Merriam-Webster defines a "hooley" as “an Irish party, usually with music.” That sort of thing breaks out spontaneously regularly in Eire’s local pubs, which are as much community centers as a spot to enjoy a pint.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, White Horse Black Mountain celebrates all things Irish with a special evening of music, fun and Celtic conviviality. Beginning at 6 p.m., the White Horse Session Players will kick things off with a pub session of traditional Irish jigs, reels and songs. The featured concert starts at 8 p.m. with performances by Bob Hinkle, The Southern Highlanders and hammered dulcimer virtuoso Joshua Messick. Tickets are $15 advance/$18 door.

Messick first heard the hammered dulcimer at age four, when he promised his mother he would learn to play the multi-stringed instrument. In 2003 at age 18, he was named National Hammered Dulcimer Champion at Winfield, Kansas. His current instrument was made by Swannanoa Valley master luthier Jerry Read Smith, who also helped convince the musician that the Asheville area was the place for him. 

Celtic music is one of the many discernible influences in Messick’s gorgeous original compositions, along with Renaissance, classical and world music. “I’ve put my entire life into this music,” Messick said. “Music is the sound of the human spirit and, for me, is prayer without words.”

The Southern Highlanders perform a repertoire that embraces the diversity of Celtic cultures. Their songs and tunes hail from Ireland, Scotland and the Celtic diaspora, including its Southern Appalachian branches. The band includes Doug Orr, president emeritus of Warren Wilson College and founder of its acclaimed Swannanoa Gathering music camps. He’ll be joined by wife Darcy and veteran folk music performers Joe and Karen Holbert.

Among them they play guitar, mountain dulcimer, fiddle, hammered dulcimer, pennywhistle, piano, concertina and more. The Orrs also collaborated with NPR’s "The Thistle and Shamrock" host Fiona Ritchie to write a best-selling book, "Wayfaring Strangers," chronicling the musical legacy of the Scots-Irish in America.

Hinkle, owner of White Horse Black Mountain, has been known to tell an Irish joke or two while emceeing at the club. He also has a store of original and classic songs at his command. The Asheville native’s performing career took off when he was still a UNC student as part of the folk/pop trio The Good Earth, which also included the late Bill Swofford, aka Oliver of “Good Morning Starshine” fame.

After that group disbanded, Hinkle spent more than 40 years in New York City, forging a multifaceted career in the music and entertainment industry, including record production, artist management and executive positions. Since returning to North Carolina and opening White Horse in 2008, he wears many hats but now has occasion to revisit his songwriting and performing roots. 

In true pub fashion, White Horse has hosted a traditional Irish style session every Tuesday night for years. Sessions are in many ways the heart and soul of Irish traditional music, a place for players to share tunes and socialize. It’s not a performance, but rather an informal situation in which listeners are welcome to participate, whether offering encouragement, singing along on a chorus, or asking questions about the music and instruments. White Horse sessions regularly draws players from as far away as Waynesville, Cullowhee, Rutherfordton and even Clayton, Georgia.


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