Music for a Wonderful Cause

PERHAPS it was a happy coincidence, but the Sunday evening show at Symphony Space provided a spiritual calmness and cultural contentment as a capacity crowd turned out to help support a charitable organization in far-off Thailand.

The "Irish Musicians for the Mercy Centre: In Partnership With the Poor" concert organized by Dr. Mick Moloney was another epic event that married the green grass roots of traditional music with those of missionaries like Father Joe Maier, who has toiled in one of the worse slums in Southeast Asia for 35 years working from the bottom up.

Those who came along to Manhattan's Upper West Side Peter Norton Theater on Sunday were inspired not only by the great performances of those musicians who donated their time and talents, but also of the heroic events of Maier and his creation, the Mercy Centre and umbrella group the Human Development Foundation (www.MercyCentre.org).

Operating out of the Slaughterhouse District in the Bangkok port area, it has served thousands of impoverished youth who have been abandoned or abused by parents whose own lives are wrecked by drugs, alcohol, AIDS, the sex trade, poverty and social conditions that offer nothing but despair.

By rescuing one child at a time through a network of orphanages, pre-school programs and extensive outreach programs to street children and also teenagers and adults trapped in these conditions as well, Maier and his minions have fought a valiant battle to make a difference for those less fortunate.

Even one of the world's most benevolent men, Chuck Feeney, the billionaire who has given away his fortune to help others, turned out to support the cause of the night, turning over the proceeds of his own dramatic life story with author Conor O'Clery, The Billionaire Who Wasn't.

Right before the intermission, Maier addressed the audience in humble fashion and declared that the night was one of the most important days of his life because he realized the significance of so many people turning out in support for his efforts on behalf of the poor so vividly displayed in a moving video report from a Christian Broadcasting service.

"Our hearts synchronize tonight as we join hands to help those children who have been hurt" by the society around them as the crowd in the hall rose to acknowledge his wonderful and tireless work.

The show itself was another stunning extravaganza from Moloney, who seems to be able to roll out of bed and produce performances that are as exciting as they are informative.

While much of it was familiar material that makes it easier for the artists who follow the clarion call from the eminent folklorist, nonetheless there are always some surprises that stand out in any of his live performances where the artists must deliver under pressure and short notice.

The fact that this show was being recorded for later release on Compass Records, in order to produce even more income for the Mercy Centre, made the individual acts that much more significant and critical.

First at bat came Joanie Madden and Mary Coogan with Grainne Murphy, who joined former Cherish the Ladies mates Mary Rafferty and Deirdre Connolly. Some years back Joanie and the girls released a CD called The Boys Won't Leave the Girls Alone which they launched at Symphony Space, so she dipped into that wonderful CD for material for the night.

To help kick off the night and set the tone, they opened with the reel "Last Night's Fun" in lively fashion, followed by two songs from Deirdre and Mattie Connolly that made that recording stand out.

Deirdre gave us the Scottish song "The Broom of the Cowdenknowes" while Mattie sang the Francis Fahy song "The Queen of Connemara." They were accompanied on stage by the eminence grise tandem of Joe Madden and Mike Rafferty, who offer continued inspiration to Cherish the Ladies, and dancer Joe Dwyer, one of Donny Golden's protges who often appears with them.

Cork's own Jimmy Crowley followed and sang two of his elegant compositions devoted to ships that lie now at the bottom of the sea, "Queen of the White Star Line" about the Titanic whose last stop was at Cobh Harbor, and "My Love is a Tall Ship" about the Asgard II which recently sunk in the Bay of Biscay off France.

Mac Benford and Up South segued into an Appalachian segment shared with the Burns Sisters from Ithaca, New York who intoned "The Prayer of St. Francis" in harmony, which gave further emphasis to the reason everyone was gathered that night before giving us a Woody Guthrie ballad and some old-timey tunes.

Mick's own Green Fields of America ensemble (30 years young this year) came out with the lineup de jour of Ivan Goff, Jerry O'Sullivan, Billy McComiskey, Robbie O'Connell, Dana Lyn, Athena Tergis and Brendan Dolan and the Niall O'Leary School of Dance.

Standouts here included O'Connell's "Keeper of the Songs," O'Leary's "Sandman Sims," Kitty O'Shea's send-up of the Sand Dance with Athena Tergis on fiddle, and one of Mick's Tin Pan Alley reclamations "It's Only An Irishman's Dream" enriched by Dana Lyn's string quartet arrangement for violin, viola and cello making its world premiere.

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