It seems like Celts have forever been singing and playing music. As far back as the third century B.C., Celtic peoples expressed their spirit in song at the onset of battles. Their naked appearance in the front lines and barbaric gesturing took opponents by surprise. But it was their united battle cry, to the tune of trumpeters and horn blowers, that filled the air and struck fear in their enemy’s hearts.
Similar spirit and kinship, sans the nudity, ignite Sean Kelly’s every Sunday night during the Celtic music sessions. Anywhere from eight to 20 musicians circle together for a jam session of traditional Celtic melodies and sing-along pub favorites such as “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Jug of Punch, “ and “Bog Down in the Valley.” They play indefinitely and get paid in pitchers of beer. All ages and all walks of life––their common thread of being love of Celtic music––flesh out the tunes on various instruments, some of which are homemade. Instruments include violins, guitars, mandolins, button-key accordion, the bodhran (a round goatskin drum), 10 whistle flutes, uilleann pipes, keyboards, the bouzouki (an Irish guitar) and more.
Wilma Jean French of Stevensville enjoys picking her banjo up in the laid-back atmosphere. Michael “Zoom,” a guitarist and percussionist, has been coming in regularly for the sessions since they began a year and a half ago. “I like the beer and freedom of it,” he says. “There are no egos and no rock stars.” Michael often builds his own percussion instruments or will play his “finely tuned” river rocks off each other. While others stick to the sheet music, he prefers to create what he terms the “Leprechaun Factor”––that is, spontaneously adding wild percussion to the melody and surprising his fellow musicians.
Focusing solely on genres such as blues, jazz, and Celtic, Sean Kelly’s has established an identity for itself, says owner Kelly Leary. “We wanted to bring a little ethnicity to Missoula, and do something a little more traditional,” he says. The Missoula Gaelic Cultural Society and Missoula Folklore Society teamed together with Sean Kelly’s to establish a Celtic musical offering in Missoula. For sure, the pint-swilling, boot-stomping and song-singing––trademarks of a true Irish pub––have become welcome attributes at one of downtown’s watering stations.
Looking to do something different and free of charge on your Sunday evenings? The Celtic music sessions are a smoke-free, ear-pleasing occasion where anyone is welcome to take the stage, try out an instrument, or sing along and clap from a corner table. That’s the intention, says Leary. “As people perform, they learn from each other,” he notes. “A session is a place for all persons of all levels to sit, listen, play, and get a feel for the music. And then they get to take it home with them.”
Celtic music sessions are held every Sunday at 6 p.m. at Sean Kelly’s. Admission is FREE.