February 27, 2020
There will be Irish/Celtic music experiences a-plenty here in Greater Boston these next few weeks, as you might guess, highlighted by the annual “A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn” production (See separate story in this edition).
• The month gets off to a fine start at The Burren Backroom on March 1 as Dervish comes in for shows at 4 and 7 p.m. Originally formed in 1989 as the Boys of Sligo, the band acquired a key part of its identity with the arrival in 1991 of lead singer and bodhran/bones player Cathy Jordan. Since then, Dervish – besides Jordan, its members are Shane Mitchell (accordion), Liam Kelly (flute/whistle), Brian McDonagh (mandola/mandolin), Michael Holmes (bouzouki) and Tom Morrow (fiddle) – has been a compelling exemplar of the instrumental and song traditions of Sligo and Leitrim. They’ve performed at events and venues all over the world, represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest, served as cultural ambassadors to China (where they held an impromptu session on the Great Wall), and, last year, received a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award. Their most recent album, “The Great Irish Songbook,” features classic Irish songs sung by special guests like Steve Earl, Andrea Corr, Vince Gill, Kate Rusby, Imelda May, and Rhiannon Gidden.
The Backroom will welcome Josephine County, a Maine-based quartet with wide-ranging musical interests, on March 4 at 7:30 p.m. Colleen Raney (vocals, guitar, bodhran), Hanz Araki (vocals, flute, whistle), Erica Brown (vocals, fiddle, guitar), and Matt Shipman (vocals, guitar, mandolin, bouzouki) are all individually accomplished performers who, together, represent vast experience not only in Irish but Scottish, English American, and Canadian folk traditions, but also in bluegrass and country.
Opening will be a recently formed local trio, Christine Hedden, Rebecca McGowan, and Lindsay Straw, which presents the union of instrumental, dance, and vocal components in traditional Irish music. Hedden (fiddle) has explored connections between traditional, classical, and contemporary music as a composer/arranger as well as a musician; McGowan, a co-founder of the Rising Step Irish dance company, draws on the musicality of the older, sean-nós dance styles; Straw (guitar, bouzouki), a member of The Ivy Leaf, is a gifted singer and accompanist.
Karan Casey, whose heart-on-her-sleeve approach to music has made her one of the more popular Irish singers of the past two decades, performs at the Backroom with her band on March 18 at 7:30 p.m. A Waterford native with a background that includes classical and jazz as well as traditional Irish music, Casey recorded three albums with Solas before striking out on her own. She has released seven solo albums, including “Two More Hours,” which consisted of her own compositions and incorporated jazz, blues and R&B and 2018’s “Hieroglyphs Which Tell the Tale.” Casey has been active in other aspects of music: She co-founded FairPlé, an organization aimed at achieving fairness and gender balance for female performers in Irish traditional and folk music.
New England guitar-cello duo Dan Faiella and McKinley James will open for Casey. Both grew up playing Irish and New England traditional tunes and songs and have been active in various collaborations: Faiella has performed with premier fiddlers including Winifred Horan, Dan Foster, and Alden Robinson; James was a member of Boston-based fiddle ensemble Childsplay and was a founding member of the multi-genre band Night Tree.
A band with a legacy extending from the very beginnings of the Irish folk revival, McPeake will be at the Backroom on March 25 at 7:30 p.m. The McPeake family’s presence in traditional music goes back nearly a century, and their contributions to the folk revival of the 1950s and ‘60s are numerous and memorable: They were the first to record “Wild Mountain Thyme,” the immensely popular song credited to Francis McPeake, who was also a legendary piper. After a period of inactivity following Francis’s death in 1971, the band reformed in the 1980s and began playing again. Now known as “McPeake,” the group – under the direction of Francis McPeake IV (pipes, whistles) and including Paula McPeake (songwriter), Mairead Forde (fiddle), and Paul Hughes (vocals, guitar, percussion) – mixes the traditional music that has long been part of the family heritage with more contemporary rhythms and styles.
For tickets and other information about the Burren Backroom series, go to burren.com/music.html. (You can also get details on the Burren’s St. Patrick’s Day activities there.)
