Where did people play music before God invented the sports arena? Well, early in this century, neighbors in Ireland or Mississippi would take their fiddles down to the local church and play a dance. Last night at the Washington Ethicall Society (sort of a church) the Double-Decker String Band played old-timey reels for the Footloose Cloggers; and then Celtic Thunder played Irish jigs for the Roisin Dubh Dancers. The party was thrown by the band members, who live near each other in Takoma Park.

A clear line can be drawn from traditional Irish folk music through old-time American music to modern bluegrass. Certainly Celtic Thunder's Irish tunes and Double-Decker's old-time songs shared tightly woven arrangements that produced a slippery, skidding momentum. Both bands relied on the rapport of their ensemble work, a relic of days when communities were more closely knit.

As the Double-Decker String Band flew through 60-year-old tunes, the Footloose Cloggers clicked their tap shoes, waved their skirts free and kicked for the roof. The band supplied a steady stream of funny banter between songs. "This is a song you used to hear a lot," quipped Craig Johnson, "before people developed taste."

Marty Somberg has replaced Steve Hickman on fiddle for Celtic Thunder. The band's brew of timeless Irish reels, jigs, waltzes and ballads was as intoxicating as ever, however. Last night they showcased some delightful new songs they learned on their summer trip to Ireland. Both bands are due to release their first albums this winter, a welcome prospect indeed.