That year was CRAZY y’all.
The first thing that happened was the party. OH MY GOD THE PARTY. Sean Gavin and Sean McComiskey threw an absolutely amazing party at Chief O’Neill’s in Chicago in early January, just for the hell of it! Musicians and listeners came in from Minneapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, LA, Baltimore/DC, New York, and Ireland and England. I flew in from New York for less than 24 hours just to attend because I knew I wouldn’t want to miss it. My favorite memory was of Mike Gavin singing “Morrissey and the Russian Sailor,” a ballad some twelve or so verses long, which describes a boxing match between John Morrissey, an Irish boxer who lived in the mid-19th century, and his Russian challenger. After 38 rounds – several of which are recounted in the song – Morrissey finally whoops the Russian dude and of course everyone’s thrilled. After each verse, the whole room erupted in shouts, cheering on the song’s hero! Hilarious.
About a week later, my aunt, Susan Wilmarth-Rabineau, was in the final stage of her long struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. The night before I was to leave for a long tour, my mother was visiting in New York, and we went together to see Susan and her partner, Nick Ullo. My mother asked if I’d bring my flute and play a bit for Susan. When I arrived, I didn’t know if I could bring myself to do it. I called my friend Sam Amidon, who, despite being extremely busy and constantly on the road, just so happened to be in New York, right around the corner from my aunt’s apartment, and had some free time. I needed some moral support, and Sam would have been one of the few people with whom I would have felt comfortable sharing that experience. He brought his fiddle, and we played three selections of music for Susan, the last being O’Carolan’s waltz, Sí Beag, Sí Mor. My mother held her while we played. Sam had to run off afterwards, and my mother and I left together. The next morning, I flew to Atlanta to start the tour, and while waiting for my connecting flight in Charlotte, my mother called me and said that Susan had passed away several hours after we left. It marked the end of a long struggle for Susan, Nick, and my mother, and I was so glad to have seen her just before she passed…. Death is weird. But it’s the thing that allows us to move on and continue living our own lives. And if someone can live out their last days in the comfort of their own home, around people they love, isn’t that a blessing? I believe so. Susan is missed by all who knew her, but we’re glad that her long period of hardship is behind her.
That tour wound up being quite a long one, out with Celtic Crossroads, the stage show I’ve been playing in for the past couple of years. In the middle of it, we had a two-week break, during which Jonas Fromseier and I did a tour of our own. We began in Minneapolis with a house concert at the lovely home of Nick and Liz Lethert, and were so pleased with the amazing turnout of friends and musicians who were there to join us. It wound up being an epic night, to say the least! My last memory was being pushed in a swing, by Jonas, around five or so in the morning, singing “Morrissey and the Russian Sailor,” the ballad I mentioned above. We then played shows in St. Louis, Chicago, Washington DC, Portland (Maine), New York, and Philadelphia, and at each one were overwhelmed by the fantastic audiences and the fun we had with all the old and new friends we met.
(Fantastic experience #X: Walking from Wrigley Field all the way to the edge of the Chicago lakefront during the third largest blizzard the city had ever seen. On the night of February 2, a small gang of trad musicians set out in the thick of the storm. The wind was so severe that we often didn’t think we’d physically be able to cross several intersections, and we were unable to look in the direction we were walking, because of little bits of ice and snow being constantly whipped into our eyes if we didn’t cover them. But, Devin Shepherd and I made it all the way to the frozen lake, touched it, and then rejoined the gang. Afterwards we had late night tunes in my parents’ basement, because the others couldn’t make it back to their homes! Fun times.)
At the end of my mini-tour with Jonas, we were back on the bus with Celtic Crossroads, and finished that tour in April.
Throughout the rest of the year, I was pleased to have an amazing variety of gigs with an equally amazing variety of different people. I became an official member of the band Comas, and had a fantastic time with them at the Celtic Roots Festival in Goderich, Ontario, and also during our tour around the northeast US. I played four epic weeks in Las Vegas at the Rí Rá Irish Pub in the Mandalay Bay casino with The Bronx Boys, had a fantastic month at John D. McGurk’s in St. Louis with Devin Shepherd and Luke Ward (during which, for one weekend, the other Bronx Boys came out and we had a six-piece band on that tiny stage!), and another week there with Peter Browne and Shane McGowan, played two fantastic concerts with Dylan Foley, Dan Gurney, and Seán Earnest, did a one-week Christmas tour headed by Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak, and featuring a fantastic band, and closed out the year playing two more weeks at the Rí Rá in Vegas with guitarist and singer Sean Roche. I never thought I’d be spending Christmas day with my parents at a bowling alley inside a New Orleans-themed casino off the Vegas strip, but it was a hell of a time!
Here’s to 2011 having been a beautiful, strange year, and to hoping that 2012 will be even more so!