(from the Smithsonian Folkways CD, The Sligo Indians)
Tony DeMarco, Irish Fiddler: If that sounds slightly off, you have only to listen to the music on his wonderful solo fiddle CD, "The Sligo Indians" to be cured of any preconceptions about the importance of ethnic purity in traditional music. There may have been a time when Irish music in New York City was played exclusively by Irish immigrants and their offspring, while their Italian neighbors strummed mandolins and sang opera, but the Big Apple really is a melting pot. Before WWII it wasn’t very common for Italian and Irish Americans to intermarry, but by the 1950s that kind of ethnic mixing was normal in Tony’s native Brooklyn, where Italians and Irish lived side by side and attended the same churches.
Tony was born in 1955, the second of three children raised in East Flatbush by Paul DeMarco and his wife, the former Patricia Dempsey. Tony’s maternal grandfather Jimmy Dempsey was a New York cop and a son of Irish immigrants who married Philomena “Minnie” Fenimore, one of several Italian-American siblings who married into Brooklyn Irish families.
Tony found his way to Irish music via a different path than the one trod by young musicians raised in Irish immigrant households. They may well have attended step dancing classes at one of the many dance schools in the region, and most likely went to group Irish music classes in the Bronx, Brooklyn, New Jersey, or Long Island. They would have joined a branch of the international Irish music organization Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and competed each year at the regional competitions at Manhattan College in the Bronx. If they placed high enough, they would go on to the big show, Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann—the All-Ireland Fleadh—from which some returned home with the coveted title of “All-Ireland champion” on the fiddle, accordion, tin whistle, flute, or other instrument.
But Tony had a different background altogether. As he puts it: “I came through the folkie scene.” His first exposure to Irish traditional music was through a Folkways LP recording of the County Sligo fiddler Michael Gorman. He had many other musical influences before this and would have many more afterward, but his love of Irish fiddling would never fade. He has become a master of the intricate ornamentation, swinging rhythm, and adventurous melodic improvisation that mark the famed County Sligo style. Mentored by the late Sligo master fiddler Paddy Reynolds, Tony has for decades been a pillar of the Irish music scene in New York City.
(Tony's biographical notes were written by Don Meade.)
Megan Downes grew up dancing in New York City's traditional Irish music community before moving south to work as a principal dancer with Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble (formerly The Fiddle Puppets), directed by Eileen Carson. Megan is currently artistic director of New York's City Stompers, calling square dances and teaching old-time flatfooting. You may have danced with her over the years at the Augusta Heritage Center, Watermelon Park or Lincoln Center's Midsummer Night Swing.
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