Teetotalers Kevin Crawford, Martin Hayes and John Doyle in Stratford (Gregg Burnett/STIMS)

It is not that often that I feel compelled to experience a performing act two nights in a row, especially when the distance is around 80 miles apart, but that is what I did last weekend in catching the last two shows of the touring Totalers, comprising mega stars in the trad firmament Martin Hayes, Kevin Crawford and John Doyle. 

Finishing a 10-gig itinerary in Stratford, Connecticut and Manhattan back to back gave me the opportunity and the chance to see how the veteran performers would approach each venue that had their own advantages and disadvantages.

First, let’s deal with the performance aspect of the concerts.  When you are dealing with three of the more dynamic musicians in the entire trad scene, expectations can be high and the actual execution exceeded those by a good measure.

Seasoned as the trio are individually, and well used to collaborating with a wide range of musicians, the chance to work together when time allowed in the past year proved to be a satisfying risk and opportunity well worth taking.

Their set list at the Stratford Theatre and Joe’s Pub was well constructed and not only amply flaunted their own unique talents all night, but gave a solid display of what careful listeners they were adept at working the corners of the tunes as each led and followed one another in turn. 

Both audiences were spell-bound at the mix of tunes (decidedly Clare tunes or settings given that Hayes and Crawford hail from the Banner County) and songs by Doyle sprinkled throughout the shows.

Watching them give life and breath and expression with masterful pacing of the tunes and songs while taking us on an emotional rollercoaster up and down and back again speaks to their magnificent grasp of how Irish music moves and inspires the soul. 

No one should ever miss that journey with them when they perform live, and those who came along each night hungered for a new recording from the threesome when time allows which is no easy task given their itinerant work schedules.

The Stratford Theater was a new venue for the Shamrock Irish Traditional Music Society not far from its Fairfield base, and it proved to be a marvelous venue to take in this show.

The size and acoustics (thanks to John Brennan, the sound engineer) were perfect and afforded the artists the time and scope to introduce the music and work and humorous give and take led by funnyman Crawford that can charm an audience and take some of that too-attentive atmosphere down a notch to make it more personal. 

For instance, a slow O’Carolan air by Hayes, who then launched into fierce reel exchange with Doyle, brought forth an instantaneous standing ovation at its fevered conclusion.

Joe’s Pub in the East Village has a renovated interior and is a warmer venue now with improved sightlines and seating. 

It’s value to Celtic artists and music fans is that it is a Manhattan showcase for acts, but it still suffers from a tragic flaw of shorter one-set performances that don’t always allow time for the performers and audience to bond sufficiently.  

Manhattan still needs a place where acts like this can feel at home even when they are the road.  The Teetotalers are a force to be seen wherever, though, and I’ll drink to that and look forward to seeing them come back again.