|Cherish the Ladies.|
With the proliferation of Christmas shows among the major trad artists touring in December over the years it was bound to happen at some point, but in the years that I have been monitoring it I hadn’t seen it occur once.
But in Fairfield, Connecticut last weekend the convergence of Cherish the Ladies on Saturday night and Danu on Sunday afternoon was a random coincidence that provided a doubleheader of Irish talent too good to miss, and solid example of why traditional Irish music is fitting fare for the finest of performance spaces wherever they may be.
While it may have appeared as a scheduling conflict to be avoided for commercial reasons, it provided great seasonal entertainment for approximately 1,000 people over the two days and gave people some options in these busy days leading up to the holidays.
It is important to note at the outset that both Sacred Heart University and its Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, and Fairfield University with its Quick Center for the Arts, provide quality venues with easy accessibility for all kinds of shows and are wonderful examples of the importance of the arts to a thriving university community.
And its presenters also see the value of including Celtic music in the mix of offerings to their audiences on a regular basis which is great news for the many professional Irish musicians plying their trade these days. Nothing enhances their work like respectable paydays in stages that allow them to expand the possibilities and scope of their individual shows while also providing the opportunity to appear before many people who may not have caught their acts at other venues or festivals.
The first show that I took in was the Cherish the Ladies Christmas show lovingly produced by Joanie Madden and her Cherish the Ladies compatriots Mary Coogan, Mirella Murray and Kathleen Boyle for a very long time.
The guest vocalist for the tour was the wonderful Cathie Ryan, who sang with Cherish in the early years as her own career was blossoming and has performed quite frequently with them again recently.
With the regular fiddler Grainne Murphy on leave for professional work as a lawyer, Madden was able to avail of the services of another alumna in Liz Knowles, a marvelous and well-respected musician who recently relocated to Portland, Maine.
Since Madden’s earliest days as a teenager playing in her father Joe’s dance band, she has grasped the importance of playing Irish dance music that is both enjoyable and vibrant for dancers, whether it’s for the sets or step dancing, and this has always been a hallmark of Cherish performances over their stellar 29-year run.
For the current Christmas run, her core quartet of Cara Butler, Meghan Lucey, Michael Holland and Garret Coleman have all experienced that magic connection and with their own respective talents make it shine even more.
Of particular note in Fairfield was the homecoming of Lucey, who hails from the town and has had a wonderful career at a young age already.
Butler, who has danced with the Chieftains all over the world for 20 years now, has been a frequent performer with Cherish.
Holland drew special attention from Madden on the night for his astounding performance of the traditional set piece “The Hunt” which help garner a world championship for the Columbus, Ohio native a couple of years ago. After thunderous applause for that dance, Madden offered him a raise and immediately went over and lifted him up off the floor.
No group in Irish music does a better job of blending traditional Irish music tunes with the seasonal Christmas music we all love within the act, and this was mighty apparent on Saturday night.
Having an accomplished ensemble of musicians like Coogan, Murray, Boyle and Knowles along with Joanie’s brother John Madden on drums made this flow impressively all night.
Along with Madden’s comic approach which carries through the whole show to the delight of any audience, she keeps a knowing eye on spotlighting all the talent she has brought to the stage and balances out the program in a way that keeps you looking for more as the evening quickly passes on. And like great comedians who can also reflect the tragic side of life she can also bring water to your eyes with a slow air like “Taimse im Chodladh” which means “I am asleep” in remembering her late father Joe and for all those whom we miss at the holidays.
Seeing and hearing Ryan again with the group was a pure delight, bringing her crystal clear voice to the Christmas fare. She added a new composition she wrote with Patsy O’Brien, “Merry Christmas a Stor,” and delivered it with great feeling.
With her bodhran playing and even a turn at the washboard for Joanie’s lead vocal for “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow” and leading the audience to sing along with the Christmas carols, Ryan was a consummate team player.
It was Cherish’s first appearance at the Edgerton Center for the co-sponsors of the SHU Irish Studies Department and the Shamrock Irish Traditional Music Society. From the enthusiastic audience reaction, I am sure it won’t be their last.
The December tour draws to a close on Sunday, December 22 at 7 p.m. at the Mineola Irish American Center. If you haven’t caught the show yet, you shouldn’t miss that opportunity as it is another home gig.