The five best places to hear traditional Irish music every week in Colorado
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.
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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.