Walter Tunis: Celtic performers come calling in March

Contributing Music WriterFebruary 28, 2013 

Celtic Nights: Journey of Hope, set for Saturday at the Singletary Center, kicks off a spate of Irish fare.

COURTESY OF COLUMBIA ARTS MUSIC

March has arrived. With it comes the dawn of spring, a feast of college hoops and a celebration of all things Irish. It is the last that especially interests us this weekend.

We're still 2½ weeks away from St. Patrick's Day, but the seasonal flood of Irish-inspired music begins Saturday. As the month progresses, the Celtic parade will be exhibited in a variety of sounds and styles, from the traditional to the contemporary, from folk to pop, and from various locales around North America to the Emerald Isle itself.

Here is where the music will take us this weekend and in the weeks ahead:

March 2: Celtic Nights: Journey of Hope. The season's final performance in the Singletary Center for the Arts' Signature Series is designed as a kind of performance travelogue. At its heart is a combination of Irish story, songs and dance. But the program itself is constantly in motion, shifting location, figuratively, every eight minutes to showcase the journeys and eventful immigration of the Irish people. As such, the music encompass a variety of familiar folk ballads (Danny Boy, Galway Bay) and songs reflecting new homes (My Love Is in America). Telling the tales of tradition and migration will be a team of six Irish step dancers and six vocalists. (7:30 p.m. $25, $35, $40. (859) 257-4929. Singletarycenter.com.)

March 4: Leahy. The EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond has its Celtic say Monday even though its featured attraction is from Canada. And, yes, the family band Leahy is far removed from what you usually would consider a traditional Irish ensemble. (We're talking about a band that opened for Shania Twain at Rupp Arena more than a decade ago). But within the singing, dancing and instrumentation of the Lakefield, Ontario-bred siblings are serious traditional chops. Donnell Leahy, one of the group's three fiddlers, also performs outside of the group with his wife, champion Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster. (8 p.m, $30, $35, $40. (859) 622-7469. Ekucenter.com.)

March 8-10: The Chieftains with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. What would the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day be like without a visit by the foremost ambassadors of traditional Irish music, The Chieftains. Paddy Moloney has been scripting the band's selections of airs, reels and jigs for more than 50 years, but he also has become a keen collaborator in recent decades. On record, The Chieftains have teamed with everyone from Van Morrison to Earl Scruggs. For three nights next weekend at Cincinnati's Music Hall, the collaboration will be with a full orchestra: the Cincinnati Pops. Moloney's current Chieftains includes veteran members Kevin Conneff (bodhran and vocals) and Matt Malloy (flute) and a team of auxiliary fiddlers, harpists and step dancers. (8 p.m. March 8 and 9, 2 p.m. March 10. $20-$103. (513) 381-3300. Cincinnatipops.org.)

March 11: Mike Scott. Here we have the biggest surprise of the lot. For more than three decades, Scott has been the singer, composer and all-around guiding force behind the great Irish rock troupe The Waterboys. Known for the 1984 post-punk epic This Is the Sea and 1987's renegade folk-rock masterwork Fisherman's Blues, The Waterboys have never played in the Bluegrass. This month, though, Scott visits the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center for a taping of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. The visit is one of just a few promotional appearances Scott is making around the only North American performance (March 20 in New York) of An Appointment With Mr. Yeats, a new Waterboys recording that is a true summit of two great Irish scribes. (6:45 p.m. $10. For reservations, call (859) 252-8888. Woodsongs.com.)

March 21: Dervish. Our journey concludes at Berea College with a performance by Ireland's own Dervish. Formed more than 20 years ago in County Sligo and fronted by the vocals and percussion of Cathy Jordan, Dervish has deep roots in Irish traditional music, with instrumentation built around fiddle, flute, bouzouki, mandola and accordion. This convocation performance at Phelps Stokes Chapel is part of the ongoing series of Stephenson Memorial Concerts, which in recent years has brought such disparate acts as George Winston, The Hot Club of Cowtown, California Guitar Trio and, most recently, Vusi Mahlasela to Berea College. (8 p.m. Free. (859) 985-3000. Berea.edu/convocations.)

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