NEWPORT – Irish-American culture is very present in Rhode Island. Neighborhoods such as Smith Hill and Fox Point in Providence and places like the Irish American Athletic Club on 642 Thames St. in Newport have a long history of this culture that still exists today.
There’s also the Newport Irish History Museum just down the street from the Athletic Club, while the Irish Harbor and fishing town of Kinsale is considered one of Newport’s sister towns.
A main part of the culture is the Irish session, where a group of musicians perform traditional music of the Celtic variation in a pub with alcoholic drinks consumed and loud, loud chants courtesy of the crowd.
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At the Fastnet Pub at 1 Broadway, this session returns on a bi-monthly basis, starting September 12 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the session was held every Sunday in the early evening for 14 years, featuring banjo, mandolin and guitarist Timmy May, violinist Tony Gutierrez and accordion, whistle and guitar player. violin Jack Wright as host.
It all started when The Fastnet Pub opened under new management and the owner was receptive to the idea of a weekly session.
“In 2006 the pub changed hands and there was music there, but it wasn’t an Irish session,” May said of how it started. “It was more of a folk thing and there were singers there. There wasn’t really a session where people knowing Irish music would come in, sit down and join in the game.
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“At the time Finbarr Murray, owner of Fastnet and known as Butch, started running the pub and I’m part of a group of people who play Irish music all over Rhode Island. somewhere to have a more regular session and, meanwhile in Newport, there was only a monthly session so we wanted something more regular.
“Butch was 100% in favor. He just thought I was the right person to lead him, and I talked about a good game and I was paired with some really good players so that I could get a session through. “
“It pretty much took off right away,” May added. “We made it known and we have loyal listeners and people who have come regularly since. It went on once a week every Sunday in the early evening without hindrance until the pandemic struck in March 2020 and like everyone else it all came to a screeching halt. “
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Before the session returns on the second and fourth Sunday of each month, May and everyone else hosted two stand-alone sessions earlier this summer – one on July 18 and another on August 15. Both sessions attracted a lot of people while creating some optimism for the future.
“There was tremendous enthusiasm,” May said. “The first one we did we were inside the pub, then the second time we were on the back patio, it was quite warm and it was a very festive atmosphere. The place was packed both times.
“Over the years I have been to Fastnet and wondered about our impact on their business in terms of people. I will be going there at 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm when we play, the place is completely crowded. don’t know if it will be like that in the future, but the pub liked it. The Fastnet is a great place and they do 1000 other things with every imaginable sport on the TVs. “
“They really cater to the international crowd and Newport is an international city with people from all over the world,” said May. “When it comes to music, there is a huge love and demand for traditional Irish music in Rhode Island, so we have an integrated audience. With the start of the NFL season, we plan to start the first few sessions on the patio and then eventually put it back inside when it gets cold so we can stay warm. “
For anyone who didn’t stop by the Fastnet Pub for the Irish session, May says to expect a party atmosphere. He also says he expects a surprise every now and then from whoever enters.
“You’re going to hear some great Irish music and you’re going to start tapping your feet,” he said. “This is this internationally recognized musical body and for many years we have had so many people from all over the world participating. It’s a festive environment with a group of musicians performing spontaneously without a setlist and that’s the music people have in mind.
“Basically you will hear jigs and traditional songs, but you will also hear something very unusual. You could have a singer from another country, they are professional musicians and they are always curious when they pass by. “
“If anyone looks like a real singer or musician, we welcome their participation 100%,” said May. “They can play or sing whatever they want, it doesn’t have to be an Irish song. It is also very welcoming for all ages. I have a son who is now 18 and he has spent countless Sundays in the pub for dinner. He also took over the music on the guitar and that’s something he’s pursuing now, so we’re trying to pass that on to the next generation as well.