When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, ’tis like the morn in Spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay.
And when Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, they steal your heart away.
On the morning of Aug. 9, 2017, at the Buffalo History Museum, Joe Head and I had the honor and privilege of posthumously announcing the induction of Chauncey Olcott to the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. Later in the presentation, Joe and I sang two of Chauncey’s most famous compositions, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “My Wild Irish Rose.”
This week we lost Joe Head, one of the most respected musicians in the history of Buffalo music. As St. Patrick’s Day (which is really a month long celebration) approaches, I remember fondly the honor I had both performing with Joe and acknowledging Chauncey Olcott.
Chauncey Olcott was born in one of the mostly Irish neighborhoods of Buffalo’s first ward. He later moved to New York City and performed, produced and wrote American/Irish Operettas (musicals).
A very good article on his life and connection to his roots in Buffalo was written by our editor, Elmer Ploetz, and Hall of Fame intern Lauren Supples. It is well worth reading to learn more about this Buffalo treasure.
There was also Hollywood style, partially accurate movie based on his life, “My Wild Irish Ros”e which sits next to “The Quiet Man” and “Darby O’Gill” on my March movie shelf.
I also encourage you to seek out and read the tributes that have been filling Facebook regarding Joe Head. If you hadn’t had the good fortune of hearing him live, just watch the video below to enjoy some of the legacy he has left us.
Bluegrass Irish connection
Bluegrass and Irish music share not only many songs, themes and instrumental tunes (“When You and I Were Young, Maggie,” “Red Haired Boy” and many moonshine references, etc.), they also share musicians. On the international level, dobro wizard, Jerry Douglas has recorded with Irish singer Maura O’Connell for many years and Jerry has led groups of Bluegrass stars over the Atlantic to record with Celtic music stars, resulting in the Trans-Atlantic Sessions.
Ricky Skaggs has performed and recorded with the Chieftains.
The local connections
In the 1970’s and 80’s a well known new-grass banjo player, Stephen Stadler played bluegrass with the Boot Hill Boys and Nightwatch. After traveling to St. Petersburg to play in a super new-grass group, Sleepless Nights (along with Chris Panfil and Tommy Jackson also from Buffalo) he shifted his attention to fiddle and playing Irish music in Florida. He maintains an active playing schedule still in the St. Petersburg area.
I remember playing on bluegrass festival stages and local gin mills with the bluegrass band, the Dady Brothers back when we were all much younger. They had a four piece band with dobro and bass along with the guitar that John played and the banjo and fiddle that Joe played. Soon after those early days the brothers embraced their Irish roots and became a full time Irish duet and cultural ambassadors for the Irish music in the Rochester area. They organized over twenty musical tours of Ireland and led their fans from pub to pub and town to town in Ireland. As Tommy Makem so eloquently put it, “The Dady Brothers have it all – taste, talent, and dedication. Taste to write and select good material; talent to perform that material excellently, to the delight of their audiences; and dedication to keep their material and performances to the highest standards.”
In May of 2019, Joe lost his battle with leukemia. John continues to carry on the music, performing solo or with a number of close friends.
On the wall of the back room of Gene McCarthy’s Irish Pub in the first ward of south Buffalo you can see the poster announcing a gala event when Gene McCarthy was named the Grand Marshall of that year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Buffalo. The band playing that event is also displayed on that poster as the Creek Bend Irish Band. In the 1990’s Creek Bend started playing Irish music and soon adopted the name, Emerald Isle. Rich Schaefer plays bass, Chris Panfil plays guitar, fiddle and mandolins and I trade in my dobro for an accordion, penny whistle and bodhran in the trio that now makes up about one fourth of our yearly shows. Our first Emerald Isle CD was released in 2004 and our second Emerald Isle CD, The Mary Ellen Carter, came out last month.
Sally Schaefer, who plays fiddle in Creek Bend is also the fiddler in the original Irish group, McCarthyism and Katie and Jayson Clark, who play in the Rear View Ramblers, are members of the Irish trio, Almost Seamus.
Sally’s calendar this march is HERE.
Almost Seamus is HERE.
Upcoming Bluegrass Shows
On Thursday, March 16, 7 PM the Sportsmens will have John McEuen and the Circle Band. With his banjo, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, John McEuen led a revolution in acoustic, roots based music in the 1970’s by adding bluegrass to a great group of singers and songwriters. Together they were the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Their 50 year and counting run included several ground breaking album sets known as the Will the Circle Be Unbroken projects. The first was a collaboration from many famous bluegrass and country-western players, including Roy Acuff, “Mother” Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Randy Scruggs, Merle Travis, Pete “Oswald” Kirby, Norman Blake, Jimmy Martin, and others. It also introduced fiddler Vassar Clements to a wider audience. The album was released in November 1972, through United Artists Records and produced by William McEuen, John’s brother.
