I just got back from an incredible weekend at the O'Flaherty's Irish Music Retreat. It's the biggest event in Texas for Irish traditional music. If you don't know about it, you should check it out! (On the web at http://www.oflahertyretreat.org) It's always on the last weekend in October in Midlothian Texas, although it's moving next year to Waxahachie. O'Flaherty's is a long weekend of learning, playing tunes, going to sessions, hanging with friends, attending amazing instructor concerts, and just generally getting a huge dose of Irish music. I took a fiddle class from Liz Carroll, who was called "the first lady of Irish music". I always knew she was amazing but she really blew me away! And she's funny as heck! She had the whole class laughing all the time. The class was mostly adults but there were a few teenagers in there who put most of the adults to shame. Each night we were treated to performances by the instructors, and those concerts are worth the price of tuition by themselves. Martin Hayes, Kevin Crawford, John Doyle, Liz Carroll, Randal Bays, Rose Flanagan, and a ton of others. I'm still reeling from Martin Hayes and John Doyle pretty much lighting the stage on fire! It was possibly the most intense live performance of Irish music I have ever seen and it ended with the whole crowd literally leaping to their feet in a spontaneous standing ovation! Whew! Yeah!
There were instructors for fiddle, uillean pipes, harp, whistle, flute, banjo, mandolin, singing, accordion, and guitar. The main instructors also give "enrichment classes" which are really just lectures, to provide an historical and cultural background to the music. It reinforces the fact that this music is not just a bunch of twiddly fiddle tunes but it's part of the Irish culture and there is so much that goes on "behind the tunes". I love hearing about all the old players and the connections between them.
O'Flaherty's draws from all over Texas and there were some from Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and even out of state. The retreat feels like, as Louvain, one of the organizers said, "a family reunion without all the trouble". I've been going for four years now and I've gotten to know a lot of faces that make the retreat feel familiar and relaxed.
I'm really not trying to make this sound like an ad for O'Flaherty's. I just love what Ken Fleming and his crew have done and I hope they keep doing it, and I do want to spread the word to as many people as possible. I guess for now I'll just have to keep practicing my tunes while I wait for next year and do it all again!