By Ryan Gilbert
If there’s one thing the Irish know how to do, it’s how to throw a party. No matter what day of the week it is, you can find merry Irishmen and women at the local pubs or enjoying a night on the town. One thing that I’ve discovered, is that every single place you go, you’ll always be within earshot of a local musician absolutely playing their heart out. I mean, what’s a party without music? These men and women played a crucial part in making the atmosphere fun and exciting for the crowd that gathered to watch them, so to put it simply, it was quite the show. But I could tell it was more than just good music. These musicians were communicating to their audience with every bow of the fiddle or strum of the guitar. They communicated things like appreciation, confidence, and Irish pride. Shows like that aren’t found in many American bars.
What amazed me about the musicians is that they interacted with the crowd so much. I’m used to performers who have a set list, then after it’s done if they still have time they will take requests. But from the early portion of their set these musicians would take requests from the audience and happily agree to perform them. The dynamic between performer and audience member wasn’t the same dynamic we have in the states. Instead it seemed more like a community event where the musicians were a part of the crowd, not in front of it. To me this communicated a sense of appreciation the musicians had for their audience. By playing intense popular music that the people wanted to hear they truly showed they were there for the people. In America, the musicians at the bar are often self-focused and set apart from the audience they’re playing for.
A popular night life spot in Dublin is the Temple Bar area. There you can find all walks of life celebrating Irish traditions and heritage. As I walked down the street I heard sounds of laughter and conversation always accompanied by a guitar. In fact, if a pub didn’t have live music that night it seemed dead or unwelcoming to me. Between all the live performances I saw in Dublin, a few stick out to me the most. I’ve been trying to figure out why I can clearly recall some but not others and I’ve come up with this. When a musician has confidence in their voice and their instrument, the performance is so much more notable than a performance without confidence. For example, the first performance I saw was a guitarist and a fiddler. She was constantly doing runs up and down the fret board, her fingers were flying and her bow was moving fast. The guitarist was somehow playing a bassline and strumming chords with lightning speed all at the same time. You could tell in their playing they were exchanging ideas with each other and communicating with their eyes and motions what they were going to do next. All of this combined to give a great performance to the audience. To me that communicated confidence. They didn’t have sheet music or any technology to alter their sound, just their raw talent and control over their instruments. In America this type of show could be found at concert or another paid event. But this was a Thursday night in some corner bar. They were playing like they were preforming at Carnegie Hall, and the people in the bar couldn’t help but get on their feet and start dancing. For American musicians, playing at the bar is just another stepping stone to get to the big stage. But for these Irish countrymen, the bar is the only big stage their heart desires.
Like I mentioned before, the musicians were happy to take requests all throughout the night from the audience. However, every once in a while the music would slow down, and so would the room. In just a few strums of the guitar people were setting down their drinks and even sometimes standing up, because they knew this song meant something to their people. Ireland has a long history of Folk music and the songs have been passed down from generation to generation. They help celebrate who the Irish are and what they value, and any Irishman or woman will know their fair share by heart. The set list was full of popular music, songs like “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Free Fallin”, and “Piano Man” could be found in every performers repertoire, these were definitely fan favorites. But when the songs of the land were being played, there was a feeling that swept across the room of respect and pride. I have never experienced a moment like that in the states. In fact, if someone went up on stage and started singing “Yankee doodle dandy” in the states, I’m positive nobody would sing seriously, and the musician may even get booed off the stage. But here the songs of Irish history are celebrated and the locals singing them let any tourist like me know that they’re proud of who they are and the place they’ve created together.
Music can communicate a lot to the people listening to it. Sometimes in the noisy bar the message the musician is trying to send can be drowned out or diminished. But not in this place. In Ireland the music, the community, and the décor of the bar all tell the same message; this is our home and we like it here. So if I ever come back to Ireland, I know what I’ll be greeted with. I know I’ll walk through the door and see people laughing, drinking, and breaking bread together. But I know for certain that I’ll also hear the music in every corner of that room, connecting the people to each other and to their heritage. Maybe even connecting a stranger like me to the tight knit community they’ve created for even a moment, making me feel like a truly welcomed guest with every note.