Paddy Keenan & Jimmy Noonan
Loudon, New Hampshire and Boston, Massachusetts
Music brings people together across Ireland, whether at home, at a neighborhood house party (often called a ceili) or at the local pub. Building on their long friendship, master musicians Paddy Keenan and Jimmy Noonan bring the undeniable vitality of these informal musical gatherings known as sessions, or seisúns, to the stages of the Richmond Folk Festival.
Paddy Keenan is one of Irish music’s foremost pipers, a master of the uilleann (ILL-en) pipes, the world’s most complex style of bagpipes. Born in County Meath, Ireland, in 1950, Paddy grew up in a family of Travellers, a unique Irish subculture of itinerant families, not unlike gypsies found elsewhere in Europe, with a deep musical heritage. Like his father and grandfather before him, he took up the pipes at a young age, and played his first major concert in Dublin at age 14. In the 1970s, he was a founding member of the influential young traditional ensemble The Bothy Band, credited as one of the first outfits to bring the spirit of the session onto the concert stage. Bandmate Donal Lunny famously described Keenan as “the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes,” although more recent observers have likened his improvisational genius to that of jazz great John Coltrane. In 1992 Keenan moved to the United States, but he spends much of the year performing traditional Irish music around the world while also undertaking surprising musical collaborations—his latest being the Irish/Japanese/bluegrass mash-up Eire Japan. Awarded the Gradam Ceoil (Traditional Musician of the Year) honor in 2002 by Ireland’s Irish-language public broadcaster TG4, Keenan remains a vital force in Irish music in America and the Emerald Isle.
One of Paddy’s favorite session partners is the masterful flute and tin whistle player Jimmy Noonan. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1962, he grew up surrounded by Irish music. In those early years he was twice Western U.S. Champion on concert flute and tin whistle, as well as Midwest Under 18 Step Dance champion. A resident of Boston since 1985, Noonan has become a leading performer and teacher in the Irish community there. For a time, he ran his own music shop and presided over some of the most famous Irish music sessions in the area. In 1996, National Heritage Fellow Seamus Connolly invited Noonan to join the Irish Studies music faculty at Boston College. Many of his students from B.C. and his personal school have gone on to success in regional, national and international competition, including his 12-year-old son Seamus, who recently won the Under-15 Mid Atlantic Irish flute competition. In this, Noonan sees himself as passing on the legacy of Irish musicians before him, noting “I see one of my greatest attributes as being able to pass on their music, their humor, and what they thought was important in life onto students such as my son, so hopefully he in turn will feel the same way. If this happens, not only will the standard of music remain strong but so will the tradition itself.”