Forget the green beer, which nobody on the Ould Sod would actually touch with a ten-foot pole: With March here, it’s time for the Irish traditional musicians to come out of the woodshed – or wherever it is that they hone their chops all winter long – and start making local appearances. Mid-Hudson audiences will have an extraordinary opportunity next Friday, March 9, to hear one of the classiest acts in the genre, as St. Paul’s Church in Red Hook hosts “An Evening with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill.”
If you prowl YouTube looking for examples of the duo’s playing, you’ll find that they do seem to favor churches as concert venues – not, presumably, for the ecclesiastical vibes so much as for warm acoustical properties. It’s hard to imagine a better setting for the intimate sound of Hayes’s County Clare style of fiddling. Hayes is widely regarded as one of the world’s top Irish fiddlers, yet his technical virtuosity comes cleverly wrapped in lyricism that can be as soft as a finely spun woolen shawl. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t fully capable of the kind of “fastest jigs and reels in captivity” that tend to lure crossover audiences of rock fans to Celtic music, but he seems more interested in drawing out the deep emotive potential of his instrument than in dazzling us with speed. When Hayes’s bow is in motion, you don’t just know that his fiddle is made from wood; you can feel the pulse of the sap that once flowed through the tree from which it was made.
It’s a bit odd, in a way, that in recent years Hayes has been earning all sorts of accolades for his services to a very traditional, regional style of playing – among them being named Ireland’s Traditional Musician of the Year by Irish broadcaster TG4, Folk Instrumentalist of the Year by the BBC and winning six All-Ireland fiddle championships. Raised in a family of trad musicians, he began playing at seven years old and by the age of 13 was touring with his father’s celebrated Tulla Ceili Band. But it took him some time to come full circle to his roots, after spending the ‘80s in Chicago listening to John Coltrane records, playing in jazz/rock fusion ensembles like Midnight Court and jamming with people like Bill Frisell, Darol Anger and Mike Marshall. It was there that he teamed up with classically trained American-born guitarist Dennis Cahill, who still mines the jazz idiom for the spare and tasty accompaniment that he provides to Hayes’s soaring fiddling.
Aside from the St. Patrick’s Day seasonality, this is an especially good time to catch the duo, since they’re warming up now to take a much-anticipated show on the road. Since 2003 Hayes has been the musical director of an annual summer festival based in County Cork called Masters of Tradition, showcasing the top names in the Irish musical idiom. This April will be the first time that the festival lineup will be taken on tour in the US, featuring singer Iarla O’Lionaird, known for her dazzling work fronting the top-shelf worldbeat band Afro Celt Sound System. Considering that Hayes and Cahill spent last St. Patrick’s Day performing for Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House, it would seem almost ungrateful to miss them while they’re in our own neck of the woods.
So find out why Time Out New York said that Martin Hayes “is to trad fiddlers what Gypsy-swing icon Django Reinhardt is to guitarists.” The show starts at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 9 at St. Paul’s Church, located at Fisk Street and Broadway in Red Hook. Moss Meredith opens. Tickets cost $34 and are available at www.studioredhook.com. For more info on the performers, visit www.martinhayes.com.