The brown, and tan hues of the wooden paneling, tables, and bar seats, the dim, golden glow of the lights which bounces off, and almost resembles, the amber liquids being poured into tall, all-most clear glasses (they would be all-most clear if it were not for those pesky labels stamped on the side of them), the interesting array of antiques and knick-knacks which pepper the walls, artifacts of a by-gone era (and country), the smell of various meat and seafood, potato and onion tid-bits being dropped into hot oil, and the musty smell of recreational beverages which may have dripped out of the glasses and onto the floor and tables here or there, the cacophonous clamor of various groups of people: the die-hard regulars, the out-of-towners, the college crowd, the bartenders, the wait-staff, and the manager of the establishment, who makes sure to visit every table to see how the hungary and thirsty patrons are doing. Above all the clamor, though, joyous music can be heard; music which is down-to-earth, and all-acoustic. The musicians seem to be enjoying themselves, and the audience seems to be enjoying the music.
The above is a scene inside of an Irish pub. More specifically, an Irish pub in Burlington, Vermont, a tiny city who’s music business has become anything but tiny over the years. A dizzying amount of rock, pop, hip-hop, jazz, and various forms of electronic dance, groups struggle to eek out a living, and be heard, at most venues around town, above crowds of young people who may not even be aware that there are musicians on stage; they may hear the music, but they may not be so attentive as to who’s actually playing the music.
The certain group I told you about playing in the Burlington, Vermont Irish pub, (formally known as “RiRa’s Irish Pub and Grille), likes to have a connection with the audience they’re playing for; they sing every word (or almost every word) so that the audience can hear what they are singing about, This group is Longford Row (or “The Row”, as I like to call them), and the music they sing is traditional, Irish music; a musical tradition that I believe should be more popular in Burlington because of the vast amount of people with Irish last-names in this city, but sadly I would say it is not. Longford Row has recently, and luckily, found a niche for themselves in a regular gig at RiRa’s every Thursday night, and I believe this is lucky for Burlington, too; at least until the end of May, Burlington residents, and those frequenting Burlington’s vibrant, if dizzy, nightlife, will have a place to go every week to experience a genre of music, well,not so much a genre, but a tradition, of music that they may hear about from time-to-time on the internet, but may not have had a lot of live exposure to. Indeed, this may be the crowd who’s only connection to Celtic music is from hard-rocking, loud groups like the Dropkick Murphy’s, Flogging Molly, and The Pogues. All good groups, I’ll agree, but NOT very traditional. “The Row” does not seem to be afraid of tradition; they sing all the songs you would expect to hear in an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day: “Whiskey in the Jar”, “Wild Rover”, “Finnegan’s Wake”, etc., but it’s been my experience that from time-to-time they’ll pull out an Irish ballad, or sea shantey that I’ve never heard before, and as an Irish and Celtic/folk DJ let me tell you I’ve heard A LOT of ballads and sea shanties, in some cases I’ve heard MANY variations of those same ballads and sea shanties, but Longford Row seems to know their tradition well enough to keep folk fans like me on their toes; if you’re not true to your heritage, then are you singing in a pub JUST to make money and encourage people to buy beer? It would seem to me, and excuse me for being blunt, that losing a sense of your musical identity and past tradition would suck all the life out of your gigs, and your entire musical career; music without a connection to the past seems to me to be utterly lifeless.
Before I get completely off on a different tangent, I saw Longford Row perform live at RiRa’s Irish Pub on Thursday, April 29th, and it was a great show. They did play all the familiar pub songs, yes, but they did it in a way that made it separate from the Saint Patrick’s Day revelries of several weeks ago, (when I saw them perform at RiRa’s in the middle of the day, a great time of day to see Irish music). They delivered Irish music to a crowd of people who likely ONLY partakes of Irish music ON St. Patrick’s day itself; Longford Row lives and breathes Irish music; they are an actively touring Irish folk band, so the tradition is with them all year long, just as it is on my radio show Shillelagh Safari With CelticED. And speaking of radio, “The Row” is just as good on-the-air as they are live. Yes, I’ve had them on once, and they told me they are definately psyched to come back again.
Yes folks, Longford Row is an up-and-comming folk group who’s members have been individually playing folk music for many years. Patrick McKenzie on guitar, mandolin, and bodhran (an Irish drum), Dan Blondin on guitar, Gerry Feenan on mandolin, octave mandolin, guitar and bodhran, Marshall Paulsen on banjo, bodhran, and the spoons, and the youngest member of the group, (just finishing up high school), Matt Bean on fiddle, concertina (a small, hexagonal-shaped button accordion), and octave mandolin, are all very talented on their instruments and extremely out-going individuals. They are also adeftly skilled in the art of conversation, which seems to be common among folk musicians; at one point in my radio interview with them, one of my questions got them to talking amongst themselves, and it was great to sit back and listen attentively to all of the cool things these folk music veterans were saying; “The Row” is, as I commented to my listeners, a “chatty group”. And oh yeah, they all sing, too!
What more can I say about Longford Row? Only that they will be playing at RiRa’s ever Thursday 8-11pm until the end of May. If you have an Irish last name and want to experience a part of your heritage, or if you like folk music in general, no matter what the genre, or if you like supporting your local, live musicians, no matter the genre, I encourage you to get down to the pub to see Longford Row. Introduce yourself during the breaks or after the show, or just simply tell them you’re enjoying the music – in a time when electronic instruments and garbled lyrics about sex, drug-use, fast cars, fights, and money seems to be the norm, I hope you will make an effort to embrace the simpler, less competitive, myriad forms of folk music being preformed right in your own backyard. If we tell the folk musicians we like what they’re doing then the’ll be inspired to keep doing it, and thus the traditions will live on, and not be drowned forever in a sea of co-orporate, synthesized beats and consumerism.
I can think of no better way to conclude this article than by toasting your health the way Irish say it, “Slainte” ! ( pronounced “slawn-cha”, which means “to your health”).
For more on the group, visit http://www.longfordrow.com. Leave them a note; I’m sure the group would be delighted to hear from you.
And stay tuned for more articles from me on rare folk music happenings in Downtown Burlington, and around the region.
Your’s in all things folksy,