Kevin Crawford, visiting sunny Sea Isle.
Add another tune to the “Jersey Shore Sound” songbook—and no, Bruce Springsteen didn’t write it.
It’s called the “Shore House Reel,” and it comes from a surprising source: virtuoso flutist Kevin Crawford of Lúnasa. You can hear it on the band’s most recent recording, “Lá Nua.” It’s the peppy little number at the very end, and it is an homage to none other than Sea Isle City.
Crawford came to know one of our favorite shore towns courtesy of Bob McLaughlin (brother of Jim McLaughin, board member of the Irish American Business Chamber & Network), who lives outside Chicago. McLaughlin owns a shore house about a block from the beach. Crawford started staying there as a guest a few years ago.
“”I got to know Bob first and foremost because he’s an up-and-coming flute player. He came to flute camp at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina about five years ago,” recalls Crawford. “He was in my class and we hung out together for about a week. we just got to be good friends.”
A couple of years into the relationship, McLaughlin mentioned that he had a beach house and wondered if Crawford might want to use it from time to time when he was touring in the States. Crawford jumped at the chance for a place to charge his creative batteries.
“It’s been very good, actually,” he says. “I come in periodically. I’ve been fortunate to have the odd four- or five-day stint down there. A few years ago, myself and Cillian (Vallely, Lúnasa’s uilleann piper) recorded our (2009) duet album “On Common Ground” at Maja Studios in Philadelphia. We just commuted in and out of sea Isle. We’d get up in the morning and go for a run along the boardwalk, go for a swim, and then head into Philadelphia. And then back to Sea Isle again. It was good to get out of the city.”
Crawford lives in County Clare—which boasts a few stunning shore towns of its own—but he says he doesn’t think of Clare in the same way. Touring and living out of a suitcase can be exhausting. For Crawford, Sea Isle offers a respite. For a few days at least, he can settle in and blend into a community and make it his own. “I go on lots of trips abroad with the band, but you never really feel like you’ve seen the place or been part of things for any period of time. It all worked out perfectly for this trip. We had a few days in New York City, and it was fairly mental. We were staying downtown amid all the hustle and bustle. Then we went down to the shore. It was chalk and cheese. After a few days there, I felt fully fit and ready to go.”
Jim McLaughlin understands why the shore—and the house—are so appealing. “I think he likes the feeling that this is Bob’s plce. Bob and he have become like brothers. If Kevin ever needed bail money theres no doubt who the call would go to. He feels like it’s an extension of home.”
Just like Philadelphians who annually migrate to a particular shore town, Crawford has come to know Sea Isle pretty well. He says he’s become a big fan of local eateries, including Braca’s, Mike’s Seafood Market and O’Donnell’s Pour House. “I usually kind of steer clear of Irish pubs,” he confesses, “but I’ve been there a couple of times, and it was brilliant.”
(Jim McLaughlin notes that Kevin has also become a major fan of Wawa.)
It was during one of those recent “chill out” visits to Sea Isle that the idea came to him for a tune in honor of his adopted South Jersey resort town. He had been thinking of naming a tune for Sea Isle for some time, but had no firm plans. It wasn’t as if, he says, “I went up to my music room and say, ‘I’m gonna write a tune for Bob.'” It came to him one night out when he and Cillian were out on the deck.
“You could hear the waves crashing one block over from us. It was a really serene vibe when we were there. I said to Cillian that it would be nice if we had a track (on the upcoming CD) that was a little more laid back. So we started rearranging things for different instruments. We wound up recording the tunes (there are two other reels in the set, “Inverness County Reel” and “The Beauty Spot”) on lower pitched pipes. It just made it sound not as mad and as upbeat. It just reminded us of the calmness of Sea Isle.”
Some writers going for “calm” might have opted for a slow air. Crawford penned a reel because, he says, Bob McLaughlin loves reels. “I know from teaching Bob at workshops that there are certain tunes he likes, that he’s attracted to. I wanted a tune that Bob would like. It’s made for him.”
Crawford hints that this won’t be the last composition in honor of his gracious hosts. “The McLaughlins have just been so good to us, they’re a great family, really love their Irish heritage,” says Crawford. “I’m sure there will be more tunes.”
Lúnasa appears in concert this week—Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:30 p.m.—at Calvary United Methodist Church, 801 South 48th Street (at Baltimore Avenue), in West Philadelphia.