Starry Plough

3101 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, California, USA

Added by Danaan .

Twenty comments

This session is good for beginners, but you won’t be bored if you’re advanced and ready to have fun. About 10-15 musicians per night. Always fun and inclusive. Good singing, playing, dancing. On Monday nights, there’s dancing at 8:00 pm. Slainte.

Forgot to Mention…

The session is led by Shay Black of the irish singers/band, the Black Brothers.

Went there after my daughters graduation from CAL this last weeeknd on Sunday. Bunch of fiddle players, a lone box player and several whistel/flute/guitar players. Nice music. Singing also. Nice session-next time I’ll bring something to play on

Posted by .

Gosh am I the only one that goes there from the session?? Went there last nite (Oct 10,04) and had a great time. People sing-OMG, people play at reasonable pace. Shay leads a good session. Brought my fiddle and felt fine playing

Posted by .

Who goes to Starry Plough?

I will be going to the Starry Plough session in Berkeley tonight with a goat-thumping friend. Any Sessioneers also going?> If so, hope you come up to say hello.

I was there some years ago before I knew what I was doing. I like to think I’ve improved at this ITM thing since then, so it might be fun <wg>.

Re: Who goes to Starry Plough?

Tell us how it is. I try not to drive through Berkeley. It gives me a headache. But if it’s a good session, I might change my mind.

Re: Who goes to Starry Plough?

I know of another session that is being organized in Tracy. Would you like to be in the loop on that, or is it too far east?

Re: Who goes to Starry Plough?

I just looked to see where Tracy is. It’s a bit far for an evening out. Maybe on a Sat. I’m on the Penninsula. I’d love to come over once to see what’s going on.

Re: Who goes to Starry Plough?

I use to go to the "Plough". Met my husband there back in 1979. I danced there when Terri O’Neill was running the ceilis. Have fun if you go.

Re: Who goes to Starry Plough?

I’ve made it a point to stop into the Starry Plough every time I go up to Berkeley t see my daughter. Last time was last February. I actually had enough nerve to break out my pipes and start a tune; Shay was really accomodating.

Posted by .

Re: Who goes to Starry Plough?


The first time I saw Uilleann Pipes really up close was at the Plough with Denis Brooks playing, so it goes back a few years, maybe 1978 or so.

Posted by .

Re: Who goes to Starry Plough?

Cathryn’s Report:

There is undoubtedly great music to be enjoyed here. I would suggest that if you go, you have a reasonably good base of tunes at your fingertips, and make contact with someone there before you go. I went with a friend and knew someone who was a regular, so it was okay for me.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, my feelings about this are mixed. I believe I will be going again when it is convenient, but I really prefer a friendlier and more inclusive atmosphere than I saw there. What I didn’t like was the setup. There’s an inner circle that starts all the sets and tunes. Those in the inner circle do not for the most part acknowledge the existence of those outside the circle.

There wasn’t a crowd and in fact things lagged a bit. I’m sure it is different on other nghts. However, since there were less than 20 players last night, I think it would have been good to go beyond the inner circle and ask those who were there to start a tune or set. Besides making for a friendlier atmosphere, this is a great way to bring in new tunes and keep a session from continually repeating the same repertoire.

Re: Who goes to Starry Plough?

Hey cathrynb, did you ever go to the session in Palo Alto ? someone told me that they’re really open and unconditionally friendly. (I once lived there). I think they want as many people as possible to learn to play at least a couple of tunes, and have a good time. Give a lot of families something simple to do at christmas- but not necessarily playing the music with each other! This inner/outer circle thing ? I think that’s good too, for the other reasons you mentioned.

Re: Who goes to Starry Plough?

Thanks for the tip. I do not think that session is actually still going, though. A friend of mine used to go all the time.

In any event, sometime in the next 10-14 months, we will be relocating to the Washington, D.C. area for husband-employment reasons. It seems there is a session every day around those parts, and two on some days. So there are more sessions in my future, anyway.

If anyone here is interested in going to the Starry Plough, fire off an email. If I’m planning to go that week (all depends on how early I have to do my Live Court Reporter imitation on Monday AM), we can brave it together.

Still going strong!

I dropped in for the first time during a recent stay in the East Bay area. Had a lovely time. Shay as noted above is really accommodating. The format is unique in my admittedly limited experience, nice mix of tunes with breaks for sessioneers and non-sessioneers alike to sing. Decent sized crowd in the pub who actually seemed to be there to listen to the music. And no football or soccer on the big screen telly as a distraction. In fact, I can’t even remember seeing a screen there.

Thanks to all the regulars for making me feel welcome!

After 20 years….

This open and inclusive session is still going strong. However, there are some slight changes. The first Sunday is "Advanced" players night, which means tunes only with (usually) no singing sets. Currently (2015) it’s run by Autumn Rhodes, a lovely concertina player, and nice person. She invites other musicians to play with her at the main table, but anyone can join in if they can keep up with the pace. It’s fast.

On the other Sundays, Shay Black still runs the 2nd and 4th Sundays. It generally starts around 8:30 and he calls a set of singers at 9:00pm, again at 10:00pm and finally around 11:00pm. Unfortunately, the Sunday night has a new manager who doesn’t like the expectation of ciúnas (quiet) during singers and he has insisted that singers sing through a microphone, which unfortunately completely spoils the singing session atmosphere. The tunes still ring out, though, and there are often up to 15 musicians playing.

The third Sunday is run by fiddle player Peter Kasin, who is also a great shanty singer, and runs the legendary first Saturday Shanty Sing on the sailing ship, The Balclutha. The fifth Sunday, when there is one, is run by a group of lads called the Elderberries. There is generally singing sets all Sundays except the first Sunday.

Come along if you are in the San Francisco bay area on a weekend. It’s good for listening too, even if you don’t play.

Starry Plough 3rd Sunday night session

Just one correction on the otherwise accurate review of the differences between each Sunday night at the Starry Plough (and thank you for the kind words regarding my chantey singing). The 3rd Sunday night is actually co-hosted by me and my wife Susan Walsh, a fine singer, Bodhran player and budding mandolin player. We share duties in calling singing sets and leading some tunes. We want to thank Shay Black who founded the Sunday night session, and has entrusted Susan and I with 3rd Sundays.

A little update …

The last two posts about the Starry Session are right on, but here are some bits—-

We’ve mostly been starting on time at 8 o’clock.

Also, the first Sunday is no longer an "advanced" session. It follows the usual format (alternating tune- and song-sets) and is typically hosted by the wonderful singer Amelia Hogan. Come one, come all.

And when there is a fifth Sunday, my old band (the Elderberries) doesn’t host, but I do with some current mates.

I think we’ve all adjusted well enough to the amplification of singers. It was definitely better before this started, but it’s a great scene nonetheless and definitely not "completely spoiled."

I can’t post anything about the Starry session without thanking Shay Black, of course, but also John Slaymaker, who reliably sets up and helps run each session with care, devotion, and skill.