Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects about playing celtic music is going to a good session and playing till the wee hours of the morning. Celtic sessions are where a group of musicians get together in a pub or someone’s house to play. Much like jazz or bluegrass there is a large body of standard tunes, (numbering in the thousands), and folks that have been playing this music pretty seriously for a few years usually have a few hundred in common. So people will get together, someone will start a tune, and off it goes. Its more casual than a performance, the musicians are not there to be on a stage, and neccessarily interact with audience, though alot of folks will come to pub sessions to listen.
Unlike jazz or bluegrass in a celtic session all the melody instruments (pipes, fiddle, flute, mandolin, etc) play the melody simotanously. Individual instruments don’t take solos and there is no real improvisation, except when a rhythm player might change up the chords as he/she sees fit.
Sessions in a pub are usually open to all who want to play, though it never hurts to ask if you going to a new session. Some sessions are “closed”, meaning that if you want to play its invite only. These usually consist of professional level musicians. There is a great closed session here in town run by Johnny Connelly at the Moon and Sixpence. It takes place on Monday nights, and is great if you want to see celtic music played by the best.
Here in Portland there are two weekly open sessions that i know about. There may be more.
Alberta St Public House, Friday nights from 9-whenever, usually late. Its in Northeast on Alberta and 11th. This can be a pretty advanced session when it gets rocking, but all are welcome.
Kells Irish Pub. Sunday nights from 6-8, i think. Its in downtown Portland on 2nd just a few blocks north of Burnside Blvd. Its a fun session, though usually pretty packed, which is why i dont tend to go much.