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A taste of Celtic musical tradition in Bristol

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When I was an undergraduate in the small Scottish seaside town of St Andrews, I fell in love with the warm and welcoming pub culture and the brilliant live music scene it fostered. I’ve had a huge soft spot for traditional Celtic music and pretty much anything involving a fiddle ever since. Lucky for me, and the rest of the East Bay, that same musical magic is available every Sunday in Bristol.

Aidan’s Pub has been hosting live music since first opening it’s doors in 1992. Growing up playing music in Ireland, most notably drumming for the band The Fairways, owner Aidan Graham knew that he wanted to capture the same session atmosphere from back home at his new Bristol business. The sessions began informally, with Graham’s friends playing on the weekends, and soon Sundays at Aidan’s took on their own traditions. It wasn’t long before members of local Celtic band The Publicans began playing the pub, and the band as a whole have had a Sunday spot at Aidan’s for so many years now that they’ve lost count. They currently play every other Sunday, splitting the weeks with Hewie, a Dublin-native who brings a touch of Irish humor along with his spirited sets.

The Publicans’ guitarist Mike Keshura calls the band’s bi-weekly performances a “family affair,” and you’re part of the family. Every weekend the pub packs with familiar faces, both old and young. Patrons cozy up with a warm meal and a pint, tapping their toes to the beat cozy up with a warm meal and a of the bodhran, a Celtic drum, and the rhythmic notes of the uilleann pipes. The music is lively, often jovial enough to dance a jig to (trust me, I have taken full advantage), but also slows down to showcase the history and heart behind the traditional tunes. The musicianship and sincerity of the Irish songs bring the past alive in the present.

There is an underlying playfulness to the Sunday sessions that keeps patrons coming back week after week. The music is vibrant and stripped of all pretense. Sitting on stools around a dark wood table, a set up that has remained unchanged through Aidan’s recent renovations, The Publicans and Hewie play in celebration of good company, good music and all things Celtic culture. Like traditional informal pub sessions, local musicians are welcome to “sit in” and join the band for a few songs, and you never know who may join the round table. Aidan himself still joins on occasion.

With St. Patrick’s Day near, there is no better time to find yourself transported to the land of Éire. Aidan’s will be celebrating all weekend long with live music and traditional fare. Opening at 8am at Sunday March 17, get there early to start your day with a traditional Irish corned beef and cabbage brunch, a pint of Guinness and an all-day session that is sure to become a sing-a-long!

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