With narrative and music of early NGDB, John will present a musical journey interwoven with Nitty Gritty favorites, hot bluegrass, rarely heard NGDB early classics, Carter Family music, all in a multi-media presentation that features archival footage tied into the music on stage. McEuen has assembled a unique cast for a special night to share the music and memories of Will the Circle Be Unbroken and his incredible career with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. His Circle Band includes Les Thompson (bass, bouzouki, vocals), a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; John Cable (guitar, mandolin, vocals), who toured Russia with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; and Matt Cartsonis on mandola, guitar, vocals
Friday March 31, Creek Bend with the Buffalo Bluegrass Youth Ensemble at 7 pm at the West Falls Center for the Arts 7:30-9:30 PM. Buffalo’s premier Bluegrass band in a perfect concert setting. Humor and high quality make these shows a popular choice for a night out. The Buffalo Bluegrass Youth Ensemble is made up of string students from all over western New York playing bluegrass music. Fiddlers, mandolin, guitar, bass and banjo players who also sing the old songs led by Bill Matthews, Mark Gannon, Chris Panfil and Mark Panfil.
On Sun, Apr 30, 4 PM the Kitchen Dwellers will be at Buffalo Iron Works, 49 Illinois St, Buffalo, NY.
Hailing from Bozeman, Montana, the Kitchen Dwellers equally embody the spirit and soul of their home with a sonic palette as expansive as Montana’s vistas. The quartet—Shawn Swain [Mandolin], Torrin Daniels [banjo], Joe Funk [upright bass], and Max Davies [acoustic guitar]—twist bluegrass, folk, and rock through a kaleidoscope of homegrown stories, rich mythology, American west wanderlust, and psychedelic hues. After amassing 5 million-plus streams, selling out shows, and receiving acclaim from Huffington Post, Relix, American Songwriter, and more, the group brings audiences back to Big Sky Country on their third full-length album, Wise River, working with Cory Wong of Vulfpeck as producer.
Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass with the Buffalo Bluegrass Youth Ensemble at 7pm
Sat, May 20, 07:30pm – 09:30 pm West Falls Center for the Arts. Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass play powerful, unadorned, and intense traditional bluegrass. There is no hybrid or genre-bending music here. Their combination of instrumentation and vocals convey the energy and emotion of classic bluegrass and country music. Danny’s lead vocals will captivate your senses, so much so that many prominent musicians, including Alison Krauss, have considered Danny as one of their favorite singers. His voice combines powerful range and soulful blues with a sound like no one else in bluegrass today.
Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers will be at West Falls Center for the Arts on Friday, June 30 7-9:30 PM. Joe Mullins was born and raised in southwestern Ohio. He is a master of the traditional styles of bluegrass banjo. He owns and DJ’s several radio stations in Ohio featuring traditional bluegrass shows. He and his band, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers are members of the Grand Ole Opry and have won multiple awards through the years from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA).
This month the Buffalo Bluegrass All Stars will be playing at the Sportsmens Tavern for bluegrass lunch on Thursdays March 2nd and the 16th from noon to 2:15 PM.
The Bluegrass jam at Bennington Lanes in Bennington, NY takes place on Sunday March 12 from 2-7 PM.
The Brothers Blue will be hosting their Old Time style jam at 42 North on Sunday March 19 from 4-7 PM
The Mayville Bluegrass festival is happening again this year at Big Inlet brewery in Mayville, NY on Saturday August 19th.
Reliable sources tell me that Peter Rowan may be at the Great Blue Heren music festival this summer June 30-July 2 in Sherman, NY.
Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival asks, What has 1 grammy prize winner, 3 grammy nominations, 16 IBMA awards including banjo player of the year, entertainer of the year and singer of the year, 2 winners of the Steve Martin Award for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo? Who has performed on the Tonight show, has 200 appearances at the Grand Old Opry, performed at the Kennedy Center, Radio City Music Hall and 3 presidential inaugural balls? The lineup for the 42nd Annual Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival! We’re excited about our lineup this year and its one you do not want to miss! www.windgapbluegrass.com That’s June 8th – 11th.
In the upcoming months I will talk more about the Bluegrass festivals coming within a 5 or 6 hour drive from Buffalo. If you want to start planning early you can search by the month in 2023 at https://bluegrasscountry.org/festivals/
II hope you have a great March and I’ll check in again in April. ‘Til then, Keep on Pickin’.