Traditional Irish Session Guide for Maryland and Virginia
As evening approaches and you’ve left the office with more work than you started with, or the kids have finally wound down after bouncing off the walls all day, do you ever wonder what could turn this weeknight into a vacation night? Head to your closest traditional Irish session to find out why this musical social event has been part of the Irish culture for centuries…and see why it still is. Between the live traditional music, engaging conversations and laughter, your e-mails and phone calls will be long forgotten (or, at least out of mind for the next few hours!).
Irish seisiúns are gatherings of local musicians, singers and music appreciators where lively reels, jigs and ballads can be heard and enjoyed. This isn’t a performance, but more of a community get together at a pub or restaurant, so expect breaks in between the music for conversation and unexpected song or dance.
Enjoying the craic (pronounced crack, which is the Irish word for fun) with musicians and onlookers alike gives one the sensation of family. If you live near the D.C./Baltimore metropolitan area, raise your favorite pint (of Guinness, soda or water) as traditional sessions can be found almost every night of the week.
*For the most part the listed events take place in an evening pub setting and are geared toward adults, however daytime sessions can be very family friendly.
Tips for being a respectful audience member
- Talk loudly next to the musicians, or talk at all if someone is singing
- Create your own percussion (every now and then appreciative table bangs are just fine)
- Request Dueling Banjos…or Danny Boy…or Wagon Wheel…it happens…a lot…!
- Clap after a lively set
- Order your food early, or find out when the kitchen closes (usually around 10 PM)
- Ask permission before snapping a photo or recording
- HAVE A GREAT TIME, bring some friends along, or make them when you get there!
Weekly Traditional Irish Sessions
- Racer’s Cafe, Parkville, MD (5-8 PM). Great caliber of local and world class Irish musicians. Session led by master Irish flutist Laura Byrne. Also for a treat, expect to see members of the legendary Billy McCommiskey family.
- Ó Flynn’s Crab & Cask House, Baltimore, MD (12-3 PM). I’m still waiting to check this Irish session out, but where, other than Baltimore, MD, could one find steamed crabs AND Irish music?
- Flanagan’s Harp and Fiddle, Bethesda, MD (5-6:30 PM). This is a next generation, or youth session led by the great fiddle player and teacher, Mitch Fanning.
- Daniel O’Connell’s Pub, Alexandria, VA (8-11 PM). Upscale pub in the heart of historic Old Town Alexandria. High energy session led by iconic fiddler Brendan Mulvihill and singer and guitarist Brian Gaffney. Try the bangers and mash, shepherds pie, scotch eggs or vegetarian options.
- The Irish Inn, Glen Echo, MD (7-10 PM). Landmark traditional Irish pub & restaurant with great ambiance and high quality food. Try the classics here, such as fish and chips, corned beef or freshly baked scones with a pot of tea! This is a masters session where you can hear Mitch Fanning on the fiddle, Zan McLeod on guitar, Tina Eck on flute, Jesse Winch on bodhran, octave mandolin and harmonica and special guests. Note: Closed session for playing, but open for listening!
- Catch 22, Baltimore, MD (8:15-10:15 PM) Beginner/Intermediate session led by the fabulous Irish piano and fiddle player (and teacher!) Donna Long.
- Paddy Barry’s, Tysons Corner, VA (8-10 PM). New intermediate session led by fiddler, Teagan Kutz. Good place to check out if you are musician looking for a place to share tunes in a friendly environment.
- McGinty’s, Silver Spring, MD (8-11 PM). This is in the downtown area, park at the garage and it will be free as long as you exit after 8 PM. Led by local favorites “Doc” Botzer and CB Heinemann. There are really good happy hour deals so come a bit early to order food and reserve your spot to hear the session.
- Ó Flynn’s Crab and Cask House, Baltimore, MD (7-10 PM) This is a slow/beginners session led by Taylor & Alison Jenkins. New musicians are welcome to come and learn session tunes. Check out the $2 crab special for musicians and patrons alike!
- Galway Bay Pub & Restaurant, Annapolis, MD (8-10 PM). Lovely session set in the heart of Annapolis, MD. Great fish and chips, local oysters, pulled Reuben and hearty beef stew. Expect to hear an unaccompanied ballad or group song as the session is led by wonderful singer and button accordion player, Peter Brice (and multi-instrumentalist, Spencer Nitchie). Also, you may be lucky enough to catch Peter’s wife, Catherine dancing.
- The Limerick Pub, Wheaton, MD (7:30-10:30 PM). Lively session lead by amazing guitarist Zan McLeod (1st and 3rd Wed) and alternating with fiddler, Philippe Varlet (2nd & 4th). This friendly session has a wide assortment of instruments, a great full kitchen (try the meatloaf or flaky fish and chips) and play darts on the side!
- Daniel O’Connell’s Pub, Alexandria, VA (8-12 PM). Fun session led by the extraordinary guitar, flute and bodhran player, Josh Dukes. Expect to hear some excellent musicians and fast driving tunes. This pub is popular and always a blast. Note this is a closed session, but open for listening!
- Auld Shebeen Pub, Fairfax, VA (12-2 PM) CCE sponsored Irish session that is great for new and seasoned players alike. Experience a delicious full Irish breakfast anytime of the day.
*These are highlights from sessions that I have attended or that have been subsequently submitted. For a complete list of sessions near you in Maryland, Virginia or anywhere your travels may lead, check out: https://thesession.org/sessions