New York Irish Center

Dan Neely in the Irish Echo on the Center's Live Music Program

October 21, 2014

Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely

 Trad connects with center’s audiences

         It’s Friday morning as I write this, and my excitement is growing because I’m heading out this evening to see the brilliant Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly in concert at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City (one stop from Grand Central on the 7 train). If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll know that Cranitch and Daly comprise the fiddle and button accordion duo that for many virtually defines contemporary Sliabh Luachra music. To have them playing here in New York is a great treat, but it will be even sweeter to see them in such a convenient and intimate venue. It should be an excellent evening!

        Over the last few years, the New York Irish Center has done some remarkable things with its programming and has really emerged as a home for traditional music. Curious to know more about the Center’s musical direction, I spoke with Chris Deignan, its development manager, about music’s role. Deignan is the man responsible for the Center’s great concert series and he was more than happy to give me some keen insight into how it started, where it’s been and what its future holds.

        The music, he explained, came together in 2010 with Luka Bloom, the Center’s first featured artist. Deignan described that first evening in glowing term – a rousing success, and the event that really paved the way for future shows. The Center’s programming philosophy in those early days was to present a constantly shifting range of styles, cast as wide a net as possible and better understand the series’ potential. Whereas some months you might catch an act like Donie Carroll, Susan McKeown or Mickey Coleman, other times you might see Tara O’Grady, Guggenhiem Grotto (now, The Storymen) and even Jameson’s Revenge.

        It was a great mix, but over time Deignan & company began to notice that the trad concerts were the ones that seemed to attract the most consistent and robust audiences. There is something about the music, he told me, that simply connects with the community and it does it in unique and important ways. This isn’t to say other acts aren’t welcome – they definitely have a place at the Center’s music series – but the attention trad music has garnered has guided Deignan's curatorial hand to the point that it now has a more prominent place in the Center’s events calendar than ever before.

        For example, in the past year the Center has presented the likes of James Keane & Michael Tubridy, Gabe Donohue & Friends (which included Joanie Madden and Eileen Ivers), and the Irish House Party, to name but a few. There have been several others as well, not to mention the Friday night show with Cranitch and Daly or Donie Carroll’s upcoming fundraiser for the Mercy Center on Nov. 1.

        But what of the concert themselves? In my own experience I have found the New York Irish Center a lovely and convenient place to catch live music and great for listening. However, recent changes have improved the performance space making it more hospitable than ever. First off was a major renovation of the main room, which Deignan said has really opened things up so it’s easier to see the performers. The second is the acquisition of a new and improved sound system, which has been getting rave reviews from those who have had an opportunity to use it!

        The Center’s concert space has a comfortable capacity of around 100. This limited size helps create a more inviting atmosphere, both for artist and for audience. (It also is an ideal size for their pre-concert receptions, which feature beer and wine!) Another thing these concerts have going for them is their affordability. The shows are run simply to cover costs, which allows the Center to maintain two pricing tiers, an already low “premium” level, and a second tier for “seniors, students and the unemployed,” which offers significant value.

        The concert series has definitely helped grow the Center’s renown. Evidence of this is seen in the increased number of nationally recognized touring acts (like Cranitch and Daly) who inquire about the availability of a monthly slot. However, Deignan’s great hope with this is that the inclusion of bigger names and the bigger crowds they attract will lead to increased sponsorship and more diverse marketing opportunities. These are the things that will best help the Center and ensure its mission of service to the local community is upheld.

        Ultimately, the New York Irish Center’s concert series is on it’s way up. It’s a lovely place to catch traditional music and I encourage everyone in the City to go there and take in some music sometime!

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