• Grammy-winning Boston-area native Aoife O’Donovan is back in her old stomping grounds on March 12, with her “Songs and Strings” show in Sanders Theatre at 8 p.m. O’Donovan’s musical portfolio includes considerable experience in Irish/Celtic and American folk music – including a stint in Crooked Still – and in more recent years she has emerged as a confident, eloquent songwriter, as evidenced by her solo album “In the Magic Hour” and as part of the trio I’m With Her (with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz), which won a Grammy this year for Best American Roots Song, “Call My Name.” For “Songs and Strings,” O’Donovan will be accompanied by a string quartet as she performs the song cycle “Bull Frogs Croon,” which she created with Jeremy Kittel and Teddy Abrams, as well as a retrospective of traditional, contemporary and original songs.
See celebrityseries.org/productions/aoife-o-donovan for tickets and information.
• In what has become practically an annual (and greatly anticipated) rite, Cherish the Ladies returns once again to the Greater Boston area, at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport on March 5 at 8 p.m. Originally formed in 1985 as a concert series showcasing female Irish musicians, the group has proved to be a mainstay in the Irish/Celtic music scene for its excellent interpretations of traditional tunes and songs and as a launch pad for distinguished performers like Aoife Clancy, Eileen Ivers, Winifred Horan, Cathie Ryan, and Bridget Fitzgerald. Cherish the Ladies is led by co-founders Joanie Madden and Mary Coogan; current members also include Mirella Murray, Grainne Murphy, Deirdre Connolly and Kathleen Boyle.
On March 21 at 8 p.m., Shalin Liu will host the Mari Black Trio. A Boston native, Black – who has appeared locally at The Burren Backroom series and BCMFest – has distinguished credentials that include fiddling competition championships in Scottish and Canadian Maritime traditions. Her repertoire includes not only Irish and Scottish traditions but also American folk music, Argentine tangos, and even classic swing tunes, to name a few.
For more on Shalin Liu events, see tickets.rockportmusic.org/events.
• The Fretless, a Canadian quartet that has championed the “chambergrass” folk-string ensemble sound, will be at Club Passim in Harvard Square on March 15 at 7 p.m. Fiddle and viola players Trent Freeman, Karrnnel Sawitsky, and Ben Plotnick, and cellist Eric Wright, explore the rhythmic, harmonic, and structured arrangement of Celtic, old-timey, bluegrass and other folk/traditional styles in the essence of a chamber string quartet, hence the descriptive phrase “chambergrass.” The band, and chambergrass itself, has a Boston connection: Freeman and Wright were Berklee College of Music students, and founded The Fretless with fellow Berklee acquaintance Ivonne Hernandez, who was active in the Boston music scene. The band’s album “Bird’s Nest” won a 2017 Juno Award for Instrumental Album of the Year, and their follow-up release, “Live at the Art Farm” – which focused on the traditional Irish part of its repertoire – was highly praised; a new recording is in the works.
The Ivy Leaf, a stalwart of traditional music in New England, will be part of Club Passim’s “NEFFA Preview” on March 17, a triple bill showcasing acts that are appearing at the 76th New England Folk Festival Association, which takes place April 24-26 at Acton Boxborough High School. Since forming in 2009, the band – its current line-up is Lindsay Straw (bouzouki, guitar, vocals), Armand Aromin (fiddle, English concertina, vocals, whistle), Dan Accardi (accordion, fiddle, concertina) and Benedict Gagliardi (concertina, harmonica, vocals, tenor guitar) – has expanded beyond its roots in traditional Irish dance music to survey the wider world of Anglo-Celtic and American folk music, adding in a wide-ranging catalog of sea shanties, work songs and narrative ballads. In addition to performing, Ivy Leaf members are active in the Irish session scene, in Providence as well as Boston.
Also performing at the NEFFA Preview are Zornitsa, a Bulgarian chorus and orchestra of men from the Boston area, and Klezmer trio Wandering Laughter.
