Irish sessions preserve a heritage with a timeless tradition

Just another Tuesday at Patrick's.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For nearly 20 years of Tuesdays, in a pub on Smith Street, talent reaches back into this neighborhood’s Irish roots.

“Lets start off with the war horses,” Bob Drouin said from the middle of a table.

Musicians surround him, and the night has only just begun.

It is preservation, with a tune.

“One two three four,” Drouin says, and the first song is on.

Bob Drouin sits in the middle of the controlled chaos.

Traditional Irish music sessions have been jamming around the world for as long as anyone can remember.

The one at Patrick’s Pub is two decades old, started by Drouin to be a part pf keeping a piece of Irish and Rhode Island culture alive and lively.

“It’s just a wonderful community of players and listeners,” he said.

Patrick Griffin, also one of the key faces behind the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, opened the pub a few years before this Tuesday night tradition began.

“And I can’t believe it’s 20 years we’ve been doing all of this,” Griffin said.

There are sometimes as many as 20 players finding a melody on a mix of fiddles, drums, whistles, mandolins and more exotic instruments.

The kid tapping gray sneakers cradles an 18th century piece called the Uilleann pipes.

He joined the controlled chaos when he was barely a teenager, but the boys thought young Torrin Ryan was older.

“He asked me if I wanted to have a drink. I’m like, ‘no, I’m 14,'” Ryan recalled with a laugh. “I was terrified, but you know after 10 minutes the nervousness drops down right away.”

And as another song ends…

“Hi Irene,” Drouin says to one of the regulars.

They’re known as ‘punters’ back in Ireland, as in someone who comes in and pays a pound or so for drinks and such, to support the establishment that allows the players to perform.

Drouin says that while two musicians might be paid, the rest join in on their own, with the band growing as the night wears on.

That point proven as a singer joined the mix at Patrick’s.

Just another Tuesday night on Smith Street.

“Every group that came in brought their culture with them,” Drouin said. “And I think it weaves into a very rich tapestry”

Another song ends with a flare.

“That was pretty good,” one of musicians says.

“Yeah,” Drouin adds. “After 20 years we’re getting it right.”

The musicians getting it right over the years have included a master boat builder, a professor and an author.

Tuesday, Sept. 12 will mark the exact 20-year anniversary.

If you can play a bit – you’re welcome to join in.

Email Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.