SOMERSWORTH — You might not expect to hear traditional folk music in a restaurant that serves sushi.
But since Portsmouth's Press Room closed for renovations last year, a local music collective had to find a new home for its Friday night gathering, where together they play music of England, Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia and sea shanties and ballads.
The collective, which has no official name, features banjo, mandolin, guitar, bodhran, concertinas, fiddles, accordions, bagpipes (occasionally), tin whistle, flute and bouzouki. It began in the early 1980s when Linn Schulz and her husband Tom Hall joined with banjo player Bob Frost to play music together every Friday at the Press Room.
Core members include Emery Hutchins (concertina, bouzouki, bodhran), who joined in 1988; Bruce MacIntyre in 1996 and Jeff Warner, who joined shortly thereafter; and Dave Hallowell, who joined in 1997.
The rest of the group is constantly changing, according to Schultz, but the spirit remains, especially after making the move to the Continental.
"Most have been a part of the session for over 10 years, but new people are always joining us and adding their repertoire to ours," Schulz said. "At the Continental, it seems that some of the Portsmouth-based musicians come less often, but we're joined more often by the Dover-based musicians who only occasionally came to Portsmouth."
Frost, the banjo player, said the Friday session features a different mix of musicians each week.
"Sometimes it's fun to play along, and sometimes you play just to keep it going," he said. "Hopefully, you learn something in the process."
Schultz said when the Press Room closed for renovations, not continuing the Friday session was never an option.
"I don't know what I'd do without the weekly infusion of participatory live music in my life," she said, "and my chance to sing in public every week."
The collective scrambled for about a year to find a regular space to gather and play music together until one of the members worked out an arrangement with the Continental. And while it might seem like an unusual pairing — traditional European folk music alongside sushi, spicy Asian noodles and egg rolls — Schultz said it's been a hit so far.
"The bar and the waitstaff loved us from the get-go," Schulz said. "We're making more friends who come in and eat supper, and we have a few that are coming back more than once. People like it – it's good music, melodic, and the songs have good stories. With other types of music, that's impossible."
Jen Lesperance, part of the staff at Continental, said the Friday session is a highlight of her work week.
"It just brings in a happy crowd of people," she said. "Everybody in here is enjoyable. We all chat, we all know each other. It's real personable. When they do their 'goodbye' song, it's sad to hear."
The weekly session also serves a continuation of the musical legacy of Tom Hall, who died in 2013.
"(It's) an important part of the musical life of just about everyone involved,"
Lesperance said. "From the musicians and singers to our regular group of listeners."
Schultz said the genre of music played by the collective might better be described as "roots" music.
"'Folk' has the connotation in some circles as 'Kumbaya' and 'Puff the Magic Dragon,'" Schultz said. "We sing and play the old songs and tunes and those written 'in the tradition.' It's not just any acoustic music."
The collective meets from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. each Friday. It also gathers for a monthly sea-music singaround on the third Saturday of each month from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. and attracts singers from all over New England.