Not that Greater Boston doesn’t have plenty of Irish/Celtic music events during other months of the year, but March is unique in its offerings of concerts and special performances and celebrations evoking the name of St. Patrick or other things Celtic. Here’s a look at just some of the personalities who will be in the spotlight in and around town during the next few weeks.
• Richard Wood & Gordon Belsher, March 5, Johnny D’s, Somerville: Wood is an award-winning Prince Edward Island fiddler noted for melding his traditional style with rock-and-roll energy, and his appearances with The Chieftains, Shania Twain and former “Riverdance” star Jean Butler, among others; Belsher has featured his guitar, mandola, bodhran and vocals on two CDs, both nominated for the “Roots/Traditional Solo Recording of the Year” category of the East Coast Music Awards. [johnnyds.com]
• Karan Casey & John Doyle, with Maeve Gilchrist, March 6, Davis Square Theater, Somerville: Charter members of the legendary group Solas, these two have become two of the more outstanding Irish music performers of the past decade or more. Casey has released five well-received solo albums and, among other collaborations, has appeared in “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” — as has Doyle, who has cultivated a multifaceted career as guitarist, vocalist, producer and, lately, songwriter. Casey and Doyle joined forces two years ago to make the acclaimed album “Exile’s Return.”
Opening for Casey and Doyle will be Scottish-born harpist Maeve Gilchrist, who brings jazz and world music influences to her repertoire of mainly traditional songs and tunes. [davissquaretheatre.com]
• Sharon Shannon, March 8, Somerville Theater: Ireland’s squeezebox siren returns to the Boston area, where she played an enthralling set at last July’s Summer Arts Weekend festival in Copley Square. For the better part of three decades, Shannon has cultivated a reputation as one of her generation’s best Irish traditional accordionists while, at the same time, exploring other musical forms from Appalachian to classical to hip-hop and rap. Her collaborators have included Bono, Adam Clayton, Sinead O’Connor, Jackson Browne, John Prine, Steve Earle, Mark Knopfler, The RTE Concert Orchestra, The Chieftains, The Waterboys, Willie Nelson, Nigel Kennedy, Alison Krauss and Shane MacGowan – not to mention an assortment of canine friends, who have helped her exhibit her considerable spark and sense of fun, as well as her humanitarian side (watch her “Top Dog Gaffo” video on YouTube). [somervilletheatreonline.com]
• Cherish the Ladies, March 8, Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport: The groundbreaking all-female Celtic ensemble has branched out in recent years to incorporate American roots music into its splendid renditions of Irish tunes and songs— their 25th-anniversary release from 2010, “Country Crossroads,” included guest performers like Vince Gill, Nanci Griffith, Maura O’Connell, Rob Ickes and Alison Brown. [rockportmusic.org/newperformance.html]
• Boston Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann School of Music, March 9 Barnes & Noble, Peabody: CCE music school teachers and students, along with dancers from Scoil Rince Naomh Attracta, will perform for a “book fair” fundraiser beginning at 3 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in Peabody (210 Andover St.). The CCE music school will receive a portion of proceeds from merchandise sold to patrons having a CCE book fair voucher.
• Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly, March 14, Boston College: Between them, these guys seem to have played with most every Irish musician of note of the last four decades or so, and appeared on about a thousand recordings. As individuals and as a duo, they exemplify the storied Sliabh Luachra music tradition from the west of Ireland — think lots of polkas and slides. Cranitch (fiddle) was a founder of the pioneering trio Na Fili, and also plays with Sliabh Notes, who will be at The Burren [burren.com] on March 7. Daly, in addition to his solo work, has been a member of De Dannan and Patrick Street and collaborated with such musicians as Seamus Creagh, Kevin Burke, and Seamus and Manus Maguire.
In addition to appearing at BC as part of the Gaelic Roots series [bc.edu/gaelicroots], the duo also will be part of this year’s “A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn” — speaking of which:
• “A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn,” March 16, Sanders Theater, Harvard University: Much as its Christmas counterpart has become a holiday tradition for audiences around Boston and elsewhere in New England, the “Celtic Sojourn” event for St. Patrick’s Day — now in its eighth year — has gained a following of its own. WGBH-FM radio host Brian O’Donovan has once again assembled a cast of performers with local, regional and international ties, and whose styles and repertoires evoke not only Ireland but also Scotland, Appalachia, New England, and other places.
Besides the aforementioned Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly, this year’s “St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn” includes vocalists Moira Smiley and Maureen McMullan; the duo of tenor Kevin McDermott and pianist Ralph Richey; pianist and guitarist Keith Murphy, the show’s musical director; uilleann piper Patrick Hutchinson; tin whistle player Kathleen Conneely; fiddler-guitarist-pianist Mark Simos; hardanger fiddle player Mariel Vandersteel; pianist Jacqueline Schwab; The Coyne Family with vocalist Bridget Fitzgerald; percussionist Eoin McQuinn; pianist-vocalist Lindsay O’Donovan; the Harney Academy of Irish Dance; and appearances by actor Billy Meleady.
