My silence of the last few days does not mean I have nothing to say about Willie Week. Firstly I just haven’t had the time but I am also having trouble formulating the words to describe the experience.
What a difference a year makes; last year I was chasing a dream this year I lived the reality.
As a Willie Virgin in 2014 I found it overwhelming. The sheer quantity of music, the crowds and the whole atmosphere was almost crushing. I had only been here a little over a month and my insatiable desire to participate in sessions and to play with Legends and Gods led to much frustration. The crowds were oppressive, particularly in the popular pubs such as Friels and the Blondes and at night it was a challenge at many levels. OK I was naiive.
This year was different though; I decided not to do the School which immediately meant I got more sleep and was able to ease into the day. I was at my home which is only a short drive away and had a houseful of guests so that added an extra dimension. Beanie and Anne and Jeff from North Carolina, Ana Carolina from Brazil and Bardon from UK and Julie from Denmark. I was able to retreat to my little oasis and chill out if needed. Sometimes play a few quiet tunes and eat properly with some magnificent cooking from my housemates.
Yes the crowds were there, and the weather was bad and despite spending a lot less time looking for the killer session I actually played in better sessions and enjoyed them more. I was much happier to stand and listen. Of course there were sessions I would love to have joined such as with Seamus Begley and Clare Egan in the new room in Fries or with Frankie Gavin and Noel Hill or the street session with Anton Mac Gabbhann, but there were many I did such as with Jacky Daly and Matt Cranitch. Some of the best sessions however were with people I had never met but are now good friends. That’s how it works at Willie Week.
I started a few sessions myself in the afternoons and that was a new experience. Just quietly playing a few tunes with a friend in the kitchen at the Blondes or at the back of Martin Flynns and feeling the session grow around us. The evenings however were chaotic. There were times you could not move in Friels and being on the street was challenging so most evenings were spent in Mullagh or the Quilty Tavern. At Quilty I could play with Johnny Connolly, Johnny Og Connolly, Colm Gannon, John Blake and avoid the crowds.
The Willie Week experience happens on many levels. There are actually a number of parallel worlds and sometimes they don’t meet. There is the Summer School with over a thousand pupils mainly kids many of whom never leave it; There are the concerts and recitals and ceilis, there are the sessions in Milltown, there are the mini festivals at the Bellbridge, Mullagh and Coore, there is the dance festival at the Armada and there is the private world of the house sessions in the many cottages around. But mostly there is the catching up with people not seen for a year. People go there for any of these reasons and are rewarded accordingly,
There were many highlights. Meeting Tommy Peoples for one. But perhaps for me what will stand out was dropping in to Friels on the last Sunday afternoon. I was getting ready to drive to Tubbercurry but just had to have one more dose. There was no music but sitting in the front bar was Padraig Mac Donnacha. who I had met at Ballyferriter, and he invited me to join him for a few tunes. Initially there was just the two of us but then Thiery Masure and a few others sat in. I won’t overplay it but itnwas special moment for me.
So that’s Willie Week for 2015. I get it now. I get the mystique and the draw. Such that I know where I’ll be in the first week of July next year.
Just a few of the many photos I took. I know I missed many opportunities but you cant be everywhere. The photos of me were taken by Anne Gerhardt. Thanks Anne.