Without Eamonn McGirr’s help, Frank Jaklitsch would never have gotten his start in Albany.
Today, Jaklitsch is one of the Capital Region’s elder statesmen on the Irish music scene, alongside such artists as Kevin McKrell and the members of Hair of the Dog. But when he first moved from New York City to Albany in 1988, he had a tough time even getting a bar gig in the area.
“I’d go from being in a bar in Queens, where people would wait an hour just to hear me play, to nobody would know who I was here,” he said.
“I never really got work in the Irish bars in the city, because I wasn’t Irish — Jaklitsch is an Austrian name. It was almost like reverse prejudice. . . . But here, Eamonn didn’t care. He only cared about, can you play the music and be a good entertainer.”
From his initial gigs at Eamonn’s restaurant, which burned down in 2005, Jaklitsch was soon able to break into the rest of the Capital Region’s Irish pub scene. Since the late ’80s, he has recorded and released 15 albums — his latest, the Christmas album “One Small Child,” came out in December, and was entirely fan- and family-funded.
Frank Jaklitsch and friends
with Amy Collins
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs
How Much: $18 (doors); $16 (advance)
More Info: 583-0022, www.caffelena.org
Chance to give back
He plays regular gigs at the Albany Hibernian Hall, Katie O’Byrne’s in Schenectady, the Irish Mist in Troy and, for the past five or so years, Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, where he will perform on Saturday night.
With a high-profile gig such as Lena’s, Jaklitsch likes to give back to the community — each year he donates all proceeds from his Lena’s shows to a different charity. This year, the proceeds will go toward the Community Hospice Africa Partnership, benefiting patients in Africa suffering from AIDS and tuberculosis.
“I made a decision that we would just — every show at Caffe Lena — we would give the money away, which allows me to hire different guys every time,” he said. “So if you want to play Lena’s with me, you’re gonna play for charity.”
Over the years, he has become well-known for his philanthropy.
“I learned that from my mom, from my grandmother — you need to give back to your community,” he said. “It’s something I preach a lot to my fellow musicians. This is a very generous area — people very much go out of their way to help if they see any kind of disaster, like with Hurricane Irene, or the Christmas fundraising that goes on around here. I’m real happy and blessed to be in this area here.”
He’s also known for giving back to his fellow musicians as well, giving the next generation of players the mentoring that he received from McGirr. At his Sunday night shows at Hibernian Hall or the Irish Mist, he has an “open door” policy — bring an instrument, and you can be invited to play with the band for the entire three-hour set. Most recently, he’s taken Evan Conway, of the folk duo Holly and Evan, under his wing, and he mentored Sugarland fiddle player Victor Gagnon in the same way.
“The young people will start to push me off the stage, but — there’s a great Don Henley song, ‘I Will Not Go Quietly,’ ” Jaklitsch said.
“If you want to come and establish yourself, come on up — I’m gonna kick your ass as I’m going out. And then I’ll mentor you, teach you how to be an entertainer like Eamonn taught me. And maybe you won’t like these songs; maybe you’ll do a Dave Matthews song, something that younger people relate to. However, if you have the goods, and you are keeping to your philosophy of being a musician — I’m not saying you have to be an angel with the drinking and the drugs, but if you stay true to what you are doing, there will always be an audience for you.”
Jaklitsch got his own start in his native Queens at a young age. He spent his youth playing sports until diagnosed with colitis at age 17.
“The doctor told me, ‘You can either die, or you can get yourself something to relax with,’ ” Jaklitsch said. “My mother — my father died when I was 9, so we had no money — my mom gave me 50 bucks for Christmas that year. So I went with my brother, who also got 50 bucks, and we went down to Manhattan and bought a guitar, and it completely changed me.”
From early influences Jim Croce and John Denver, Jaklitsch soon began delving into Irish music, such as The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners and Christy Moore. He was immediately attracted to the camaraderie of the local Irish music scene in New York City.
“It was definitely the music and the atmosphere — you would go into the Irish bars, you’d have the band playing and everybody knew every lyric,” he said.
“You just kind of start working — a lot of the work of an entertainer or musician is private, late at night. Instead of watching TV, you’re learning a song, or instead of going to the movies, you’re going to a show to learn more. There are still Irish songs that I discover and I think, ‘I want to do this; I think my audience would love this song.’ ”