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Essentially Ashland

December 5, 2005

An Ashland Irish session

In Irish pubs a table is reserved for musicians who, when engaged in a &


fill the establishment with all sounds Celtic as the players strum, strike, blow, bow, pick and pluck their way through a vast array of themed tunes overflowing with improvisation and mirth.

Fiddles, pennywhistles, guitars, banjos, drums, recorders, hammer dulcimers, violas, bagpipes, mandolins, harps, a bouzouki, button accordion and the occasional bodhran (an Irish goatskin drum) play their way through the Irish Ages and into the minds and hearts of all the patrons who have come to punish a few pints, enjoy a snack, talk, laugh and toss darts, usually with great precision, in this most festive escape from the pressing woes of the world. Jigs, reels, hornpipes and other dance tunes inspire the public to dance and occasionally sing in what is neither a private rehearsal nor performance, but rather an outgrowth of Irish rural life.

Gallons of Guinness are quaffed as the music inexorably ramps up and fills the room. Light and dark ales, as well as coffee, tea and sodas kiss and caress parched smiling lips as fire blazes in the hearth while crackling the ear. Generations of families unwind and share what might be described as a large family reunion, which is held every Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at The Black Sheep.

Sessions are not meant to spotlight an individual players talents to the exclusion the whole. They are communal in nature and cooperative by design, fitting well into a large segment of our local community. Anyone who tries to dominate a session is quickly tossed out the window, bounced of the awning and into a waiting beat-up half-ton pick-up truck full of unrestrained attack dogs. That&

s called &

sorting things out.&

— — —

A group of musicians plays celtic tunes on a recent — Sunday at the Black Sheep pub on the Plaza.

Submitted photo

Louis Leger, who plays the accordion for the Ashland session, gave me an the particulars of the fine musicians:


Probably the most important instrument is the fiddle and we usually have several fiddle players on any given Sunday. John Hill and Dave Hanger are probably the most regular players and often, William Greene and Kathy Greene will show up. We also are always happy to have Kevin Carr show up with his fiddle as well as uillean pipes, mandolin, banjo, guitar, concertina, and whatever other instrument meets his fancy. Kevin and his wife Barbara Mendelsohn were a big part of the Irish music scene in the Bay Area and it&

s been great to have them share their vast knowledge of the music with our group. Barbara plays keyboard and spoons. We also usually have a few wind players on either tin whistle or flute. John Bullock is our resident flute player and Dave Hanger will often double up on Penny Whistle. Bo Leydn often shows up with his banjo and mandolin and I am usually there with my accordion and my wife Barbara on guitar. Linda Chambers plays the mandolin and Jere Hudson is also on guitar.

Jere is also probably the most important member of our group. He is the official greeter and drink gatherer for us. He will meet new people, explain the etiquette of the session, get them a drink if they play a tune, and even waltz around the pub with the better looking ones. Rounding off all this, we usually have a few rhythm players, either on guitar or bodhran drum. There can be anywhere from 6 to 20 players at the session. Whenever Jim Finnegan drops by, we also have some great singing, which is an important part of any respectable session. Another regular singer and harp player extraordinaire is James Excel. Once in awhile, we will have a guest drop by and they are always welcome as long as they know the tune and play an instrument that is accepted in Irish music.&

If you want to fill a Sunday with socializing, suds and Irish sounds, you now know how to do it in a manner that fits Ashland like a tailored glove. Leave your worries at the red doors on the Plaza and climb up the stairs into the past, present and future of human revelry.

Future columns will focus on various businesses as well as key individuals and events that will lead the charge from times past to lend perspective to the revival of Ashland. Send your favorite remembrances to: lance@journalist.com.