I can say, without reservation, that getting sick while traveling SUCKS. I came down with a nasty cold last week on the day I went over to Kilkenny to spend a couple of days with my old college roommate and her family. When I got back to Doolin on Thursday night, I felt like death, and so I missed out on the Doolin Folk Festival this last weekend.
Talk about a heartbreaker– I had been looking forward to this weekend for weeks, especially because the trad sessions at the pubs have become one of my favorite things about the area. To be honest, if the tickets had been less expensive, I probably still would have gone, sick or not, but I didn’t want to spend so much money and not be able to enjoy the experience to the fullest. Luckily, I still have the pubs, and since I finally seem to be over the worst of my illness (knock on wood) I’m trying to cram in as much great music as I can into my last couple of days in Ireland.
Doolin is famous for its folk music and trad (traditional Irish music) sessions. All four pubs in the village feature live sessions nightly starting about 9:30. That being said, I’ve found that the overall experience on any given night varies widely. In the month I’ve been here, I’ve been to all the pubs, and the craic has ranged from “meh” to outstanding. I have yet to figure out the perfect formula for an outstanding experience, though I think it’s largely subjective, based not only on the music, but also on the atmosphere and the crowd on that particular night. It’s amazing to me how much a session, with the same musicians in the same pub, can vary so much just based on the crowd that night.
Quick tip for those wanting a more authentic trad experience: STAY LATE!!! I’ve noticed that a lot of the tour groups and day tourists leave after the first hour or so, but the later it gets, the better the craic! At least that’s been my experience.
So, getting back to how I got from “meh…” to “wowza!” sessions: I had been here for a couple weeks and had yet to hit a really good session, so I asked around and was told by several locals to look out for signs advertising Blackie O’Connell and Cyril O’Donoghue. I was on the lookout, but it was still just by chance that I went into McDermott’s one Monday night and they were playing.
Holy Amazing, Batman!
This is one of the times I wish I shot video as well as stills. These guys are masters and are an absolute kick to see perform. Watching Blackie on the Irish bagpipes is incredible. How he makes such a complex instrument look so effortless, I have no idea, but I love watching him play. And Cyril’s vocals are mesmerizing. HIs version of “The King’s Shilling” is probably my favorite song that they do (and they played it for me by request last night, which was all kinds of wonderful). I admit that I’ve become a bit of a groupie as I’ve tried to hit at least a couple of their sessions each week! It’s always a delight.
Non-traditional music is also thriving in the area. A week or so ago I went with a couple friends to a bar in Lahinch, another small village just a short drive down the coast. That night we slistened to two Irish bands with completely different styles of music than the trad sessions. These groups had a folky-alternative-bluesy quality (how’s that for a description?) that I happened to love. It actually reminded me quite a bit of the Seattle indie music scene, so it was almost like a taste of home–with a bit of a twist!
Live music has been a huge part of my travels, and I’ve been blessed to have some incredible experiences: a classical concert in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, featuring an amazing string quartet, a baroque concert in a church on the Piazza Navona in Rome, and now these amazing trad sessions in the local pubs of Doolin. There’s just something about music that enriches my travel experience and enhances my appreciation of different cultures. I can’t wait to enjoy more as I continue traveling!