Irish session in Montpelier, Vermont
This is an unaccompanied Irish session. In other words, melody playing only - with the exception of special guests. Hosts include Sarah Blair, Benedict Koehler, Hilari Farrington Koehler, and Katrina Van Tyne. Singers and dancers welcome.
Session runs from 2-5 pm every Saturday.
Unaccompanied, as in no chords?
I’ve played at many sessions in Ireland, Scotland, Boston, NYC, and Virginia, and I’ve never heard the unaccompanied clause. Do you have very quiet musicians, or were you burned by too many guitars? Can you imagine Cape Breton music without a piano? What is your rationale?
You’re right that it’s unusual. We wanted the melody musicians to drive the rhythm. The fact is, a good accompanist can lift up a session, but a poor accompanist can destroy it. This is as true in Ireland or Cape Breton as it is in the U.S.
Rather than hurting people’s feelings, we decided to avoid the discomfort altogether by focusing on melody playing. Regulators on the pipes provides all the accompaniment we need.
That being said, we do invite an occasional friend to accompany if they’re visiting! There’s sometimes singing and sean-nós dancing as well.
It’s a small space with beautiful acoustics and it has worked really well this way.
It’s a delightful session
I’m a flute player, and I might feel differently if I played guitar or drum, but I’ve made the 2 hour drive to Bagitos several time and had a consistently great time. Anchors have included Randal Bays, Cathleen Conneely, but also some really fine regulars, too. Don’t let the "unaccompanied" thing throw you.
I just moved down from Swanton to Waterbury and have wanted to attend a session for a very long time. I’m not sure yet how comfortable I would be playing as I am by all definitions an amateur. I have two questions: 1, is this still an active session; and 2, are you open to less-talented musicians? I’ve not had a lot of guidance when it comes to Irish music, but I have a deep love for it. I can get by, though.
Still active and thriving!
The Bagitos session is hosted by a number of experienced players, but that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t be welcome, assuming that you play a melody instrument. It’s having a "deep love" for it that counts. And everyone is also welcome to record in order to pick up new tunes.
The Session Obsession website includes all of the Vermont sessions. There is a beginner/intermediate session on Thursday nights in Jericho which you also might want to check out :
Finally, if you’re on Facebook, join the Vermont Session Obsession page for updates.
Hope this helps!
Good to know!
Thanks much! The Thursday night one may be difficult for to attend as I work full time in Stowe during the week, but I will certainly check out the Facebook page.
"Rather than hurting people’s feelings, we decided to avoid the discomfort altogether by focusing on melody playing."
Hey…you’re still hurting peoples’ feelings, you’re just being "purists" and hiding from the effects of your policy…like the Tokyo Japan Irish session that at one time wouldn’t let anyone but Japanese musicians play Irish music, because they were the only ones who could play it right…the "discomfort" was all yours.
Melody only has not been the rule at any session I’ve attended in Ireland, Scotland, England, New York, Chicago, or anywhere else…only yours.
Nothing like making people feel unwelcome before you ever meet them or hear them play.
Like Oikophobia, Lute-o-phobia (fear of guitarists) is a terrible thing.
We don’t think it’s a bad thing to be “purists” when it comes to traditional music. The word purist has a nasty ring to it, but ultimately some degree of purism is what keeps Irish traditional music from degenerating into pan-Celtic mush.
People who are serious about Irish trad, whether they play melody or accompaniment, have spent a lifetime learning the tunes which make up the tradition. Yet if you read the discussions about accompaniment on thesession.org, it’s clear that some people use accompaniment as a shortcut to joining the fun without having done the hard work. The fact is, there’s no shortcut and it’s disrespectful to the people who are devoted to this music to presume that there is.
While some of the people who have played at the Bagitos session have international reputations in Irish music, musicians at all levels are made to feel welcome. We play for free, and purely for the craic, and the little session has a great reputation in the Irish traditional music world.
We are truly sorry that some people have been offended by our preference not to have accompaniment at the Bagitos Irish session, except by invitation. Truth is, we’ve gotten a certain amount of flak about this, and we wonder if our lone unaccompanied session has served as a lightning rod for accompanists who have felt vaguely unwelcome at other sessions? Conversely, we’ve lost count of the number of visiting melody players who have loved and appreciated the concept of no accompaniment. By the way, guitarists are welcome to sit in if they play the melody.
If this is the only session you’ve heard of which is mostly unaccompanied, then it looks like you have lots of other sessions to choose from. Again, we’re sorry about any offense taken. But we continue to believe in the validity of our approach.
Re: Bagitos update
Just an update to the list of people who host this session: Sarah Blair, Benedict Koehler, Hilari Farrington Koehler, and Rob Ryan. They are joined by a host of fine musicians from Vermont and elsewhere.
