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Playing for the Dadys

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Musicians with "an intangible spark": John, left, and Joe Dady.

Gelfand-Piper Photography

A concert at the HochsteinMusicSchool on Sunday, February 20, will pay tribute to one of the Rochester area's best known folk musicians, Joe Dady --- and will help him pay for treatment as he recovers from the serious medical problems that hit him earlier this year.

         John and Joe Dady --- the Dady Brothers --- have been performing and recording Irish music since the late 1970s. To their audience and friends, they are singular. Says Peg Dolan, who has known them for 25 years: "The dynamic between Joe and John is an intangible spark. One completes the other seamlessly. It almost seems as if they are one identity sometimes."

         But as he was taking a walk on January 8, his birthday, Joe felt a crushing pain in his chest. He called 911 and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found he had an aortic dissection aneurysm. After surgery, Joe was in intensive care, and John was talking to doctors about a possibly prolonged convalescence for his younger brother and musical partner of over 30 years.

         Then Joe woke up. He was alert, but confused, for two days. Then came the stroke. When he regained consciousness, he had no feeling on his right side. Three days later, however, he was walking, and soon he was singing with his brother again. His right side started coming back, and he could play a few tunes. On February 4, he went home.

         Now comes the physical therapy. Although Joe has insurance, his recovery may be lengthy, so Jed Curran and Jeff Railes, two of Joe's friends and fellow musicians, have put together the benefit concert to help defray expenses. They were overwhelmed, they say, by volunteers.

Joe and John are the youngest of six children Their father was a Big-Band-era trumpet player, and the oldest Dady children were way into the Beatles. By the mid 1970s, when Joe and John were teenagers, they were playing bluegrass and old-time music. But when they saw the Emigrants in concert, it woke them up to Irish music. "We knew in an instant, 'We gotta do this,'" John recalls.

         By 1976 they had seen the Dubliners and the Chieftains in Ireland. The latter's fiddler, Sean Kean, spelled out the relationship between American bluegrass and Irish traditional music for them. John remembers that Mark Whelan of the Emigrants "took us under his wing, got us to stop playing for beer and think about playing music for a living." In 1979 they released their first album Mind to Move (recently digitally re-mastered) and quit their day jobs.

         As full-time professional musicians, they couldn't afford to play the folk clubs. "We played five or six days a week all over the state. We'd walk into a bar and they'd ask, 'Where's your drummer?" and we'd make up some story," says John. "And the folk crowd thought of us as a bar band."

         Peg Dolan was playing rock music in 1977 when she saw the Dadys at the Island Cottage Hotel in Greece and became an instant fan.  "About a year later, when I was starting to play folk, I got to meet them," she says. "They were my heroes and I was a bit star-struck, but they were so kind and genuinely interested in me."

         "They are the reason there's an Irish music scene in Rochester," says Ben Mac an Tuile of the Wild Geese. "They're so accessible. In Ireland there are bands that play traditional tunes, like Téada, and ballad bands, which is pub music. They do both, and well."

         Mac an Tuile, who grew up Dublin, came to Rochester five years ago and met Joe Dady in jams at Annie Murphy's Fiddler's Green in Charlotte. "Joe is one of the best multi-instrumentalists that I've seen anywhere," he says. "And I've been a lot of places." He hears the bluegrass influence in the Dadys' playing: "An Irish fiddler will play with a distinct style, with cuts and rolls, but won't play behind the singer. But Joe throws in chords, fills and takes solos in between the verses --- all bluegrass things. An Irish flat picker will play the tune itself, but John plays licks. He's got a thousand of them."

         Mac an Tuile tries to explain what makes Joe Dady special, and the devotion his fans have to him: "Every year, Joe brings a hat back from Ireland," he says, "and then sometime during the year he gives it away to someone who he thinks is special. He doesn't tell them that; he just gives them the hat. One day he walked up to me while I was playing and put it on my head. It was an honor."

The Joe Dady Benefit Concert is Sunday, February 20, at Hochstein Music School, 50 North Plymouth Avenue, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tix: $25. For more information: http://www.dadybros.com/concert.html.

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