Irish musicians looking to book shows in Baltimore must have it tough.
Like other cities along the Boston-to-DC corridor, Baltimore has had a thriving Irish-American community since the 19th century, and that has been distilled into plenty of Irish pubs in which to hold sessions. Flautist Laura Byrne is a frequent host of the sessions throughout Baltimore and a well-respected teacher of traditional Irish music. The musicians that accompany her on this disc and who joined her for the CD release are no slouches themselves: pianist Donna Long (from Cherish the Ladies), master button accordionist Billy McComiskey, and guitarists Pat Egan and Sean Ernest. The outstanding young fiddler Cleek Shrey played fiddle at the CD release, and Rhys Jones played fiddle on the album.
The disc has reels and jigs and airs aplenty, with a few surprises. Byrne picked up an old-timey version of “Bonaparte’s March” (a.k.a. the hornpipe “Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine”) and a “happy” version of The Galway Shawl learned from Billy McComiskey’s mother. But the pieces on the album that truly shine are those that best take advantage of the flute’s peculiarities: “The Sailpin’s Lament” and the title track, Byrne’s own composition. “Lucky Day” was written the morning after she and Long walked away unscathed from a car crash. Byrne explained: “I realized sometimes you’re lucky just to go to bed at night and get up in the morning.”
On August 27, 2010, Byrne released the CD at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson Theater, a converted movie-theater-turned-art-space, to a packed house of her students and fans of Baltimore’s Irish community. It was emceed by the very funny Myron Bretholz, who also provided bodhrán and bones. Musicians rotated on and off stage throughout the night, and step dancing was provided by Jonathan Srour, who was fresh off a tour with Lord of the Dance.
McComiskey told many a tortuous tale. (“I tell youngsters that they have to talk, too. If it was up to them, they’d never stop the music.”) Egan sang “The Holy Ground.” “The Sailpin’s Lament” was the highlight of the show; the piece is beautiful on the album but stunning in its emotional power when Byrne performs it live. Around the fifth song, the audience became the percussion section, and for the last song, Laura invited many of the students of the band members—including McComiskey’s son—onto the stage.
After the concert was over, they planned to go to a bar for a session.
Some of the younger musicians couldn’t wait for them to figure out where that was going to happen. So they played in the lobby while the band talked to everyone.
Videos from the show appear below the pictures.
—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)
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