STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
i-devices might connect us to a friend of a friend in Wagga Wagga, Australia, but fiddles and mandolins will always introduce us to strangers next door.
Each Sunday afternoon, the traditional Irish jam sessions at The Irish Embassy Pub bring friends, family and travelers together for the simple task of playing and enjoying music.
“We may have differences politically or socially, but we are right there with one another as far as the music is concerned,” said Bob Condon of The Kitchen Jam Band.
Gathering in a tight circle near the bar, musicians from across the county – sometimes even farther – play traditional tunes handed down from generation to generation on both sides of the Atlantic.
Four local Irish bands are represented at the sessions as well as seasoned musicians, beginners and sometimes even kids.
“It’s a really nice, welcoming group of people,” said Maria Blair, a fiddler for The Kitchen Jam Band. “(I think) we have one of the more welcoming sessions.”
“It’s always just been a way for people to get together, share music and have a good time,” said Tom Byrne of the local band An Sliabh.
Traditionally, jam sessions are more for the musicians than the audience. They are an opportunity to learn a new tune or jam out an old favorite. However, at The Irish Embassy, the sessions are as much about the music as they are the camaraderie of having a pint with a bit of craic (good conversation) at the bar.
“Irish jams primarily got their start in kitchens. (They were) called kitchen racket,” Condon said. “Eventually, it moved from the kitchens to the village public house where everybody would come to chat and have a pint.”
Just as you’re liable to find an Irish pub anywhere in the world, so too you are likely to find a jam session.
“There are so many different influences that caused the Irish people to leave their own country in order to survive,” Byrne said. “The diaspora of the Irish has literally taken them everywhere in the world, and they’ve left their impression wherever they’ve gone.”
Though the Irish may be the world’s most prolific immigrants, there is something else that draws people of all heritages to jam sessions. Whether you are playing with the musicians or listening from the bar, everyone joins in the experience. Jam sessions are a microcommunity, and in this day and age, everyone wants to belong.
“Anybody who wants to come is more than welcome,” Condon said. “Play what you can play. If you don’t know how to play it, listen and eventually you’ll learn.”
Folk music is traditionally the music of the people. Unlike tunes preserved on paper, they were remembered orally, evolving through time and place. Unfortunately, history has proven that oral traditions are easily lost through political oppression and genocide. But, ironically, it can also be what saves culture and tradition.
“(The music) is one of the things that kept a lot of the culture alive during the English occupation,” Condon said.
The sessions at The Irish Embassy are part of a long tradition. No matter what else may be happening in Durango, someone will be at the Embassy on Sunday afternoon with instruments in tow. The sessions have grown during the last four years, attracting musicians from as far as Chicago at times, but on most occasions, they are a cheery gathering of local musicians and avid listeners.
Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer based in Durango. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.