Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Are There Any Irish Fiddler’s Conventions?

Searching for an Irish Trad equivalent to the Oldtime Festival.

In the Southern Appalachian region of the USA there are fiddler’s conventions and stringband festivals all summer long:  Mt. Airy, Highland County, Elk Creek, Clifftop, Galax, Rockbridge, Hoppin’ John’s, and many more.  These events often have competitions, concerts, and dances that appeal to the public, but for a lot of oldtime musicians it’s the non-stop jamming and camaraderie in the camping areas that are the main draw. 
Oldtime Festival - jamming at campsite
For a nominal fee, folks gather for a loooong weekend to sit around and churn out the tunes.  Some hardcore players never even leave their campsite to see what’s happening on a stage.  I don’t know of an equivalent in the Celtic world, where trad musicians camp out and simply play tunes for days on end. 

Sure, there’s the Irish music instructional weeks like Augusta, Swannanoa, Catskills and MAD Week, but at these events participants fork out hundreds of dollars for morning and afternoon music classes with world class instructors plus attendance to discussions and evening concerts, with accommodations provided in dorm rooms or cheap hotels.  There is some jamming by way of instructor-led sessions at pre-determined times of the day, and/or impromptu nightly sessions once all the classes and concerts are out of the way, but it’s different than the informal jamming done at all hours of the day and night at an oldtime festival.
Irish session - in a pub!
The other type of Celtic festival is performance-oriented, featuring your typical Celtic Rock and Riverdance inspired acts putting on a show for the Guinness drinking set, along with other attractions like large men throwing stuff and young girls dancing jigs n' reels to pre-recorded muzak.  These festivals lack the session component, or at least it  is nowhere near as comprehensive as the fiddler’s conventions.

There are certainly enough Irish musicians to support a campout festival where the primary purpose is to simply get together and play session tunes, without having to have a classroom component.  I wonder... is it a difference in personality and needs, with the earthy oldtime musicians content to camp out in rustic conditions and learn through observation of other fiddlers and banjo players, while city-minded Celtic enthusiasts prefer the comforts of an cozy pub session and/or personal instruction from a master of his or her chosen instrument?

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