Talisk, a Scottish trio whose propulsive, tightly-knit blend of Scottish and Irish music elements has earned them widespread critical and public acclaim, will make a return to the club on March 24 at 8 p.m. The enthralling melodic chemistry between Mohsen Amini (concertina) and Hayley Keenan (fiddle) is bolstered by Graeme Armstrong’s canny guitar-playing, creating a sound that pushes beyond tradition while maintaining ties to it. Talisk’s honors include the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award and Folk Band of the Year from the BBC Alba Scots Trad Music Awards; Amini also was the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’ Musician of the Year for 2018.
For ticket information and other details, go to passim.org.
•The Irish Cultural Centre of New England in Canton has a few special events this month, including a visit by Colm Keegan, a former member of Celtic Thunder, on March 3. Keegan, who has an “other” career as a teacher – he’s taught at performing arts and secondary schools, and launched an online instruction forum – will lead an Irish language workshop at 6 p.m., and a concert of “Celtic Favorites” beginning at 7:30 p.m.
The ICC hosts High Time for a 4 p.m. matinee on March 8. The youthful trio of Ciarán Bolger (vocals, guitar), Séamus Flaherty (vocals, harp, bodhran) and Conall Flaherty (vocals, flute, whistle) comes from Ardmore in Connemara, and boasts substantial performance experience: Bolger has toured with the “Celtic Legends” international stage production, as has Conall Flaherty, who also appeared in another extravaganza, “Rhythm of the Dance”; Conall’s brother Seamus, meanwhile, played with Cherish the Ladies two years ago at Celtic Connections and has been involved in other traveling shows. They bring together diverse elements in its sound, from sean-nos songs to classic tunes of the Irish Atlantic coast to traditional and contemporary folk songs animated by three-part harmony.
Another Celtic Thunder alum, Paul Byrom, will be at the center on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17, in case you might not remember) at 8 p.m. A Dublin native who recorded his first album at age 14, Byrom was an original member of Celtic Thunder. Going solo in 2010, he released the CD “This Is the Moment” and a DVD of his PBS special of the same name; his most recent album, “Thinking of Home,” reached the top of the iTunes, Amazon, and World Billboard Charts.
There will be a different sort of performance at the ICC on March 21 when Kevin Flynn presents his one-man play “Fear of Heights” at 8 p.m. The show is based on Flynn’s life and relationship with his tough, Irish Catholic, steelworker roots and relates the story of his family’s progress from blue-collar immigrants to “lace-curtain Irish” in the suburbs of Connecticut. Flynn, a veteran of television, stand-up comedy, and film, won awards at the HBO Aspen Comedy Festival and Boston Comedy Festival for his first two one-man shows, “Around the Kitchen Table” and “The Go for It Guy.”
Information for these events, as well as the ICC’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities, is available at irishculture.org.
• The Cabot in Beverly will present a show by The High Kings, the epitome of a 21st-century Irish ballad group, at Berklee Performance Center on March 7 at 8 p.m. Vocalists and musicians Finbarr Clancy, Brian Dunphy ,and Darren Holden, along with other founding member Martin Furey, joined forces in 2007, their sound deriving from the classic Irish ballad style that swept into popularity during the 1950s and 60s through such bands as the Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners. The band went on to tour extensively throughout the US and Europe, record four studio albums and two live albums, and release two live DVDs, combining modern songs in the folk idiom – and even from other genres – with some of the classic ballad repertoire. Last fall, Paul O’Brien became the High Kings’ newest member.
Tickets are at etix.com/ticket/p/2583779.
• The harp/guitar duo of spouses Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman will perform as part of Boston College’s Gaelic Roots series on March 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the Theology and Ministry Library auditorium, located on BC’s Brighton Campus off Lake Street. Since teaming up in 1987, Ní Chathasaigh and Newman have taken their blend of traditional Irish, jazz, baroque ,and bluegrass, along with original compositions, far and wide while recording seven albums. Ní Chathasaigh, from a celebrated Irish music family, is widely hailed as an innovator of the Irish harp technique; English native Newman has performed throughout the UK and beyond both as a soloist, as a member of The Boys of the Lough, and with a lengthy list of collaborators ranging from jazz violin legend Stéphane Grappelli to Northumbrian pipes virtuoso Kathryn Tickell to Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa.
Go to bc.edu/irish for information.
