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Music

Jamison’s Alice Marie Has the World on a String—Well, Four, Actually

The musicians of Jamison are motoring noisily through sound check at Curran’s Tacony on a steamy Friday night, getting ready to begin their show. Off in a corner that is only marginally quieter than the rest of the area around the bar is the band’s fiddler Alice Marie Quirk, the humidity making her long curly hair even curlier.

She has just arrived from a 4thof July gig at a retirement community—a pretty fair indication of how busy and versatile she is. Her sound check is just a few minutes away, but for now she is taking a few moments to tell her story—how she made the transition from classical viola to fiddle in a Celtic rock band.

It’s an incomplete transition because classical music remains an important part of her life, but for some time she has been a fixture on the Philly paddy rock scene.

Quirk—who just goes by the name “Alice Marie” because people tended to mistake “Quirk” for names like “Kirk” and unfailingly mispronounce it—has come a long way from her Bachelor of Arts degree in music, with a minor in theology, from Immaculata University and her teaching certification from Eastern. (She also taught music for a time in the Philadelphia School District.) Continue Reading

Dance, Music

Remembering Eugene O’Donnell

The world of Irish music and dance is mourning the passing of the supremely gifted fiddler Eugene O’Donnell. News of his death came Friday, June 28, from his longtime musical partner, multi-instrumentalist and folklorist Mick Moloney.

In the Philadelphia area, he is best known for that partnership. He was also a founding member of the Philadelphia Ceili Group.

As a fiddler, he was renowned for his mastery of slow airs—although he certainly had a broad repertoire—but for many in this region, he was also known as one of the greatest step dancers ever to have taken to the floor.

According to Compass Records, for which he recorded, O’Donnell “began Irish dancing at the age of three and was the first Irish dancer ever to dance on television in London at the age of 12, all the while playing and perfecting Derry-style Irish fiddling. As a teen, O’Donnell won an unprecedented five consecutive All-Ireland dancing championships.”

O’Donnell arrived in Philadelphia from Derry in 1957. From there, it didn’t take long for him to begin sharing his many gifts.

Many recall him for his superb musical skills, but they also remember him as one of the finest, most inventive, and occasionally the most exacting of dance instructors. Continue Reading

Music

A Photographer’s Look Back at the Glen Hansard Concert

I had been pining for months since I had learned Glen Hansard was coming back to Philly with his The Wild Willing Tour. After brushing off his music twice before, he quickly became a musical hero whose artistry seemed to speak directly to my soul.   

Although I don’t seem to recall this interaction in the least, apparently NPR had done a story on him and my wife loved his song “Falling Slowly,” which we played in the car. When she pushed me on it, I dismissed it. A friend also recommended him. Again, I didn’t retain it. 

However, perhaps close to a year later, this same friend mentioned him again to me in reply to a Facebook post about what artist inspires you as a human or on a deeper level. It was something like that. Chris, the friend, really talked him up. For whatever reason, this time it stuck with me. So much so that I drove 45 minutes that day to the only Barnes & Noble in the area that had a copy of his famous  “Once” on DVD.   

I watched it that night. And the following day, I bought the digital version of the soundtrack and almost burnt it out. Not sure how I went from blowing him off to then becoming almost like a cult follower. 

Regardless, I was now all in. I brought that friend, Chris, with me to see him live. I owed him that much, right? I wasn’t sure what to expect from his live show or the opener.  I did know that I would not miss it.   

Arriving at the Merriam Theater, it became very clear that Glen had amassed a serious following in Philly. We made our way to our seats. I determined my shooting points for the show, then just waited. The house lights went out and next thing I knew, Glen came out with just an acoustic guitar. I thought to myself, “No opener?” I certainly wasn’t complaining. He got to the mic and launched immediately into a lively version of “Say it to Me Now,” which I knew from the “Once” sound track. 

Glan Hansard pulls you in right away.  After he ended the song, he thanked everyone for coming in early for the show.

He then began to talk about the opening act, Junior Brother, an eclectic singer/songwriter from County Kerry, who would go on to thank Glen for lending him his guitar to use that night. JB also thanked the crowd for coming to see his show, which offered sometimes humorous songs and stories done with an acoustic guitar and foot tambourine for an overarching folk sound.   

When Glen took the stage again, he started with a fully electric “Fool’s Game.” Having this preconceived idea of him as perhaps docile based on the “Once” sound track, I was blown away with just how high-energy, charismatic and animated his show can be.

Early on in his show, he mentioned that he was unsure about booking Philly again “this soon” as he was just here last year. The filled theater quickly showed him the love that this city has for him.

His show ended close to midnight, about three hours after it began. 

Glen interwove various tales, sometimes leading him to other off-topic tales.

The one that really struck me was when he spoke about eventually becoming pen pals with someone in the military who was deployed. Admittedly, he confessed much of the communication was one-way, that the soldier really was just looking for someone to listen to him, as he shared what was going on during deployment. 

It’s because of this that Glen continued this interaction but then became alarmed when the communication stopped. For some time, Glen was unsure of the fate of his friend until one night after a show, the solider came up and greeted him, offering him great relief. 

