I’m not talking just about the Black Friday crowd of merchants who hope to make in one month what they couldn’t all year (a profit), but rather those who think that the Yuletide season is even more an occasion for Irish music than St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s a time of year when people think nostalgically of traditions, whether they are immigrants or just far from home. So sentimentality has helped spur so many Celtic Christmas shows that have abounded in recent years. Here with the highlights from the hob.
Leading the pack once again is the WGBH production hosted by Brian O’Donovan, host of its popular radio show Celtic Sojourn who has organized 10 stage shows in five different New England cities over two weekends.
A well-crafted show like the radio program now in its eighth year, the stellar cast assembled is usually first rate. Guest artists this year are singers Heidi Talbot, Robbie O’Connell, dancers Kieran Jordan, Caitlin Nic Gabhann and the Harney Academy of Irish Dance, musicians Seamus Egan, Sean og Graham, Eamonn Murray and Nic Gabhann.
The tour begins in Worcester, Massachusetts on the 10th, Portsmouth, New Hampshire the 11th for two shows, Northampton, Massachusetts on the 12th, Providence, Rhode Island on the 16th, and five shows at home in Boston’s Cutler Majestic Theatre near the commons. Visit wgbh.org/listen/achristmasceltic_sojourn2010.cfm.
For the sixth year, Oisin MacDiarmada and his Teada mates, Tristan Rosenstock, Paul Finn and Sean McElwain, perform their “Irish Christmas in America” tour coast to coast in 17 gigs.
Furrowing that market from Ireland annually is a testament to a strong show and the kind of networking it takes to tour the U.S. now, and that is MacDiarmada’s strong suit.
Special guests this year are Seamus Begley, Grainne Hambly, Tommy Martin and sean nos dancer Brian Cunningham, with a cameo appearance by Dingle singer Eilis Kennedy at the National Geographic Show in D.C. (10th). Among the other East Coast stops are the Strand Theater (11th, Lakewood, New Jersey) and the Commodore Barry Irish Center on the 12th in Philadelphia. Visit www.irishchristmasinamerica.com.
A pair of New Yorkers have been plying the Celtic Christmas route also in recent years, and if you haven’t managed to catch one of their shows yet make this the year to do so because they have put together shows that make for a great family gathering.
Eileen Ivers and her Immigrant Soul present “An Nollaig-An Irish Christmas” for 17 shows across the country, with tri-state stops in Bay Shore, Long Island (8th, Boulton Center), Ridgefield, Connecticut (9th, Ridgefield Playhouse), New Brunswick, New Jersey (11th, State Theatre), Mahwah, New Jersey (12th, Berrie Center/Ramapo College).
The show is chock full of music from the old and new country, with stepdancers and choirs enhancing the cast of Ivers, Tommy McDonnell, Buddy Connolly, Greg Anderson and Leo Traversa. Visit www.eileenivers.com.
The indefatigable Andy Cooney has his “Classic Irish Christmas Show 2010” geared up in barnstorming mode for 22 shows in 21 days mostly up and down the East Coast from Boston to Florida from the 1st to the 21st highlighted by a stop at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall outside of Albany (1st).
Cooney’s band features Brian Moran, Jimmy Kelly, Jr., Colm Graham and Mitch Reilly, who will be joined by guest artists Clare comedian George Casey, soprano Emma Kate Tobia from Ireland and dancers from Darrah Carr Dance School in New York.
Lots of gigs in the tri-state area like Bridgeport Holiday Inn in Connecticut (3rd), Resurrection Catholic Church in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn (4th), St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, Long Island (5th), St. Sebastian’s Church in Woodside (8th), and many more. Visit www.andycooney.com for details.
There are a couple of other Irish Christmas shows led by far-flung artists coming into the area that may be of interest to readers.
Tomaseen Foley, an actor and writer originally from Templegantine in West Limerick but resident for a long time in Oregon, is coming to town for one show up at the Westchester Community College Academic Arts Theater in Valhalla (tickets at 914-606-6262) on Saturday night, December 4 at 8 p.m.
His show has a beguiling charm to it told in seanachie style about an old-fashioned Christmas in his native parish of Teampall an Ghleanntain as he brings us into a country cottage as neighbors for the night. Once again he has assembled a wonderful cast including regulars Brian Bigley, an outstanding piper and step dancer, William Coulter (guitarist and vocalist), Galway stepdancer Marcus Donnelly and Marianne Knight, a multi-instrumentalist musician, singer and dancer from Mayo who was a revelation last summer at the Catskills Irish Arts Week.
The show’s a sleeper because the artists may not be known to us generally in this area. But you will be transported far from the cares and woes of today’s headlines to a time and place when life wasn’t less difficult, but the surroundings and people around us gave more comfort and warmth and appreciation for the simpler way of life.
Across the Canadian border swarms the Leahy family from Ontario for their version of “An Irish Family Christmas,” which will be a very up-tempo show of Irish and Scottish music similar to what we have experienced with the Barra MacNeill and Rankin families from Cape Breton down through the years. Eight siblings dancing, singing and playing their hearts out for you on the 19th at 7 p.m. at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, New Jersey (201- 816-8168).
Joanie Madden has supersized her Cherish the Ladies performing troupe with six dancers for the tour. Joining regular dancer Dan Stacey are Cara Butler and new hubby Jon Pilatzke, Melanie Deegan, Ciara Greene and Joe Dwyer. That tour gets underway in Tarrytown this Thursday, December 2 at the Tarrytown Music Hall. Visit www.cherishtheladies.com.
And at the Irish Arts Center, look for Mick Moloney’s “An Irish Christmas: A Musical Solstice Celebration” for 10 shows from the 9th to the 19th, featuring Moloney, Athena Tergis, Billy McComiskey, Rhys Jones, Brendan Dolan and dancer Niall O’Leary. Visit www.irishartscenter.org.
There are some other events happening this week without a Christmas motif worth noting as entertainment with a Celtic flavor.
At NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House, the Blarney Star Concert Series (www.blarneystar.com) welcomes Boston native, Grainne Murphy, a fiddler who started out as a student with Seamus Connolly and now tours with Cherish the Ladies as the featured guest this Friday night, the 3rd, at 9 p.m. Murphy is a dynamic fiddler on her own but has invited a number of around the town musical friends loosely known as the “Pride of the Subway Ceili Band” to join her this night that includes, Issac Alderson, John Redmond, Marta Cook, Anna Colliton and Alan Murray.
On Saturday, there is a Gaelic song and traditional singing techniques workshop with Padraig O Cearuill and Ashley Davis from 1- 6 p.m. Prior knowledge of the Irish language is not required, and it is a free event sponsored by the Irish Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
Advance registration or email is required with a cap of 50 students so call Ireland House at phone 212-998-3950 or email Ireland.firstname.lastname@example.org. Location is 1 Washington Mews near Washington Square and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Also on Friday is a celebration of the “Queen of Connemara: Delia Murphy” the iconic Irish singer who traveled the world as the wife of an Irish diplomat dramatized in conversation, song and verse at the New York Irish Center at 8 p.m.
Gerry Anderson talks us through her life, Maureen O’Donovan sings some of her favorites like “The Spinning Wheel,” “The Moonshiner” and “Queen of Connemara,” and niece Carmen Cullen reads from her novel inspired by her famous aunt. Admission is $30 but it includes food and drink. Reservations are required by calling Caitlin at 718-482-0909.