“We’re focusing on a smorgasboard of roots and branches this year, with visiting musicians as well as others who make their home in the Boston area,” says O’Donovan. “Having often incorporated spoken word — poetry and storytelling — in the ‘Celtic Sojourn’ shows, this time we thought it would be great to have another voice in Billy Meleady, who was integral to this year’s Christmas Revels production that focused on the Irish experience.” [wgbh.org/celtic]
• The Saw Doctors, March 15, House of Blues, Boston: One of Ireland’s cleverest, quirkiest and best-loved bands is marking its 25th anniversary with a North American tour that includes a stop in Boston, and the release of a double CD, “2525,” that traces their quarter-century career from its Galway beginnings. Stalwart fans will likely, and perhaps rightfully, carp about songs left off the album (no “Green and Red of Mayo”? no “I’d Love to Kiss the Bangles”?), but “2525” nonetheless provides a most effective overview of their assorted tastes, styles, influences and temperaments: There are classic concert sing-along favorites like “N17,” “Galway and Mayo” and “Tommy K”; their 2011 hit remake of “Downtown,” complete with Petula Clark; straight-out yet melodic rock-and-roll (“Friday Town,” “Takin’ the Train,” “Hazard”) and ceili/showband rock (“Presentation Boarder”); there’s also evidence of the band’s cheeky, even scandalous personality (“Bless Me Father,” “I Useta Lover”) and its romantic), heartfelt side (“Hope You Meet Again,” “Share the Darkness”). And one track even suggests a prescient political view: their 1994 composition, “Michael D. Rocking in the Dail,” honoring an academic-turned-politician and early Saw Doctors supporter — none other than Michael D. Higgins, now president of Ireland. [houseofblues.com/venues/clubvenues/boston]
• Matt and Shannon Heaton, March 16 and 17, The Beehive, Boston: Equally admired for expressive singing as well as instrumental prowess, this Boston-based flute-guitar husband-wife duo have put their inimitable stamp on Irish music, interpolating their own compositions and perspectives into the Irish tradition they revere and represent with a passion. [beehiveboston.com]
• Bob Bradshaw and Flynn, March 17, Club Passim, Harvard Square: Two Irish-born and now Boston-based singer-songwriters share a bill to present a more contemporary side of Irish music. Born and raised in County Cork, Bradshaw started off as a writer but then hit a long and winding musical road that took him through Europe, New York City, San Francisco, and, eventually, Boston, where he wound up studying at Berklee College of Music. His songs have a country-rock/acoustic folk-pop feel, shaped by influences like Guy Clark and The Waterboys; you can hear for yourself on his 2012 CD “Home.”
Flynn, who hails from Wicklow, was a co-founder of the popular Boston band Cliffs of Doneen, which won two Boston Music Awards. After a serious accident temporarily derailed his career, he rebounded to release his first solo CD, “On Your Way.” Since then, he has recorded three other albums, cultivating a reputation for an honest, emotionally powerful writing and singing style. More recently, Flynn has composed music for film and TV, including “The Legend of Lucy Keys,” “The Young and the Restless” and “Road Rules.” [passim.org]
• Long Time Courting, with Katie McNally & Eric McDonald, March 20, Club Passim, Harvard Square: Long Time Courting combines four talented New England-based female musicians and singers in Liz Simmons (guitar), Shannon Heaton (flute, whistle, accordion), Sarah Blair (fiddle) and Val Thompson (cello), offering up riveting and often exquisite neo-traditional Celtic music with a lively, personable stage presence. They’ll be splitting the bill with an exciting young fiddle-guitar duo of McNally and McDonald, whose Scottish-influenced music is imbued with a contemporary dynamic and winning charm. [passim.org]
• Atlantic Steps, March 23, Berklee Performance Center: Ireland’s sean nós (old style) dance tradition is at the center of this production, the brainchild of young Connemara native Brian Cunningham — his resume includes appearances with De Dannan, The Chieftains, Sharon Shannon, Altan, Dervish and Téada, among others — who got the idea for Atlantic Steps during a massive ceili on the Galway docks in sight of the ocean. Boston-area dancers Kieran Jordan and Jackie O’Riley are among the cast of Atlantic Steps, which incorporates songs along with music and dance in its telling of the sean-nos story.
“What we’re doing is creating a world on stage that draws the audience into the spirit of sean-nós dance,” says Jordan. “ It is a theatrical show — with lights, costumes, and choreography — but we’re also trying to maintain the rawness and realness of sean-nós dance. The audiences so far seem to appreciate the story line — the journey of sean-nós dance as it came across the Atlantic — and they also seem to feel the energy and fun that we are having on stage. Brian is definitely the most high-energy sean-nós dancer I’ve seen, and that positive spirit affects the whole show.” [berklee.edu/BPC]
• Irish Cultural Centre of New England: You’d think the ICCNE, based in Canton, would be making a pretty big deal of this month, and you’d be right. The center will have an assortment of special events leading up to St. Patrick’s Day weekend, including: “Roots of American Music,” a lecture and performance by distinguished scholar-musician Mick Moloney (March 8); cult favorite “jig-punk” Irish American band The Prodigals (March 10); that Matt Cranitch-Jackie Daly duo again, if you can’t get out to see them (or even if you can) at BC or “St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn” (March 13); and the Joshua Tree, Boston’s acclaimed U2 tribute band (March 15). The weekend itself will include plenty of music and other entertainment, all family-friendly. [irishculture.org]