KCITMS is the Kansas City Irish Traditional Music Sessions. We are a community of committed ITM players — well, some of us should be committed, anyway 😉
There have been public sessions of Irish traditional music in KC since at least the early 1980s. Jazz, Blues, and to a lesser degree folk music has been part of the Kan-City scene since before mobsters were shooting each other around the river quay. There were performances of all kinds of music, of course, for many years prior to the late seventies. Still, ITM sessions back then were typically held at someone’s house during a party and after a concert. When Gerald Trimble and David Brown began their radio show “Ballads, Bards, and Bagpipes” on KCUR FM — which had almost a 10-year syndicated run (from Dec 1982 to Jan 1990), and was a precursor to Fiona Richie’s “Thistle and Shamrock” — Gerald also began a session at the Subs Pub on Main St., close to the Plaza, in KCMO. Thank you Gerald!
In those days all kinds of folk music was to be found at the Fool Killer Theater on Main St., in Westport, KCMO (NW corner of Main and 39th). In fact, the Fool Killer is where Gerald first played with David Agee. It was during this time that two Irish bands began: first Talisman (photo above) and then, later, Scartaglen (photo right). These and other ITM bands often played at Harling’s Upstairs (on Main), Jimmy’s Jigger (on 39th), and down around the River quay (where mobster ghosts still roam). There were also others in the area playing Irish music then, such as the fiddler Tom Dahill.
In the 1990s sessions were only periodic, as many old-guard players were either playing gigs, or taking some time to work on new projects; and the up-and-coming new-guard players were working on their tunes and skills. From what I can gather, it seems that there was little in terms of consistent ITM sessions. Sessions were held in pubs on special occasions, but the rest that occurred were held in homes and during parties. In the mid-90’s was when Gerald had the idea for a session at Subs Pub. As a result, there were many enthusiasts who were “drawn into the circle,” as they say. Then, at the end of the 1990s, Roger Landes organized the first Zoukfest, and held it in Weston, MO, just North of Kansas City. Roger had decided to start Zoukfest due to discussions on Cittern-L concerning the need for a gathering of bouzouki players, and we’re all still glad he did! Surprisingly, the Weston Zoukfest was held for just two years, during the summer of 1998 and the summer of 1999, and it had a significant impact on ITM in the area. In fact, to this day people are adamant that it was held for more years, and that it had been around much longer — some suggesting five or six years! Which just goes to show that folklore is more important to personal and social enthusiasm than history. Anyway, Roger moved to the arid climes of Taos, NM, in 2000, where he held many Zoukfests from 2005 until 2012 in the area. Thank you Roger!
In the early 2000s Chris Hope and his wife set up a session at an Irish pub just west of 119th and Metcalf, in Overland Park, Kansas — in the Kansas City Metro — which lasted until the pub/restaurant changed hands, and also changed its theme to a sports bar. An all-too-common narrative, of course. Around mid-2003 or so the Hopes then asked the folks at Kennedy’s on 75th St. in Waldo, KCMO, if we could hold a session in their front window area, and it was a cozy session for a short while. In fact, it lasted only about six months, until the conflagration that completely destroyed Kennedy’s. There was some hope that when Kennedy’s rebuilt, they would once again want the session back. Still, in the interim, around mid-2004, the Hopes found a new home for the session at the Gaf, a bar at Gregory and Wornall run by Ray Dunlea, our man from Cork. Initially, as I mentioned, this was thought to be a temporary move, a place to keep the session going until Kennedy’s could rebuild. However, due to Ray’s kind enthusiasm the session soon became firmly ensconced at the Gaf within a year, and began to grow. Further, the new Kennedy’s was not interested in having a traditional session, as instead of the hardwood floors and old-world feel, they had opted for a new marketing strategy, something surprisingly similar to an up-scale sports bar with a concrete floor and lots of looking-glass surfaces. I began going to the Gaf session in late 2005 when the session was still nascent — sometimes only four or five musicians would show up, and we were lucky to have the same number of punters. Yet, by 2007 it had a pretty serious group of regular musicians, and by 2008 there was a seriously growing group of people who came to enjoy the music, food, drink, and craic. Though varying in size throughout the years, the session at the Gaf could grow to a pretty large size from time to time. It hit its stride probably around 2009-2012, when I often counted from twenty to thirty players, along with more than forty punters — see photo below. We once or twice had whole wedding parties stop in for drinks, to listen to tunes and (try to) dance.
While the Gaf session was the biggest session in the KC metro, there was more going on in the area. Besides, when sessions get that large a couple of things happen. First, you can hardly hear yourself play. Second, despite the great social atmosphere, some musicians start thinking of playing in some place quieter. In fact, both happened about this time.
There were already two other sessions going on at that time: the first at the KC Irish Center in Union Station on the third Sunday of the month. I think it started sometime around 2009. It lasted until 2015 when the KC Irish Center moved to new, but smaller, digs. We hope to get this session back up soon, since the Irish Center has taken over Drexel Hall, an old speak-easy and dance hall in what was once called the Kerry Patch due to the number of Irish that lived in that area (the area is now usually called Penn Valley).
