The United States is considered a melting pot, a conglomeration of different cultures and identities that all mix together into a unique new creation.
Remnants of the immigrants who settled into this melting pot can be found across the states, including wrought-iron crosses of German-Russians, the taste of Norwegian lefse and Ireland’s music sessions.
According to Barry Foy’s book, “Field Guide to the Irish Music Session,” an Irish music session is “a gathering of Irish traditional musicians for the purpose of celebrating their common interest in the music by playing it together in a relaxed, informal setting.”
In places spotted throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, there are endless possibilities to see and listen to these music sessions. While irregular and spontaneous, some Irish hot spots remain places to witness the phenomena in action, including Kieran’s and Keegan’s Irish pubs in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
However, these sessions haven’t always been so easy to find.
“In the North Side of Chicago, (Irish music sessions) were locked up in Irish neighborhoods and it didn’t come out,” Barry Foy, a musician and author on the subject, said. “It was folk music, but it was private business. In the 1960s, people started excavating music, even those who didn’t have heritage. And they started publicizing it.”
Over the past 100 years, Irish music has seen a revitalization in mainstream culture or at least a reemergence from their close-knit communities.
In the early 1900s, there was an “explosion of interest in Irish dance and hearing Irish bands.” Foy explained when the recording industry began to develop and expand. Many Irish immigrants went to New York to record their music. This led to Irish music being recorded for the first time, allowing it to expand beyond Ireland proper and the pockets of immigrant communities in the U.S. to around the world.
The 1960s saw a “folk music revival,” in which people began to explore ethnic music. In the following decades, people became more and more interested in their own cultural heritage and began exploring the products of their roots.
“In the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s, there was a big burst in American connections to its roots,” Foy noted. “There was the TV show ‘Roots.’ People were interested in where they came from.”
Another contributor to the popularity of Irish music was the creation of Riverdance, an international festival started by Chicagoan Michael Flatly.
“It was the showbiz version of Irish tradition,” Foy said. “It’s not really my thing, but it brought attention to what we were doing. It brought a burst to Irish music.”
Today, Irish music and Irish music sessions continue to spread. Foy’s experience with Irish music sessions has been in Ireland itself, as well as in major cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle. Even beyond that, Foy said, there are sessions in France, Holland and Japan. There are also strong scenes in Australia, Germany and Italy.
“We’re not in the headlines, but we’re there,” Foy said.
Even though Irish music sessions owe their name and style to music originating in the green isle, Foy clarifies Irish music sessions in the states are very different from those in Ireland.
“It’s the music of immigrants,” Foy said, “but it’s not a substitute for Irish music … Ethnic music is traditional in general. It’s peculiar, it’s creaky, it’s rustic. It’s an odd thing from an earlier world … It’s something the world needs. It’s a gland it can’t do without.”
While Irish music sessions aren’t necessarily something written on a calendar, if you want to see one for yourself Keegan’s Irish Pub in Minneapolis, Minnesota has a regular session with dozens of musicians every Sunday. For more information on the ins and outs of Irish music sessions, pick up a copy of Barry Foy’s book.