A Friday evening at Paddy Brannan's Irish Pub on downtown Ashland's Second Street finds near-capacity crowds of good-natured revelers putting the workweek to rest with a pint and conversation.
Customers stand shoulder to shoulder at the bar or find seats at the long row of tables arranged to encourage multiple parties to squeeze in and get to know one another. The mood is relaxed, upbeat and encourages a lively din of conversation.
Over the top of it floats the sound of old-fashioned, string-band music. In one corner, a small group of musicians sit in a semicircle cranking out reels, jigs and hornpipes on fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitar. This is Friday Night String Mafia, and they are the soundtrack for Paddy's Old World pub atmosphere.
String Mafia is a catchall name that refers to a small network of local musicians who assemble at Paddy's to play this style of music. It's not all Irish. French Canadian, Scottish, Galician and old-time American tunes also are well-represented. It really just depends on which members of the network are on hand.
Daniel Carr, the group's organizer, says Mafia draws from about six musicians, plus others who are passing through town.
Carr grew up surrounded by folk music. His father, Kevin Carr, is a notable fiddler, bagpiper and storyteller who took his family with him when he regularly taught workshops at folk and fiddle festivals all over the country.
Daniel Carr played mostly punk rock and heavy metal on guitar when he was a teenager, he says. But a few years ago, his father offered a deal to Daniel and his sister, Molly, who plays mandolin: If they could learn the material in time, he would take them along to Galicia, Spain, to serve as his touring backup band. The younger Carr became hooked, and he's explored interconnected Old World music forms since.
Paddy's offers some type of Irish or other traditional music from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Along with Friday Night String Mafia, regular weekly acts include the Tom Clunie Folk Band Thursdays; Jug of Punch (also featuring Daniel Carr) Saturdays; and Circlin' Shannon Sundays. The pub also books performers to play late-night sets Fridays and Saturdays. Local acts, such as The Stamps and songwriter Gene Burnett, have monthly Friday-night gigs, and Saturday nights often find Daniel and Kevin Carr orchestrating a slightly more raucous, up-tempo version of their usual fare.
Owner Tysin Senestraro says that he's amazed by the benefits of hosting Paddy's community of folk musicians. His goal is to run as authentic an Irish pub as possible.
"We're not just making bangers and mash here. We want to be the best Irish pub we can be for the community — and the musicians are a huge part of that. They've done so much for us."
Paddy's also hosts karaoke from 9 p.m. to closing Tuesdays and Thursdays. See www.paddybrannansirishpub.com for a complete music schedule.