.
My own hometown area puts on the Greater Danbury Irish Festival each year in Danbury, Conn., taking place this year Sept. 20-22. The Mighty Ploughboys and Shilelagh Law will perform, justifying the quick Metro North train ride up from the city.
Having made this list, I’m reminded that we are never at a loss for Irish cultural opportunity in the States. I’m reminded that the fleadh is not just one week in Drogheda but something that extends across the Atlantic, all summer long, in North America. Finally, I’m reminded that the diaspora is just not a social phenomenon or object of sociological study, but an ever-shifting, breathing, living global sound.