• Máiréad Nesbitt, the capering, cavorting violinist for Celtic Woman, will play with her trio ensemble at the Lynn Auditorium on March 15 at 5 p.m. Nesbitt comes from an impressive musical heritage, as she demonstrated on her “Devil’s Bit Session” album in 2017 that featured 13 members of her family. A former All-Ireland fiddle champion and past member of the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, she studied at CIT, Cork School of Music under Cornelia Zanidache and the London Royal Academy. PBS recently announced Nesbitt will be part of a new musical special, “Celtic Heart,” premiering this year.
Tickets, information at lynnauditorium.com.
• Leahy, one of Canada’s most esteemed progressive folk-roots bands, will be at the City Winery of Boston on March 6 at 8 p.m., presented through the Global Arts Live series. Leahy’s members are all siblings from an Ontario family with Irish and Cape Breton ancestry – national and cultural legacies they proclaim through their high-energy music and performances. In addition to their studio and live recordings – which have sold more than half a million copies worldwide – Leahy has been featured in three PBS television specials, including their memorable “Gael Force” appearance with The Chieftains that showcased the band’s dancing as well as instrumental prowess. This year, the band is set to release a new album, “Good Water,” that will emphasize its female members and spotlight its song and instrumental compositions, as well as the influences – rock, choral, country, classical – that have inspired them.
Nostalgia and memorable music will be in the air on March 12 when the City Winery hosts, “Too-Rye-Ay,” a tribute to Irish punk-soul sensation Dexys Midnight Runners -- known in the US for their hit “Come On, Eileen” (No. 18 in VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the 1980s”) -- at 8 p.m. The show will feature members of Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, The Dambuilders, and Elk City, who will perform two sets in the wardrobe of two different Dexys era, spotlighting smash hits and deep cuts from the band’s late 1970s/early ‘80s albums and singles. “Too-Rye-Ay” organizers say it will be a fond, and enlightening, salute to a group often overlooked in discussions of Celtic-influenced pop/rock.
Go to citywinery.com/boston for tickets and other information.
• Newfoundland folk and traditional singer Matthew Byrne visits the Linden Tree Coffeehouse in Wakefield on March 7 at 8 p.m. Renowned for his rich tenor voice and sensitive and empathetic treatment of songs from the song tradition of his homeland, and his own family, Byrne has built a solid following in New England through his critically acclaimed recordings and appearances at the St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas Celtic Sojourn” shows, the Burren Backroom and New Bedford Folk Festival, among others.
See lindentreecoffeehouse.org for information.
• The “roots-and-branches” trio Low Lily plays at Readings’ Ivy Chord Coffeehouse on March 21 at 8 p.m. Flynn Cohen (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Liz Simmons (guitar, piano, vocals), and Lissa Schneckenburger (fiddle, vocals) – all of whom once lived in Greater Boston/Eastern Massachusetts, and now reside in Brattleboro – have solid backgrounds and extensive experience in Irish and other Celtic music. But their tastes and interests have long ranged beyond those traditions, and their American descendants in New England and Appalachia, to encompass contemporary folk and even pop. Low Lily released its first full-length album, “10,000 Days Like These,” in 2018.
Details at uureading.org/concerts.
• Greater Boston-based trio Ceol Corvus plays a free concert at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood on March 29 at 3 p.m. The band’s members (Emily Peterson, concertina, whistle; Steve Levy, vocals, bouzouki, mandolin, tenor banjo; Sean Smith, vocals, guitar, bouzouki, bodhran) have long been active in the local music scene. Their free-reed/fretted-string dynamic combines the spontaneity and spirit of the Irish session with latter-day influences and arrangements inspired by the modern Irish folk revival.
For information and registration, see norwoodlibrary.org/morrillcalendar.
•The JFK Library will offer an historical take on the St. Patrick’s Day season with “Celebrate! Celtic Bells: The Irish in Boston” on March 9 at 10:30 a.m. The story of Irish immigrants in Boston will be recounted through songs and poems of work, humor, protest, longing for home – and longing to feel at home in America. Free admission; space is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Go to jfklibrary.org for further details.
Compiled by Sean Smith