Session is still every Saturday afternoon from 2-5 p.m., and singers and dancers are welcome. Very occasionally the session is cancelled. To check if the session is on, go to the Facebook page of Vermont Session Obsession which also offers information on other sessions in the state. https://www.facebook.com/groups/53754550428/
Myself and some others I know have definitely experienced not-niceness from some of the hosts, both related and not related to the accompaniment issue. And yet, we all play melody just fine. Maybe they’re friendlier if you take the $150 class. ;)
That being said, when there aren’t too many musicians, or when someone of note drops by, the tunes themselves can still be pleasant enough for a listen on a slow Saturday afternoon.
Stellar tunes hosted by truly stellar folks in a culinarily incongruous venue. I’m grateful for the chance to listen and join in on those occasions when I’m in the area.
Listen, haters, if you don’t like the rules, play a different session. Every session worth its’ salt has some sort of guiding principles. It’s never a free for all; the term ‘benevolent dictatorship’ has been used to comic, yet accurate, effect to define this…
I actually love playing with a (good) backer (ie one who studies the music, knows the tunes, keeps good time and makes tasteful harmonic choices). However, nothing destroys a session more utterly than duelling backers, noodling backers unschooled in tunes or style, or overconfident ‘all-rounders’ bashing away incoherently and obliviously.
Frankly, nothing makes me perk up my ears to attend a session as a listener or, IF invited, a player than hearing it is "unfriendly"… It suggests to me that the hosts and regulars are dedicated to good music at the occasional expense of bruising the feelings of the ill-initiated…
If you have experienced "unfriendliness" perhaps you might like to review the experience with a sensitive and humble eye to detail. It may be that you, unbeknownst to yourself, made some recognizable social and/or musical mis-step that may, in future, be remedied.
In untried waters, I would suggest listening at an unfamiliar session for an hour or so to get a feel for the vibe and repertoire before introducing yourself to the hosts.
If you’re displeased with the ways of your locally available sessions, that’s unfortunate. Aside from opening a productive dialogue with the hosts thereof to attempt amendment, you could always try hosting a session yourself.
Sorry to hear that folks have felt unwelcome. In my experience the hosts have been incredibly generous with their time and music. Everyone I’ve seen walk through the door has been given a warm welcome.
The "rules" are aimed at instruments and not individuals… mostly for reasons outlined in the post above.
Last I heard, the Radio Bean session is still going strong if accompaniment is yer thing. I go there to get my ‘zouk fix from time to time ;) There’s also Salt Hill in New Hampshire, and a new session in Bristol VT.
"Myself and some others I know have definitely experienced not-niceness from some of the hosts, both related and not related to the accompaniment issue. And yet, we all play melody just fine. Maybe they’re friendlier if you take the $150 class. ;)"
My advice: skip the class and learn the tunes by showing up;) The class is like the game warden for the state releasing hatchling tunes into an actual stream. The ones that get played and "survive" in the wilds of the session environment are the keepers ;)
"Hey…you’re still hurting peoples’ feelings, you’re just being "purists" and hiding from the effects of your policy…like the Tokyo Japan Irish session that at one time wouldn’t let anyone but Japanese musicians play Irish music, because they were the only ones who could play it right…"
What an excellent example of a false equivalence!
A bit of background: I am a regular at Bagitos, now on the fiddle; I fancied myself a pretty fair back-up guitarist at one time (I wasn’t as good as I thought I was); and I’ve known many of the core folks for 30 years.
Four years ago, I was a beginner on the fiddle, albeit previously experienced in Scottish traditional music. I have never, ever, been made to feel unwelcome at Bagitos as a (then) beginner. Further, I have witnessed other beginners welcomed as well. Every time. The back-up restriction has nothing to do with arrogance or insularity. Any and all melody players, of all levels, are welcome, assuming, as always, that the usual norms of courtesy are followed.
For me, leaving my guitar at home created the space to go far deeper into ITM than I ever could have imagined. To paraphrase Robert Frost, "you do not know something unless you know it specifically". I observe, more than ever, that many back-up players self-limit their knowledge of ITM by restricting themselves exclusively to back-up.
I cannot speak to why, and how, any particular individual(s) may have felt unwelcome. Perhaps you/they mistook shyness on behalf of the session leaders to be hostile silence. I know them to be fine folks, with an astonishing and lifelong depth of talent and knowledge as to ITM. If there was, on rare occasion, hostile silence aimed in a particular direction, it’s possible it may have been thus aimed for very good reason.
I’ll finish with a short rant. I find anonymous criticism to be spineless and small. I have a suspicion as to the identify of the OP. Perhaps he/she would summon the courage to identify themselves, and therefore truly engage in a meaningful discussion. Or perhaps contact the session leaders directly and have a chat.