It was an amazing show with incredible music and wonderful tales. 

To see his entire set list, click here.

Arts, Music, Videos

Dave Curley in Concert

There’s not much that can top the pleasure of spending a Sunday evening in early June listening to Dave Curley performing live for the Philadelphia Ceili Group. And the crowd gathered at the Commodore John Barry Arts & Cultural Center last week got to bask in the experience firsthand. It won’t be the same as being there yourself, but Irish Philadelphia captured a few of Dave’s songs on video which we bring to you here.

Hailing from Corofin in County Galway, Dave is a triple threat in the world of Irish music: a multi-instrumentalist, a singer and a dancer. For the past several years, he’s been touring with the groups SLIDE and RUNA, and more recently he’s been performing with fellow SLIDE bandmate, Mick Broderick (the duo released an acclaimed CD that can be found on his website).

But Dave Curley performing solo is a treat for the ears that shouldn’t be missed. If you’re able to be in the York County vicinity tomorrow, Saturday, June 15th, be sure to catch him at the Penn-Mar Irish Festival. At the very least, watch the videos and be sure not to miss him the next time he’s in the area!

Music, People

Joe Reavy: Reflections on “a Great Run”

Irish musicians throughout the world are familiar with the music of Philadelphia’s Ed Reavy. That so many know his work is largely a tribute to his son, Joseph M. Reavy, 91, recipient of Mid-Atlantic Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Gradam Comaoine/Outstanding Contribution Award, conferred June 8 at the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Region’s Hall of Fame Banquet. It was Joe Reavy—a talented multi-instrumental musician in his own right—who collected and transcribed his father’s many tunes into a thick book of sheet music.

He is characteristically self-effacing when he talks about the project.

“I don’t want to put myself in the forefront,” he says. “This is my father’s music. I published it so people would know it. He had an unbelievable musical memory, but my father did not write out the music. Of course, I read music and so I did most of the work, unless it was very, very technical stuff, and then I would call on someone else to help with it. Musicians—especially among advocates and people who loved his music—welcomed this (compilation) because they could put it in front of other musicians who maybe didn’t know too much about Irish music. I spent two years’ time with my father; almost every week we worked on it.

“It was just wonderful working with him. I learned so much. Even though he didn’t know how to write out the music, he knew how to talk about music. He had the greatest memory for tunes.” Continue Reading

Audio, Audios, Music, Photo Essays, Photos

Sights and Sounds of the 2019 Philadelphia Irish Festival

The 2019 Philadelphia Irish Festival at Penn’s Landing is history. A very good festival it was. With temperatures in the 80s and a nice breeze along the Delaware, it was picture-perfect most of the day.

Seamus McGroary, C.J. Mills and Joe Kirschen started playing just after noon, and the tunes flowed on into the afternoon, with the McLean Avenue Band of New York City and Philly band Jamison taking the stage later in the day, undaunted by occasionally threatening skies.

A good-sized crowd showed up to take in the tunes, buy Irish shirts and hats, slurp water ice, sip a brew, feast on funnel cake, or watch the Irish dancers. For the kids, there were balloon hats, face painting and a moon bounce. Continue Reading

Dance, Food & Drink, Music, News

A Little Bit of Ireland on the Waterfront

People have been celebrating their Irish heritage by taking in The Philadelphia Irish Festival at Penns Landing for more than 20 years. That translates to thousands of Irish or those who just want to be Irish for the day. You can add to those impressive stats. The festival is coming up again on June 2. Best of all—it’s free.

Part of the PECO Multicultural Series, the festival offers a day of great Irish tunes, dance, food and drink, vendors, and plenty of activities for the kiddies.

“It’s a family-friendly event,” says organizer Michael Bradley. “It attracts everybody from newborns to people in their 90s. Everybody’s welcome. It’s a nice way to get your family out and to keep the Irish tradition alive, at a beautiful location along the river. It’s just a really neat place to be.”

Free admission means people who might be struggling financially can come out and enjoy the music, the vendors and all the rest. “It’s not a price-conscious thing,” Bradley says. “You don’t see free admission too much anymore.” Continue Reading

Arts, Food & Drink, Music, Sports

Kilt Fest: An All-Inclusive Celtic Celebration

Yes, there are kilts—in at least one case, obligatory. Sure, there’s ax throwing, bagpipes, a kilted fun run, and highland games. But Kilt Fest, coming to Bucks County June 7 and 8, is really a mishmash of all Celtic culture.

Kilt Fest on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware is an offshoot of a festival by the same name held in New Jersey. This will be the first year here in the Philadelphia suburbs, at the Trifecta Sporting Club, 4666 East Bristol Road, Feasterville-Trevose.

“Ours is more of a Celtic festival. We have Irish and Scots,” says organizer Chris Beyer, owner of American Highlander Kilts. “A lot of it is Irish. It’s easier to get Irish involved in these things. We try to keep it where it’s a little more all-inclusive.” Continue Reading