Patrick has been involved in singing, playing, and performing his music and songs since about 1970. He began playing the uilleann pipes years ago after befriending the celebrated piper Liam O’Flynn at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. With Liam's help, he found a set of Rowsome pipes in a bar in New York and, smitten with Irish music, set off on a long road of adventure as a piper, pipe-maker, and music producer.
Cathy armed herself with the fiddle in 1979 and joined the journey. Together, they have been involved in Irish music for three decades, on both sides of the great pond.
During that time, they have been both participants and witnesses as traditional music returned to the fore, full blown and recognized the world over. Having spent time in Ireland before the current Irish music boom, they learned from and made music with some of the pre-eminent Irish musicians, including Seamus Ennis, Tommy Reck, Martin “Junior” Crehan, Tommy McCarthy, Sr., Martin Rochford, Joe Ryan, John Kelly Sr., and others. Though these musicians are now gone, their music and legacies live on through musicians like the Skys who continue to perform what they learned from these stellar players.
Many young players do not realize that in the 1960s and early 1970s music sessions were seldom held inside a pub. Publicans scorned the playing of “that bog man’s music” in their establishments. A generation of Irish musicians kept their music alive in their homes when their art was little-appreciated. It was within these spaces that the Skys often were received, befriended, and taught tunes.
For the 20 years since they left New England for North Carolina, they have worked to create in their home the same musical welcome we were shown in Ireland. Their trailer in Chapel Hill was the humble site of many a session and lesson, as well as much merriment.
In 2007 they retired to Spruce Pine, a small town in Blue Ridge Mountains. Recognizing that their mentors had passed on and that they were now the bearers of the traditions they had so passionately pursued in their earlier years, they decided to record a CD dedicated to their mentors, those "musicians who have nourished our musical spirits," as Cathy wrote in the liner notes of that album. In 2009, with a Regional Artists Project Grant sponsored by Toe River Arts Council, Asheville Arts Council, and the NC Arts Council, they made their CD Down to Us.
Over the course of his career, Patrick has sold out Carnegie Hall and played for standing room only audiences all over Europe and the United States. Among his major appearances are: The Montreal Expo, The Central Park Music Festival, Town Hall in New York, and the Royal Festival Hall in London. He has the shared the billing with such artists as Pete Seeger, Buffy Sainte Marie, Joni Mitchell and Emmy Lou Harris, among others. Patrick has seven solo albums to his credit on the Vanguard and MGM labels; in addition, he has produced more than 30 records for other artists such as Mississippi John Hurt, Rosalie Sorrells, and the great Irish uilleann piper Seamus Ennis. It was while recording Ennis in the field that Patrick founded Green Linnet Records. This fact and Patrick’s involvement in Irish music, especially piping, have made him one of the seminal figures of the Irish music revival in the United States. His book A Manual for the Irish Uilleann Pipes is the recognized text on the subject.
The uilleann pipes (pronounced ill-ann) are the traditional pipes of Ireland. Unlike the Great Highland bagpipes, the uilleann pipes obtain air from a small bellows fastened to the elbow; hence the name uilleann—from the Irish word uilla—which means “elbow.” The tone of the uilleann pipes is soft and blends well with the fiddle to make sweet, melodious music. Patrick also plays the guitar, bouzouki, flute, penny whistle, sings songs, and tells horrible stories.
Cathy is a singer, guitar player, and songwriter in her own right. However, her prime interest is the Irish fiddle. She was the founder of the Post and Beam Coffeehouse in Kingston, Rhode Island, where she and Patrick lived for almost 20 years. While she and Patrick lived in Ireland, she learned songs and stories and studied the fiddle with Clare fiddle champion Tony Linnane. In 1994, she received an Emerging Artist Grant from the Durham Arts Council to spend time in County Clare taking classes with Ireland’s super fiddle master Tommy Peoples. Cathy has performed at the Bele Cher Festival in Asheville, North Carolina; the Rhode Island Irish Heritage Festival; First Night in Greenville, South Carolina; and many other venues. She has been teaching basic Irish fiddle both in formal classes and individually since 1989.
Both Patrick and Cathy have earned their Master's degrees in Cultural Studies/Folklore from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Patrick focused on early American music collectors, and Cathy wrote her thesis on the traditional music of County Clare, Ireland. She also has written traditional music columns for the Raleigh-based Spectator and Independent Weekly publications since 1989, as well as scholarly articles for The New Hibernian Review. Patrick is a regular contributor to Iris na bPiobairi and the American Pipers Review, and he has also written articles for Treoir, the Irish traditional music magazine.
Deeply interested in the historical and cultural background of Irish traditional music, they have co-taught courses in Irish Musical Traditions at Duke University Continuing Education and UNC summer Elderhostel programs. As musicians, Patrick and Cathy hosted the Irish Week Slow Jam at the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia in 1995, and they were the first instructors in beginning fiddle and uilleann pipes during the founding session of the annual Catskills Irish Arts Week in East Durham, New York.
In 1993, at the Fleadh Cheoil in New York City, an annual Irish musical competition, the Skys placed in several categories. Patrick took first place in the Piping Slow Airs class and second in Senior Piping. Cathy placed second in Senior Fiddling. They won third place in Duets for pipes and fiddle and TIED for first place in the New Traditional Song category. They were proud of these achievements, especially in a region where the Irish-American community is strong and the standards are high.
With more than 30 years of performing experience, the Skys will perform an entertaining mix of traditional Irish instrumental tunes passed down to them from past generations of Irish musicians that are sure to have you dancing in the aisles (or at least in your seat)!
This concert is part of the Music of the Carolinas Series, presented in partnership by the North Carolina Museum of History and PineCone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music. The Music of the Carolinas Series is sponsored by Williams Mullen and the NC Museum of History Associates, with in-kind media support from WLHC & WLQC Life 103.1.
Program notes are provided, and large-print program notes are also available. For more information, please visit http://www.pinecone.org or http://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org.
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PineCone—the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, is a private, nonprofit, charitable membership organization dedicated to preserving, presenting and promoting traditional music, dance and other folk performing arts.