Comparing a traditional Irish music session to a typical jam session is more than misleading; it's just plain false. A casual jam session could easily consist of an unplanned meeting of friendly musicians who just happen to be carrying around instruments, and it could feature extended riffs on any number of improvised or cover tunes. The Irish session (more accurately, seisún in Irish Gaelic) is much different.
Sure, there's an element of spontaneity to the tradition of Celtic fiddlers, pipers, guitarists and other musicians meeting to play live music, but it's far from casual. Traditionally, the Irish session has stood as a connection to a musical tradition that spans centuries. The players stick to a very specific set of tunes, whether they're ballads, jigs, reels, hornpipes or polkas. A musician's chops have to be consummate -- there's not piddling around on a serious jig played in a breakneck tempo. The Irish session is a tradition unto itself, and it's alive and well in several Celtic bars in the Denver metro area. If you've got faith in your skills as a player, you're welcome to show up and try your luck. As we prep to casually become Irish for a weekend of drinking and abandon, we've rounded the top five local sessions that are liable to connect a Coloradan to the storied musical ritual of the Irish session.
5. The Celtic Tavern 1801 Blake St., Denver Sundays, 4 p.m. The session at the Celtic Tavern is one of the newest in Denver, but the event shows all the promise of turning into a tradition. The musical fare at the Celtic runs the gamut from Irish to Breton to Scottish tunes, and the skill level ranges from intermediate to advanced. That variety lends the session a degree of spontaneity and unpredictability that stands out. Also unique is the setting, an atmosphere that will appeal as authentic to some and a bit too much to others. The winter sessions have taken place in the Robbie Burns Room at the back of the Celtic, which also operates the neighboring Delaney's Cigar Bar (one of the last tobacco bastions in the city). In addition to loyal smokers, the two bars also pull in a specific crowd since the introduction of off-track betting. Neither of these customer bases get in the way of the music, which is given its own sheltered headquarters away from the main bar/dining area. Even so, the smells and sights of the place stand as one of the big charms here, and it lends an air of credibility to the Sunday sessions.
4. Jack Quinn's Irish Alehouse and Pub 21 S. Tejon St., Colorado Springs Sundays, 3 p.m. The owners of Jack Quinn's tout the bar and restaurant as the definitive home for Irish culture in Colorado Springs. The claim may feel a bit bombastic, but the bar's respectable weekly session proves that it's not entirely bluster. Considering the limited options for sessions south of Denver, the weekly meeting of musical minds at Jack Quinn's is impressive for its consistency, skill and variety. You're liable to get dirty looks if you request "The Unicorn" or "Danny Boy," but otherwise the format is fairly free. Singers of Irish sea chanteys, players of popular ballads and serious fiddlers are all welcome in the mix, and the result is one of the greatest Celtic cultural draws in Colorado's second-largest city.
3. Irish Snug 1201 E. Colfax Ave., Denver Sundays, 3 p.m. A bit removed from the LoDo home-bases of Fadó and the Celtic, the Irish Snug has turned into one of Denver's most popular Irish bars since it opened about ten years ago. That popularity has extended to the bar's Sunday music session, which attracts a wide range of musicians, as well as audience members. The number of players can easily run into the dozens, and the tunes are liable to include instrumental jigs, popular traditional ballads and even a few pop numbers with a Celtic spin. There's an accessibility to this session that makes it an ideal starting point for a player looking to hone their Irish musical chops.
2. Conor O'Neil's 1922 13th St., Boulder Sundays, 7 p.m. The session at Connor O'Neil has the honorific as one of the longest running in the metro area, spanning back to before the bar took its current title and identity as Boulder's flagship Irish pub. It's not to see why the event has proved so durable. The musicians are friendly, the quality of the music is consistently high and the audience is respectful. What's more, the Irish session is just one of several live music events hosted at the pub - bluegrass jams, open stage events and shows by touring bands are regular occurences at Conor O'Neil's. It all lends for an ambience and attitude that's highly respectful of live music. This session is a great option for lovers of Celtic culture living in Boulder, just as it's a great justification for Irish music fans looking for a reason for a Sunday visit to Boulder.
1. Fadó Irish Pub 1735 19th St., Denver. Mondays, 8 p.m. Over the past decade, the Monday sessions at Fadó Irish Pub right down the street from Coors field have become the local gold standard in Celtic music sessions. There's no messing around here. The fiddlers, drummers and guitarists come to play, and they're serious about their traditions. This is a place to play or listen if you're a fan of detail. A player who shows up without a working knowledge of standards from Irish, Scottish and larger Celtic tradition is liable to get dismissive looks. But you don't have to be a conservatory-league musician to enjoy the event. The sessions are open to fans of the music, and it's tough to find a more picturesque and quaint setting for the soundtrack. Fadó is one of the Denver metro area's more authentic Irish pubs (despite the fact that it's part of a chain), and the sessions take place in one of the restaurant's most charming rooms. It's easy to feel transported to a public house in the rural stretches of County Cork when the reels get going and the fire is blazing.
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