Hi, I’m one of the hosts of the Bagitos session. I’m speaking for myself here, but I think the other hosts might nod along if they were here. I know not everyone approaches music the same way, so it doesn’t surprise me that there are folks who don’t enjoy what we do at our session. There have been many, many different ways that Irish sessions have been conducted across the decades and continents, and we’re well aware that many (probably most) Irish sessions that are held in public places have accompaniment. We don’t claim to be structuring it the right way or the only way, or even the most traditional way. We’re trying to create a session where we enjoy playing music, and we welcome others who like we’re into to join in. We don’t set out to offend anyone, and we don’t think every session should be like ours; we just like ours this way. Seems simple enough.
I once had an Irish-born non-musician assure me that in Ireland, musicians would NEVER get together and play just for themselves in someone’s kitchen. She was quite sure that was a purely American thing, and not traditional at all. There are lots of concepts about what a session can be.
As for "some of" the hosts session being "not nice," I’m torn. Part of me wants to protest that I always try to be kind and friendly, and the other part wants to quote that old definition of a gentleman as a person who never gives offense unintentionally.
I could not be more grateful for this session or the humble, dedicated people who run it. I have lived all over the Gaelic world, and this is one of my favorite sessions by far. We are so lucky to have it here in Vermont.
The people who run this session are good, sound, compassionate people as well as highly regarded musicians. They do an excellent job of communicating the boundaries of the community with kindness and respect on the rare occasions when that is necessary. Yes, this sesison has rules. That is why it’s a good session. The music comes first here, and that is more important than assuaging fragile egos, making individuals feel special, or accommodating inappropriate musical choices. Anyone familiar with Gaelic cultures knows that humility is one of our highest values. There is a distinct lack of humility in our modern culture, and a definite lack of humility in some of the snarky comments above.
As someone who has dedicated their entire life to learning, playing, and teaching traditional music, I am particularly offended by the assinine comment on "taking the $150 class" to be welcome. Anyone who loves Irish music, is a kind person, and has reached a level where they are able to participate in the session is welcome. The bar is higher for accompanists because it has to be. As for the classes, they have done so much to nourish and sustain the local Irish community over the years. I know the quality of prepartion, time, effort, and love that goes into those classes. I have seen first hand the empowering effect they have had on the local community. They are more than reasonably priced. Every teacher has to strike the balance between paying their bills and accomodating the financial needs of their students. If you truly have a financial hardship, a respectful communication will often result in a scholarship, barter opportunity, or referral to resources that could help. In the meantime, don’t be trashing a precious community resource because of some perceived slight to your sense of entitlement.
There are plenty of "Celtic Jams" where you can strum away loudly all night without responding to the music or bang away on your drum or whatever it is that you do. This session is special. This session is authentic. This session is real. The people who play in it are lovely and kind, but they will not bend the music they love to accommodate external pressures and I will stand behind that. Every time. I am not heartbroken that the writers of the negative comments above will not be sitting beside me next time I attend. If you are thinking of attending this session, come! If you have a genuine love of Irish music, are a decent person, and are doing the hard work of learning your instrument, you will find a warm welcome within.
The hidden gem here, is seeing all these young folks and also late comers, blossom into really good musicians. Having a place to play and hosts willing to share has much to do with a thriving trad scene here in central Vermont. Whether you agree or not with the rules the music has to be enjoyable for the hosts otherwise they will retreat back to the kitchen. Its happened before.
"If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all." (Mom)
"Pause and think– WHY are you saying what you are about to say?" (Dad)
"Can’t we all just get along?" Rodney King
Isn’t the current political rhetoric enough to understand nothing is gained by gossip and snipe? Just sayin.
Having said that, we just enjoyed a lovely session last night at Bagitos and would add some observations. This is a lovely intimate non-accompaniment session. To complain about it or malign the hosts is akin to whining about the lack of alcohol in your local Indian restaurant. Start your own session if you want to do it your way.
Bagitos is an amazing listening session. Musicians were really listening to each other and to the tunes. There was such a clean sound. Musicians dropped in and out depending on their comfort level and tune knowledge. This session was ‘serene’.
I would also risk saying it was a session of introverts who loved the unspoken communication and joy being exchanged between the smiles and tunes. We were warmly welcomed bringing the total to 20 musicians!
The 5 year longevity of Bagitos is credit to Benedict, Hilary, Rob and Sarah. Few sessions last that long. Its a sign that musicians appreciate what the hosts are doing here. Five of us made the 3 hour journey down from Montréal just to enjoy the lovely tunes in picturesque autumnal Vermont. So happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone! And may we find a way to keep kindness in the middle of our passions.
Cecilia, you actually make a great point. Others too. I should not have posted in that tone regarding my experience and would like to apologize. If it could be taken down or edited it would be.
Very nice session into which I, as a visiting musician, was made very welcome. While I like accompaniment generally, being able to experience an entire session without any is a special privilege. I thank the hosts for the welcome and the music, and salute them for keeping to the path they have chosen.