I don’t drink often as a rule, so I don’t “go out to a bar” all that much. Generally there needs to be something else going on to draw me there – a pub quiz, a holiday, good food. I’ve gotten in good with the owners at the pub up my block, to the point that one of the owners sometimes springs for an extra drink for me if I’m at the bar – but I’m there for brunch more often than booze.
Then – just this Sunday, I learned that all this month they’re having traditional Irish music seisiuns on Mondays.
A seisiun, for the record, is a sort of low-key, informal music thing in Irish bars – half jam session, half gig, half house party. And mostly Irish folk – but the loose and informal folk I like, rather than the often over-produced things you hear in the big splashy Celtic Women Of Riverdance Meet The Chieftains kind of thing you’re probably all thinking about. Small instruments usually – no one would dream of bringing a harp to a pub, after all, so it’s usually just guitar, bodhran drum, maybe a fiddle or a pipe, maybe a singer. The band cracks jokes with each other and the audience in between sets, and sometimes shout out their drink orders to the bar while they’re in the middle of playing.
I am completely broke this week, and I really had stuff to do last night, but I decided I was just going to have to go for just a bit. An hour, maybe. One drink.
Two thirds of the band was already there when I showed up – guitarist and fiddler, huddled in the window, already in the middle of a song. I snuck into a seat at the bar close by and ordered something that I had carefully calculated would still let me afford a tip for the bartender.
And then I sipped my cider and just sort of….settled in. A seisiun doesn’t necessarily require total silence and listening attentiveness; you can talk to your friends if you want, sing along, or just sit back and chill and let the music wrap around you. And that’s what I did, watching as the fiddler switched back and forth between that and a set of Irish pipes and then a pennywhistle, depending on the number. After a while a third guy showed up, a big guy with a long ponytail and a bodhran in a case. He was the singer as well, and his arrival heralded an expansion not just in the sound, but the set list, with some more contemporary songs joining the set.
Audrey, one of the two owners, came over to say hi and I joked that “you realize that you’ve just guaranteed I’m going to be here every Monday this month.” I mentioned that I was going to have to leave after my one drink, and she insisted that no, I should stay for a second – even if she had to buy it. “What are you drinkin’, love?” she asked, and when I meekly refused to go with beer, she just nodded and said “wine, then” and had the bartender pour me a glass of pinot.
And ten minutes later, the bartender handed me a second one with a grin – “This one’s from Audrey too.” Audrey, by that time, was busy trying to corral an adorable two-year-old girl who was intently trying to pull all the menus out of the hostess’s station. She would grab one, run across the bar and hand it to someone, and Audrey and her mother would chase after her to retrieve it, apologizing to the confused customer. The band saw her, though, and broke into something lively with a steady beat on the bodhran – and she stopped in front of them, watching in fascination for a moment, then started a little toddler-dance, bouncing on knees and stamping feet, just moving in glee. After a moment she ran over to Audrey and grabbed her hand, then dragged her over to grab mum’s hand and pulled them into it, letting the two of them hold her up while she threw her little body into the music.
The band slowed things down after that, with an old Van Morrison tune; it was one of my favorites, and I sang along with them softly. I thought I’d been subtle, but the bodhran player saluted me after the song – “You knew all the words! I’m impressed!”
I grinned. “If you guys know ‘Fisherman’s Blues’,” I sassed back, “you may have earned yourself a groupie.” They all laughed at that, and went into their next song, and I went back to watching Audrey and our little dancer.
And then just as I was wrapping up with my last drink and starting in on a big glass of water (three drinks in two hours, and no food – yikes) the bodhran player called over asking me my name. I told him, and he smirked. “So we’re gonna do one more song before we take a short break,” he said into the mike, “but first here’s a Kim special.” The band all grinned at me – and launched into “Fisherman’s Blues.” I laughed uproariously when I recognized it, and sang along with that too. When it ended I dramatically blew them all a kiss, and they laughed as well, pretending to catch it as they untethered themselves from instruments and picked up their own drinks.
Sometimes the world gives you good moments.