The second historically significant session during the 2009-2010 heyday was Browne’s Irish Market and Deli which had a session on the third Thursdays in the early evening. This session was started, I think, around 2008, and was always a terrific time. Browne’s is an Irish Deli, and as it started in 1887 in the same building and has passed from generation to generation since then, it is the oldest continuous family-run Irish business in four continents! While these sessions were on hiatus during 2014-2016, they are back up and running on the fourth Friday of the month, in the evening.
But just two additional ITM sessions didn’t seem enough to some of us, and I had talked with a number of people who also floated the idea of yet other sessions. The renowned KC fixture, our man from Dublin, Eddie Delahunt, had a coffee shop from 2008 to 2013 in the West Plaza neighborhood area, a stone’s throw from 45th St. and State Line. In its first location, from 2008 to 2010, he would have parkinglot concerts in the spring, summer, and fall. In the second location, from 2010 to 2013, which just was across 45th facing Bell St., there were concerts upstairs and sessions on Sunday in the morning until just after noon. These were great while they lasted, but the Sunday morning sessions and Eddie’s Cafe are, sadly, no longer with us and Eddie “KC” Delahunt closed Cafe& — it’s now an antique shop. Happily he is still going strong, playing regularly at the O’Dowd’s on the Plaza as well as other locations around town.
Around the spring of 2010 I decided to start another session and went searching for its home. With the help of friends, and a couple of conversations with the owner, the first home was at Mike Kelly’s Westsider. We had a nice small session there on Saturdays from 4 to 7pm, with from five to ten players.
It was a growing session. We were there for about eight months, with a small group of people who would come to listen. I had high hopes for this session, as the wait-staff was excellent. It worked there for a while. When it eventually didn’t, I looked for another venue.
With the help of some friends and a couple of meetings with management, we found a new home at the Westport Flea Market. I was happy they were willing to let us hold sessions there, because it was not a natural fit. In the afternoon “the Flea” is a food and beer establishment, with music piped in. They had to make space for us, change up how the waitresses distributed the tables, etc. Many patrons did comment on how much they loved the music, and we did start to have a group that would come in when they knew we usually were playing. Still, as they had an old tradition of announcing every order over a loud speaker (and it WAS loud), when it was busy, which was often, it was trouble.
As this usually resulted in making the musicians jump a bit, especially if they weren’t regulars, all agreed that it was less than ideal for a music session, but just a bit better than not having a session.
The Gaf was still going strong, and around that time it was suggested that we try to secure a session at the historic Kelly’s Westport Inn. We met with them and came to an agreement that it would be a closed session — something no one else had ever done, as far as I can tell. That session started toward the end of 2011, effectively ending the Westport Flea Market session, As a closed session, it was much smaller, just four or five musicians. It lasted less than six months, however, due to frictions that closed sessions can sometimes create. After that I stepped out of sessions altogether for few years. A few months after the demise of the session at Kelly’s Westport Inn, a session did start back up at Mike Kelly’s Westsider and lasted for a short period, but that too came to an end in less than six months.
It was at this point that The Gaf session also abruptly ended, in the fall of 2012, when the Gaf closed with almost no notice. Meanwhile, Ray had opened two more pubs in the area. Once it was clear that the Gaf would not reopen, all it took was my asking for him to offer the locations as places to continue the session. The pubs were in different parts of the city, one in midtown on Troost, and one further south on 95th. Given that the session players who had gathered at the Gaf all came from different parts of the city, the session then split, some folks going to Mike’s Tavern on Troost Ave.,
in midtown KCMO, and others to Conroy’s on 95th in Kansas. This all lasted about a year, and then in late 2013 the two sessions moved exclusively to Mike’s Tavern in midtown. Periodically, a session would be held at Conroy’s, and notice was given on our KC Irish Sessions page on Facebook, whenever that would happen.
After thinking about the need to bring in some new players to the community, I started a Learning Session at the old Irish Center, in Union Station, in January of 2013 with my friends Dave Agee and Molly McLaughlin, where we taught Irish tunes on Tuesday evenings. It had a good run, but felt like it had reached a saturaion point by April 2015, and so it has been on hold since then. In 2016 I taught similar classes in Lawrence at the Americana Music Academy for a few months.
Happily, we had quite a few new faces show up regularly, and so we’ve had high hopes for a resurgence of sessions in the KC metro. While the sessions at Mike’s Tavern were going, there was a spontaneous one-hour slow session prior to the regular session in late 2014 and early 2015.
Currently, the session at Mike’s has now moved (permanently?) to Conroy’s in Kansas on the first and third Saturdays at 3pm. There is a new session at Prospero’s Books on 39th St. on the second Saturday at 7pm. There is a new session at Browne’s Irish Marketplace on the fourth Friday at 7pm. There is a session every Sunday in Lawrence at Henry’s at 5:30pm.
Things are looking good!
So, if you are in the area, please stop by! I have a list of current KC ITM Sessions (and addresses and times) here.