The Celtic Music in New York City is even better than you thought

There's nothing quite like an Irish Seisun.

When thinking about Celtic music, most people's minds are transported to the rolling hills of Ireland. While Celtic music is certainly influenced by the Emerald Isle, the Irish aren't the only people whose rich history has contributed to the traditional Celtic songbook. Within Britain, both Scotland and Wales add their own flavor to Celtic music. And in continental Europe, the provinces of Brittany and Galicia (Northern France and Northwestern Spain respectively) also have their own unique styles. That said, by the early 20th century, these folk music traditions were all but forgotten.

Following World War II however, Irish musicians (who else?) began a folk revival in Dublin, led by groups like The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers. When The Clancy Brothers' emigrated to Greenwich Village in 1951, the folk revival in America–led primarily by Woody Guthrie–was already underway. Upon their introduction onto the scene, Irish heavy harmonies and lyric poetry quickly permeated the largely political American movement and changed it forever. Irish musicians took over lower Manhattan in the 50s and the Clancy Brothers were already well-established by the time Bob Dylan arrived on the scene, and Dylan still cites them as a huge influence on him today. Now, almost 70 years later, New York City is still a hotbed of Celtic music and is home to some of the most prominent musicians in the genre.

The bars specializing in traditional (trad) sessions (seisuns, in Gaelic) are numerous, though they all differ in intensity. Certain bars, like Lillie's Victorian Establishment, have bands play to provide background music and entertain diners. While this sort of thing can function as a primer, few of the city's Irish trad musicians would consider this a true session. If you're looking for a real treat, the place to go is the 11th street bar in the East Village for Tony DeMarco's Sunday Session. While DeMarco's Brooklyn accent and Italian last name are anything but Irish, (DeMarco looks like a Sopranos extra) he is one of the most incredible Celtic fiddle players in the country, and he hosts one of the tightest sessions in New York.

Tony DeMarco on his fiddle

It starts at around 9:30 every Sunday night and doesn't usually wind down until four in the morning. The atmosphere is inviting, but if you're someone who learned the chords Danny Boy on guitar and think you're going to jump in and play, you've got another thing coming. While the musicians are open to letting other players join the fun, you'd better commit the Celtic songbook to memory before volunteering, otherwise you'll be laughed out of the bar. DeMarco's impact on the Celtic music scene isn't exclusive to 11th street, however. He is also one of the founders of the New York Trad Fest, a yearly event hosted by the Irish Arts Center dedicated to preserving and celebrating traditional Irish folk music.

But how does an Irish session work? Well, there are two types of sessions. One is a closed session, in which no one who isn't on the bill is allowed to play. A closed session sort of resembles a concert, but is more like a public jam session between wildly talented musicians. The other type is the open session, in which anyone with an instrument is invited to join in. The etiquette in an open session is fairly simple; if you know the tune, pick up your instrument and start playing along. If you don't, wait patiently until you hear something you do know. It's also polite, especially if you play a common instrument like guitar, to let other people have a turn if you've been playing for awhile. While slightly different, the common thread between open and closed sessions is the way in which they differ from traditional concerts. A session is not played for the benefit of the audience, but functions more like a roundtable between musicians, each musical phrase or utterance being part of dialogue. There's a feeling, particularly at good sessions, that even if you weren't watching the musicians, they'd be there playing all hours of the night for the sheer joy of it. There's an intense beauty in the way these sessions operate, playing the same songs every night (with some permutations), simultaneously transient and eternal. It's somehow more musical, more free-flowing and pure than going to watch your favorite band perform.

An open session in progress

Unfortunately, with the closure of Dempsey's there aren't many open sessions left in Manhattan, and while the closed sessions of the East Village are certainly full of talented musicians, the boroughs- particularly Queens and the Bronx- are the place to go if you're looking to contribute, but aren't willing to dedicate your life to mastering an instrument. Either way, whether you're looking for Celtic ambiance to go along with you shepherd's pie and Guinness, or you're trying to play with a new group, NYC is the best place outside of Dublin to find a good Irish seisun. Get practicing though, you don't want to embarrass yourself on your first time out!


Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. Website: https://matthewdclibanoff.journoportfolio.com/ Twitter: @mattclibanoff

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Travel Tips

8 of the Best Donut Spots In the United States

Celebrate National Donut Day with our favorite treats across the country.

November 5th marks one of 2020's two National Donut Days.

Occurring in both June and November, National Donut Day allows fans of those delectable yeasty treats to embrace their sweet tooth. But like any niche food group, people often take their donuts very, very seriously, and there are countless places to get your fix.


Below, we've rounded up some of the best donut spots across the country. From coast to coast, these bakeries are sure to impress even the pickiest donut-heads.

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop – Modesto, CA

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop

If you ever find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's worth taking a short trek out east towards Modesto for some of California's best donuts. Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop has remained family owned since its opening over 30 years ago, providing both tried-and-true classic donuts as well as experimental flavors and holiday specials. Even their 24-hour service doesn't diminish the line that trails out the door most mornings.

Dough — New York, NY

Dough \u2014 New York, NY

Donuts might not be the first circular, doughy treat you think of when it comes to New York City. If you've had your fair share of bagels, the Big Apple also boasts some spectacular donuts at Dough, a go-to spot for both tourists and locals alike. Here, you'll find a host of Latin American-inspired flavors that are hard to come by anywhere else; their Dulce de Leche flavor is a customer favorite, while the tangy Hibiscus donut is just as good for Instagramming as it is for eating.

Blackbird Doughnuts — Boston, MA

Blackbird Doughnuts \u2014 Boston, MA

Boston's Blackbird Doughnuts is a no-frills donut spot specializing in both brioche "raised" donuts and old-fashioned cake donuts. With a small menu of year-round donuts and a rotating cast of seasonal flavors, Blackbird keeps it simple and classic. Why mess around?

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop — Brooklyn, NY

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop \u2014 Brooklyn, NY

For over 60 years, Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop has been calling the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint home. Since then, the bakery has remained a popular spot for both regulars and new visitors passing through the area. Here, you won't find uber-trendy decor or gimmicky recipes, just damn good donuts that prove the power of long-standing local businesses.

Pip’s Original — Portland, OR

Pip\u2019s Original \u2014 Portland, OR

In both their mobile catering van and brick-and-mortar locations, Pip's Original is a staple for small, sweet treats in Portland. They're known for their tiny donuts that come in inventive seasonal flavors like marionberry-lavender and mango ghost pepper. But even if you opt for one of the more traditional flavors, Pip's Original proves good things can come in small packages.

Round Rock Donuts — Round Rock, TX

Round Rock Donuts \u2014 Round Rock, TX

Founded in 1926, Round Rock Donuts—located just north of Austin—are impossible to miss. These donuts' distinct yellow-orange color, caused by fresh eggs in the original recipe, make them stand out among the crowd. While this classic outpost can easily churn out hundreds of dozens of donuts a day, they also offer Texas-Sized Donuts, which are just as ginormous as you'd imagine. Round Rock Donuts are not only delicious and easily recognizable, but they're a slice of Lone Star history.

The Holy Donut — Portland, ME

The Holy Donut \u2014 Portland, ME

In Maine's Portland, you might not find tiny donuts or a decked-out catering van, but you will find a slightly healthier alternative. The Holy Donut was founded on the premise of creating tasty donuts that used all-natural ingredients to make a treat you could feel good about eating. The secret ingredient is fresh, mashed Maine potatoes, which make these donuts delectably moist without sacrificing flavor.

Donut Friend — Los Angeles, CA

Donut Friend \u2014 Los Angeles, CA

As expected of a city so focused on entertainment, Los Angeles' Donut Friend puts an edgy spin on their inventive donut flavors. Their year-round menu features donut flavors with names like Green Teagan and Sara, Fudgegazi, and Bacon-182 that are sure to delight the rock music nerds. For everyone else, the delicious donuts speak for themselves.