Irish Music Finds Home in NY this Fall

For lovers of Irish music in New York City, there’s no question that the weeks around St. Patrick’s Day – some call it “St. Paddy’s Month” – offer the greatest number and variety of live shows. But plenty of excellent Irish musicians perform in town outside that peak period, such as the three shows below unfolding in the next two months.  Some of the music is traditional, relying on the fiddle and mandolin. Some is not. But all of it is steeped in the culture and mood of Ireland.

The Waterboys (Photo by Kewl Kela, Creative Commons license)

The Waterboys are back in the U.S. for the first time in six years. Their show at The Bowery Ballroom is sold out. (Photo by Kewl Kela, Creative Commons license)

The Waterboys | Friday, October 25, Bowery Ballroom, $35

First up is the return of Mike Scott and his band The Waterboys, who have not toured the U.S. in six years. On October 25 they play The Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey St., Manhattan), a Lower East Side club that only holds about 550 people.

The Waterboys are a lush, folky rock band with thoughtful, literary lyrics – the band’s last full-length album, “An Appointment with Mr. Yeats,” set the words of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats to music.

This week, the band releases a 25th anniversary box set of its classic album, “Fisherman’s Blues.” Set lists from earlier shows on the tour feature plenty of crowd pleasers, like “The Whole of the Moon” and of course “Fisherman’s Blues.”

The Waterboys also have some socially conscious new material. Last month, it released a short EP called “A Song for Arthur’s Day,” a wryly satirical protest song decrying the “holiday” invented by Guinness in 2009 to promote the 250th anniversary of the dark, iconic beer. An announcement on the band’s website reads: “Part of its proclaimed manifesto is the furtherance of Irish arts and culture. In reality it is a hugely aggressive, media-dominating promotion campaign aimed at increasing the size of Guinness’ market in Ireland.” The band further states, “We object to the reckless over-promotion of drinking in a land already blighted by its effects.”

The show recently sold out, but as any seasoned concertgoer knows, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Try calling the venue the day before to see if extra tickets have been released, scouring Craigslist or if all else fails, just show up and buy an extra from somebody outside the club.

Sinnead O'Connor (Photo by Man Alive!, Creative Commons license)

Sinéad O’Connor has a three-night run at City Winery. (Photo by Man Alive!, Creative Commons license)

Sinéad O’Connor | November 8-10, City Winery, $115-$135

Sinéad O’Connor comes to town on what she’s billing as her “American Kindness” tour for three shows at City Winery (155 Varick St., Manhattan), the romantic winery and restaurant. Tickets are not cheap, nor is wine or dinner if concertgoers choose to eat and drink during the show, but the atmosphere here should work nicely for O’Connor’s hushed, mostly sad songs. At shows over the summer in Europe, O’Connor sang hits like “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” as well as songs from her latest album, “How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?”

Then again, one never knows what may happen at an O’Connor show. Ireland’s most famous anti-authoritarian singer, who once tore up a picture of the pope on TV to protest the child abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, has publicly struggled with bipolar disorder. Earlier this month, she published a series of letters to Miley Cyrus encouraging the young star not to use her sexuality for profit. The pleas garnered snide responses from Cyrus and a huge amount of media attention. Whether O’Connor is a public relations genius or just really earnest, there’s something appealing about an artist who willfully publicizes her personal thoughts and emotions on charged topics.

Mick Moloney

Professor and musicologist Mick Moloney organizes an annual Irish solstice musical celebration. (Photo by Jeff Meade, Creative Commons license)

Mick Moloney and Athena Tergis, December 6-21, The Irish Arts Center, $60

For the seventh year in a row, The Irish Arts Center (553 W. 51 St., Manhattan) will produce “An Irish Christmas: A Musical Solstice Celebration.” As in past years, it’s organized by New York University professor and musicologist Mick Moloney, who leads the celebration in song and plays mandolin, guitar and whatever else strikes his fancy. His guests this year include fiddler Athena Tergis and many others.

Athena Tergis (Photo by Jeff Meade, Creative Commons license)

Fiddler Athena Tergis will perform in “An Irish Christmas: A Musical Solstice Celebration.” (Photo by Jeff Meade, Creative Commons license)

Moloney is a brainy folklorist with a Ph.D. who teaches in NYU’s Irish Studies program. His music is traditional, though not necessarily all Irish. Moloney will share background on each song, lead audience singalongs and interview a different surprise guest at each show. He wouldn’t reveal much of this year’s lineup, but in the past such guests as the actor Gabriel Byrne and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have showed up.

Moloney told Voices of NY he is looking forward to performing with Grace Nono, a Filipino chant singer.

“She sings songs that would come from a tradition that’s pre-Islam, and pre-Christian,” he said. “Of course, in Ireland, we have a lot of that – the belief in spirits, the fairies.”

Moloney explained that musical winter solstice celebrations started in pre-modern Ireland and other northern European countries because of the awful weather and the near constant darkness.

“It must have been a very terrifying time,” Moloney said. “When the earth is dead, when snow and ice take place in the mid-winter season…there wouldn’t have been any great confidence that spring would arrive. So you had all these rituals.”

He said the shows are intended to feel like Christmas day in Ireland, where family and neighbors go from one house party to the next all day long. He said he’ll even call up members of the audience to chat or sing if he feels like it.

“We like to have spontaneity,” Moloney said. “When we have people up, I haven’t a clue what they’re going to say. It’s just like when the neighbors stop by, you don’t know how drunk they are.”

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