This Summer I spent a good deal of time in “the Triangle”, woodshedding some tunes everyone should know and even writing a couple more. Living in Durham, NC for the Summer, I was missing my musical creative outlets back home in Asheville, so I sought out some local Irish Trad Sessions. This led me to two sessions in Raleigh and one in Morrisville, NC. Luckily, the reputation of being a session player from Asheville only slightly preceded me.
Tir Na Nog – Raleigh, NC
My first stop of the Summer was to attend the Sunday session at Tir Na Nog in Raleigh. It was a wide open session, with a great deal more of variety than I was used to. It was also the last session they were to have. It turns out I showed up on the last day of business for Tir Na Nog. Which was a shame really, because it was a lovely place with a wonderful hostess/owner. The session itself was a little less structured than I’m used to. And there were even some classic rock songs sung with sincerity towards the end. I got to play my favorite Choice Wife/Gallagher’s Frolic set and so it was lots of fun nonetheless.
It was at this session, that I was reminded how reputations can influence expectations for the good or the bad. I showed up early to meet the session leader. There were a few folks who also showed up early. I brought my octave mandolin with me, which travels in a guitar shaped case. The first expression I got when they saw my guitar shaped case, seemed to say, “Great, another guitar player” as if they had seen their share of sessions with multiple guitarists. (Those of you who have also experienced that, might understand how much of a headache that can be.)
Then after exchanging names and before I could ask about the standard session
etiquette here, they asked where I was from. So I told them. Then everyone was silent a moment longer than necessary, and someone said, “Oh, you’re from the Jack of the Wood aren’t you?” And I knew exactly what that statement implied.
So I had to laugh good naturedly and said, “Yes, I am from the Jack of the Wood session in Asheville.” and with a wink said, “But I also play well with others and would rather have a good time, making friends, than fret over musical purity.” We all laughed out loud and it was then clear we understood each other, and went on to make great music.
The Stag’s Head – Raleigh, NC
The next session I was able to attend was at the Stag’s Head, also in Raleigh, down the street from Tir Na Nog. This is a glorious session. It’s on a large stage! The stage doesn’t matter, but the amount of room each player has on that stage is fantastic. (Remember, I play at the Jack of the Wood often, where sometimes 18 people try to fit on a stage built for an acoustic singer/songwriter duo.) The players range in skill level, but they all get along nicely and play beautifully.
Alan, the accordion, concertina and whistle player can mesmerize you with his tunes. His whistle playing in particular, I could listen to for hours, so sweet and full of the spirit of what I imagine Irish music to be. Every other player too adds a nice touch to the group. This session is a bit tighter, and I did not experience anything other than Irish music here. The session at the Stag’s Head occurs on Sunday at 2 PM as of this writing. It’s worth checking out, and does seem to be an open session. Meaning, there aren’t any obvious restrictions on who can play and who can’t.
Trali – Morrisville, NC
In Morrisville, NC there is an Irish Pub called Trali. I’m assuming this is a chain as I’ve seen them other places and this was the second one I encountered while in “the Triangle”. This session is a semi-closed session. It seems to be you should probably know someone who already plays in the session, and you should be able to play a lot of tunes, keep a steady tempo, and not try to play when you don’t know the tunes.
Luckily, one of the players, Scott (a fantastic flute player), told me about this session. He said he’d put in a good word for me with the session leader, whom I then corresponded with electronically. She said I was vouched for, and so welcome to attend, and then she asked if I played with the earlier session or the later session at Jack of the Wood.
This gave me pause. Some of you who have been to the JOW sessions know there is an interesting culture between the earlier and later sessions. The earlier session is a rocking good time, but sometimes (not often these days) the tempo shifts or we get a brand new player who means well, but derails things a little. The later session is “a full-bore, you better be damned good, or we’ll ask you to leave” kind of a session. That can be intimidating, and not a lot of fun for folks who may be decent at their instrument, want to have a good time, and aren’t expecting to get ignored or told to leave because there is someone better in the audience who wants a seat.
So what was she asking? Did she think the earlier session was sloppy? Did she think the later session was too stressful? Did she wonder if I was laid back like the earlier session? Was she asking me if I was good enough to play with the later session? Who knows really? Musicians are a peculiar bunch (myself included). Sometimes people hold on to grudges. Sometimes people maintain high standards at the expense of joyfulness… it goes on…so…
I decided to quit over thinking it and tell her the truth. I said, I personally really enjoy playing with both sessions for different reasons. I have and can play in both sessions, but to be honest prefer the more laid back approach of the earlier session. That seemed to be the right answer, and so she gave me the time and day to show up.
And this session was also glorious. Everyone was friendly, the musicianship was stellar, and there was plenty of room. (Can you tell, I like my space?) We sat around two tables pushed together, the waitress brought us beer, and we went around the circle each picking sets to play as we would. If you get a chance to listen to or be invited to play at the Trali session, I’d highly recommend it.
I was asked to attend a home session in between Stag’s Head and Trali. That was an excellent welcoming group of people made up from all the different sessions I had visited. And overall, my experience of the Irish Trad sessions in Raleigh and Morrisville were fantastic and just what I needed while away from the cool (because it’s hot as hell here!) Mist Covered Mountains of Asheville.
I enjoyed reading this. Most Bluegrass Jams that I have been to everyone was very friendly and inclusive. I’ve never been to an Irish Session.
Restrictions on who can and who cant play? You better be dam good good or we will ask you to leave kind of session? I thought music was for everyone? Sounds a bit snobby to me. Glad im in the u.k.
I agree Barry. Maybe one day I’ll see you in u.k. got a mandolin or tenor banjo I could borrow?
Hi Ryan Sorry if that sounded a bit harsh but i have high anxiety and a bit of a reactionary old git mainly because of the terrible things that are happening in our beautiful world. I find it hard to play in public and if i found myself in a situation like that i would leave imediatley. I have a 1917 a4 which i stopped playing because of hand problems(im 67) and im now playing a weber gallatin (small neck) which i love. I also have an ibanez 526(1976)which is also a fine mandolin. I have played guitar for 50 something years and mandolin for about 8 but its taken over and i play it every day so take your pick. Devon is a bit of a backwater for mandolin playing,in fact the whole of the u.k. There is only one shop in the whole of the u.k. that sells hand made instruments(t.a.m.c.o.)in brighton. I will be at the lyme regis folk festival this weekend, where my wifes brother is playing(steve dagleish). I have your book and learned quite a bit from it and i like your website. The problem i have at the moment is picks which is something else that is not easy to get here(everything good is american). I use a o.80mm. Anyway (phew) glad you agreed,dont like to upset anyone. Love and peace Barry xx
No worries… I remember when I discovered the mandolin from guitar… I felt the same way… and couldn’t imagine why I never started with a mandolin! I understand sessions that all have super players that don’t want to get bogged down by folks who can’t even keep a beat… but I also feel… that music is supposed to be about community and fun… So luckily we have both options at Jack of the Wood… But yes, I remember when I first tried to attend a “snooty” session and they asked me to leave… I was pissed… so I know how it feels… however, when I get pissed I get motivated… so I decided I was going to get good enough that no one would ask me to leave again! ; )
I can understand how you felt Ryan. Thought i should let you know that the word pissed in the u.k. means drunk. They asked you to leave because you were drunk and when you get drunk you get motivated. I just fall over!
That would be funny… if that was how it worked.