Grammercy Ale House session brings together best Irish musicians in NYC

In the Irish community, traditional music sessions are seen as ways to unwind and gather with friends while reflecting on the tunes of a culture’s past. In terms of the United States, New York City is far and away the best locale in the nation for Irish traditional music. At the Grammercy Ale House on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, each Wednesday Denis McCarthy, fiddler for the popular band Shillelagh Law, joins a roster of all star musicians in performing on the best sessions in all the city.

McCarthy’s origins with the session go back to his childhood. “I started playing at 8 years old. My parents forced me to. I learned under a famous fiddle teacher named Martin Mulvihill; he was the origin of all the best fiddlers in New York, in my opinion,” he says.

McCarthy, a champion fiddler in his youth, began playing at a session at a pub called the Hibernian in Yonkers in the early 2000s, where he met owner and operator of the Grammercy Ale House, Trevor Kelly. After losing ties for years, the pair eventually reunited at the 2014 opening of the Ale House, bringing their shared love of Irish music with them.

When asked about influences, guitarist John Walsh, flutist Andrew McCarrick, and McCarthy all cite the short-lived but highly influential Bothy Band as a major force behind their playing styles. When asked about spinning their own individuality onto the music that has been played by so many before them, band member Danny Flynn says, “It’s a lot like having a conversation, when you’re hearing the other musicians play around you and reacting to the music they make.” McCarthy adds, “ Music is music. There’s no denying the notes and the order in which you play them. But it’s how we learn from one another that changes the songs over time.”

A special note about the session is how relaxed it is. Each musician brings their own style and talents to create a truly unique session experience that is hard to find outside of Dublin. Members of the band include players who have performed with Derek Warfield and the band Black 47 (piper Andrew Sharp) among famous Irish musicians. The talent level is high, and the pretense level is low.

“Name a better place where you can play with some of the best Irish musicians on the planet. It’s great to show up here, play, and just close your eyes and feel the music,” McCarthy says.

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