Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ever-growing Banjo Burke Festival returns to the Catskills

By Toni Earls, The Irish Emigrant, Sept. 29th, 2011

... The late Joe "Banjo" Burke.

The Pride of Moyvane Céili Band.This year the “Irish Alps” celebrates the fifth annual Banjo Burke Festival, which will be held in East Durham, New York over Columbus Day Weekend, October 7-10. The gathering offers an opportunity to enjoy traditional Irish music, dance and hospitality amidst the beautiful fall foliage of Greene County’s Catskills.

The Banjo Burke Memorial Fund is a public charity founded to honor the memory of the late Joe “Banjo” Burke, a brilliant musician, singer and collector of songs who was also a well-known hurler in his native Kilkenny and at Gaelic Park.

The Fund helps to support Parkinson’s research, as well as Irish traditional arts and sports. The Banjo Burke Festival is the main event on the Fund’s schedule, and has grown into an amazing tribute to a man who was devoted to traditional music, song, and sport.

This year as always the festival will feature performances by gifted Irish musicians, singers, and dancers across the weekend. Various workshops will also be offered, giving aspiring and accomplished musicians alike a chance to study with the experts.

Bridget Burke, who was married to Joe for 22 years before he passed away in 2003, is one of the dynamos behind the festival and a member of the board of directors for the charity. She spoke with The Irish Emigrant, sharing her excitement about the upcoming weekend.

“Our festival is different, it’s not like some of the larger festivals,” Bridget said. “It’s small and intimate, with a great focus on traditional music.”

Those looking for a festival focused strictly on traditional music and song will find exactly that at the Banjo Burke Festival. The weekend will feature continuous performances at all participating local houses, offering fantastic traditional atmospheres whilst keeping all in attendance warm and dry.

“All of our events will take place indoors, so no one has to worry about the weather,” Bridget continued. “Our venues are smaller and more intimate - the festival is a grouping of smaller events in different houses, so there’s more of an ambiance, a closer interaction with the performers.”

Speaking of performers, those bringing their skills to the area over the weekend include [deep breath]: Brian Conway, John Nolan, Aine Meenaghan, John Whelan, Pauline Conneely, John Walsh, Rose Conway Flanagan, Joy Grimes, The Pride of Moyvane Céili Band (Margie Mulvihill, John Reynolds, Felix Dolan, Jimmy Kelly), Hearts Content (Tom Dunne, Linda Hickman, Iris Nevins), Ceol na gCroí Céilí Band (John Nolan, Linda Hickman, Brendan Fahey), Pat Kane, The Jameson Sisters, Lawson, and more. On top of this fabulous lineup, many surprise guests are also set to pop along, both on Saturday and Sunday.

“The workshops will also be small,” Bridget said, stressing the added value of such intimate gatherings for those eager to learn and improve. “Musicians will get far more attention from the teacher; it’s a wonderful opportunity for learning. Not only are there music workshops, there will be Céilí workshops, as well as set dancing.”

The organizers promise that even if attendees have only been onlookers to this point, know nothing about Céilí, or have tried it but still feel unsure of the steps, the classes will open up a whole new world to them.

Instructor Pat Kane is vastly experienced at teaching groups with mixed ability levels, and will pull in beginners whilst still challenging those with more experience. He has been dancing Céilí since the 1970s, and has been teaching Céilí at parties and festivals and as an artist in residence at schools in the Twin Tiers area of western New York and Pennsylvania for many years.

Ron Bruschi and Marie Newman will teach set dances, including pointers on footwork. This year’s festival will also feature conversational Irish classes, a new addition which will round out the Irish cultural experience perfectly.

If you would like to contribute to the legacy of the inimitable Joe “Banjo” Burke whilst learning more about Irish music, language, and tradition, head up to the Catskills this Columbus Day weekend and experience a different type of festival which mixes the best of performance, education and friendship.

For more information about the Banjo Burke Memorial Fund, festival registration, fees and the full festival schedule, visit

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