The Starry Plough is an Irish pub on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, CA. Sessions there are run by Shay Black every Sunday evening.
Ethnographers since Charles Keil have been speaking of participatory discrepancy as a way of interpreting certain ethnic musics. Unlike Western art music, the emphasis of this music is social and with this comes a certain amount of allowed discrepancy between contributors of the music. Does Keil’s model perfectly apply to Irish sessions? In speaking with several musicians of the Bay Area, it became clear that participatory discrepancy doesn’t explain everything that’s going on.
Interviews with John Sherry and Peter Persoff
John Sherry has been in the Bay Area his entire life and became interested in Irish music in the 1970s after The Chieftains released their first album. He currently heads up the sessions at The Plough and Stars in San Francisco. Peter Persoff first became interested in Irish session music in the middle of the folk movement in New York of the 1960s. He moved in the 1970s to San Francisco and has remained here, mainly attending the sessions at the Starry Plough. Both men talked extensively about the history of Irish music, about what attracted them to Irish music (since neither originally knew or liked it), and about the politics of Irish sessions and the unity of melody.
Interview Excerpt with Peter Persoff, Berkeley, CA, 5-28-14
“In New York, in those days, you go down to Washington Square on some days and guys would be on Sundays forming little pick-up groups and playing old time music. And I remember feeling, at that time, well a city boy might learn how to play the banjo or the guitar. But not the fiddle. The fiddle is too mysterious, it doesn’t have frets. But I’d seen kids in junior high, they played the violin, how different could it be. So I bought a fiddle for $20.”