An insider’s guide to Boston’s traditional Irish music scene

Fill your St. Patrick’s Day weekend with the sounds of Ireland.

Nightside. –Anna Yeroshenko

If it’s ballads you’re after this St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll do well to steer clear of Nightside — this traditional Irish band defines itself by its “punchy, foot-stomping sound,” according to band leader Eric Cox.

The Boston-based band is made up of three core members: Cox, who plays flute and tin whistle; fiddler Sean Connor; and Dan Jalonski, who plays uilleann pipes, an unusual version of the more ubiquitous Scottish bagpipe. The band formed by chance after Cox and Connor met at Paddy Barry’s pub in Quincy, where Connor ran a “session,” an informal gathering of musicians playing traditional Irish music (often called called “trad”) that’s at the core of Irish cultural identity.


“I saw Sean playing, and it was just a bunch of hair and a fiddle bow,” Cox said. “He was playing like I like to play.”

Connor is a fourth-generation Irish musician whose father, John, also plays in Boston-area Irish bands.

Sean Connor of Nightside.
Sean Connor of Nightside. —Anna Yeroshenko

“I saw Eric standing over by the bar with his flute case, and I said, ‘Are you gonna play that thing or what?’” Connor said. “Before we knew it, we were in a band.”

Jalonski joined later, after meeting Cox and Connor at a session at the Green Briar pub in Brighton, a hub in the Irish music community.

Nightside differentiates itself from other Boston-area trad bands by the pace and tempo of the music it tends to play. The band describes its style as “energetic,” and Cox said the members are influenced by the music from Sligo, a county in Ireland known for its traditionally fast-paced jigs and reels.

“A lot of the music you hear today has a very even approach,” Cox said. “We play for the dancers.”

Eric Cox of Nightside.
Eric Cox of Nightside. —Anna Yeroshenko

Boston’s strong Irish community means session culture is thriving, and the city is full of opportunities to experience traditional Irish music, both as a participant and a player. That said, there aren’t many places to see traditional Irish bands in a stage setting, which would allow for participation to extend beyond the existing session scene. Most of the larger-scale Irish music venues closed by the 1980s due to regulatory complications. The members of Nightside see a future for larger events in Boston’s growing brewery scene.


Cox pointed to a recent performance at Aeronaut Brewing called the Pindrop Sessions, a music and events collaboration with local radio stations WGBH and WCRB.

“Events like the Aeronaut Pindrop Series present a unique opportunity to bring traditional Irish music to new audiences with a sensibility that they can relate to, in an intimate setting that allows us to really connect,” he said.

Dan Jalonski of Nightside.
Dan Jalonski of Nightside. —Anna Yeroshenko

For now, you can hear Nightside play at Emmet’s Pub on Beacon Hill every Wednesday night, when the band has its weekly session residency. On St. Patrick’s Day, the band will play at The James Pub & Provisions in Needham and The Gate in Jamaica Plain.

Here’s more about Nightside’s favorite Irish music venues in Boston.

The Green Briar

On Monday nights, this Brighton pub puts on the city’s longest-running session, first hosted by renowned fiddle player Larry Reynolds around 25 years ago. The Green Briar session’s all-inclusive nature is what makes it a particularly important part of the Boston Irish music scene for Nightside; it includes a beginner-friendly “slow session” early in the evening and more advanced players later at night.

“Larry built [the Green Briar session] for everyone,” Connor said. “This music is for everybody, and he wanted everyone to be able to join in.”

Monday night sessions at the Green Briar start at 7 p.m.

The Druid

This Inman Square pub is home to two weekly sessions — and one of the city’s best Guinness pours. Housed in the oldest mercantile building in Cambridge, the bar’s eclectic and intimate space is part of what makes it a great place to hear and play music, according to Cox.


“It’s cozy,” he said. “People are actually there to listen to the music. When you’re playing, you’re not background noise.”

Sessions at the Druid take place every Tuesday at 9 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m.

Nightside live.
Nightside live. —Anna Yeroshenko

The Burren

Owned by local musicians Tommy McCarthy and Louise Costello, this Davis Square pub is a bastion of Irish music in Boston. In addition to regular Irish sessions held every Friday through Monday, The Burren is home to the Backroom Series, a concert series presented by Brian O’Donovan of WGBH’s “A Celtic Sojourn” and one of the only places to see non-session music in Boston. The intimate space hosts performers from all over the world, and if you can’t make it to Somerville, the concerts are broadcast on WGBH every Saturday afternoon.

“The Burren’s become a stopping point for Irish musicians on tour who wouldn’t otherwise come through,” Connor said.

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCE)

The Boston branch of this international nonprofit music school devoted to preserving Irish music and dance traditions was founded in 1975, and Larry Reynolds served as chairman until his death in 2012. Today, it’s a thriving center of Irish music and culture in Boston.

“It’s a great place to get involved in the community,” Jalonski said.

It’s where he learned to play the uilleann pipes, which require a level of coordination that can prove difficult for new learners. Jalonski joked that the instrument’s complicated arrangement means it’s a constant work in progress.

“They say it takes 21 years to learn to play these pipes,” Jalonski said. “I’ve been playing for seven years, so I’m about a third of the way in. I always liked a challenge.”

Jalonski credits the school with providing the education and resources, including world-renowned instructors, he needed to gain proficiency. The school offers classes for children and adults, and instrument rentals are available for students. They host a music session every Thursday night at 7 p.m., as well as one of the only Irish dance sessions in Boston, which occurs on the second and fourth Sundays of every month. Both events are held at the Canadian American Club in Watertown.

Here Comes Everybody Players

Connor serves as the musical director for this Boston theater group devoted primarily to interpretations of the works of James Joyce. They perform internationally throughout the year, and on March 18, they’ll appear for a free performance at Aeronaut Brewing from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., accompanied by Lidia Chang’s Trad Trio.