A trip to May Kelly’s Cottage

The following write-up is by fiddler, Ruarri Serpa.

Having been to sessions around New England, I’ve felt that the best ones are those that really embrace the tradition, beyond just the weekly recitation of tunes. In sessions that are really steeped in the tradition, you commonly hear players sharing knowledge of composers, locations, and memories attached to the tunes. Drinks are drunk, stories are told, and there’s an energy because the players are out for a good time, and the music is just one part of that.

I spent this past Saturday at May Kelly’s Cottage in North Conway, NH, which sits above the Saco River, looking out towards Cathedral Ledge. That night there was to be a performance by Paddy Keenan and Jimmy Noonan, preceded by a session with players from all corners of the state. I drove from Burlington, because May Kelly’s is my home turf – where I grew up musically.

Owners Patsy and Marie have invited musicians every week for over eight years (Sundays, 3-7 pm), and have done an outstanding job supporting the music in their corner of New Hampshire. They even went so far as to organize a trip to Ireland last year for the players. It’s this kind of relationship that embraces the tradition of “the session” being more than just the night’s entertainment.

That night, we broke up old sets, had some good-natured ribbing, especially mid-tune, and generally had fun. There was quite a bit more of “do you know this one?” as our repertoires have diverged since I moved away to Vermont, but we still found common tunes, and enjoyed new ones.

About ten players showed up and I met up with friends who I haven’t seen in years. Afterwards Patsy and Marie provided dinner for the players – something they do every week.

And though the music stopped, the session wasn’t over. We continued the talk over pints, debated the merits of “The Salamanca,” reel, and discussed the penchant of pipers for a general brooding and moodiness. It was the kind of talk that spices up the music, and adds a personal dimension to tunes that so many people play.

Next time you’re playing, rather than leaving an hour before the tunes end, consider staying an hour after – that’s the golden time when tunes gain new life. And the next time someone is so bold as to start “The Salamanca,” at May Kelly’s, I know that on my well timed trip to the bar that I’ll look back to that conversation, and say “what a night.”

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