Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"The world must be shrink-wrapped."

That’s what a poet friend wrote me after she learned the details of the following story, which involves dogs in Baltimore (where we live) and traditional Irish music in Montana (which we visit in the summer). It’s a story of serendipity and the awesome smallness of the world. And it’s about one rockin’ button accordion.

We’ll start at Double Rock Park in Parkville, a neighborhood in Baltimore County about a mile from where we live. It’s where we take our dog, Kaimin, most mornings of the week for her run-around-crazy-off-the-leash time. Early on we met a friendly fellow at Double Rock. He was talkative and often wore a little Irish driving cap and his manner suggested that he takes life as it comes. On the back of his car was a bumper sticker about folk music, and he told us where to find some in our neighborhood. We still see him in the park, often say hi, but our dogs don’t get along so swell (Kaimin’s fault) so we don’t chat too often.

Some months later, we’re in Montana planning to attend the National Folk Festival in Butte. This is a big three-day affair that takes over most of uptown Butte and draws acts from all over the country, including (I noted as I read the program) a traditional Irish band called The Pride of New York. And this is not just any traditional Irish band. This is a traditional Irish superband. It’s like the piano player is the Jerry Lee Lewis of Irish piano. And the button accordion player is the Eric Clapton of button accordion players. And they all got together for the first time, for one album.

“We should hear these guys,” I said to my wyf. “The guy from Baltimore plays button accordion. I think I heard him interviewed on the radio one night. The station played his music. It’s good.”

“If he’s in Baltimore,” said the wyf, “we can hear him there.”

Which was a good practical argument, but you see where this is going. At the folk festival I’m perusing the tent where CDs are on sale, and there’s the Pride of New York, and dang … there’s a familiar face holding a button accordion.

“You know that guy who walks his dog at Double Rock?” I said to my wyf.

To make certain, we sat about twenty rows back from the stage.

And yes, it turns out our fellow Double-Rock-Park-in-Parkville-Maryland dog walker is probably the best Irish traditional button accordion player in these United States if not the world.

And we could only learn that by traveling to Butte, Montana.

Awesome smallness. Shrink-wrapped, as my friend says.

We heard half a dozen amazing performances that day, and a few more on the radio the day after. The Pride of New York, featuring Billy McComiskey who walks his dog at Double Rock Park on button accordion, topped them all. “Sian le Maigh,” a mournful tune featuring the penny whistle, drew the first heartfelt standing ovation we’d seen that day. “I hear all of Ireland’s suffering in that song,” said the wyf. This from a Dutch woman! Whose Calvinist people made their kids wear orange on St. Patrick’s Day!

So. Now you also know about The Pride of New York and Billy McComiskey. And you didn’t even have to go to Butte. But you should, anyway. Butte is Evel Knievel’s hometown and has a 1700-feet deep Superfund site that sells postcards. In such places, you might be surprised by the high trill of life’s most serendipitous melodies.


Miles Shepard said...

Your description of the Butte of today in the last lines was perfect. Butte still seems to typify the real Montana that visitors to the more sterilized locales. The Pittsburgh of the west- full of real America, which ain't always pretty.

Downs said...

Thank you, Miles. Pittsburgh of the West. That's pretty good. I don't much post on this blog anymore -- though I will, someday, and I hope soon. Thanks for reading it.