The Chieftains celebrate 55 years with performance at CAC

The Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St., and the Williamsport Community Concert Association have collaborated to bring The Chieftains to the Community Arts Center stage at 7:30 p.m. March 9. The six-time Grammy Award-winning band, known for bringing a new vision to Irish music, will be joined by the Lycoming College Choir, as well as a group of local bagpipe players.

The Chieftains have never been known for sticking to the traditional sounds of Celtic and folk music, but rather have embraced an evolving musical world. In fact, said Paddy Moloney, founding musician, young people continue to send him great songs that allow him to remain connected with a younger generation of music makers.

“We still have an interest with young people and the music is so strong back home,” Moloney said. “I love the challenge of new music and recording, whether it’s recording something like the Van Morrison album, Irish Heartbeat, or just trying out a new sound from one of the young bagpipers. No matter what, I always see the beauty in music and people and personalities. Even going down to Mexico, there are a lot of musicians and singers down there. They couldn’t believe it, I would play along with them and they just wanted to play, play, play. That’s the great thing about Irish music — there’s something marvelous in passing it on.”

But, Moloney remembers, he, too, once was a young lad of 6 or 7 who wanted nothing more than to play music. He received a tin whistle on Christmas Eve from his mother and self-taught himself to play.

“I taught myself wrong, but I still managed to get a few tunes out of it,” he said. “When I moved on to the uilleann pipes, I discovered a much more sophisticated sound.”

Although he performed in many bands, duets and quartets, Moloney said he just wanted to put together a group of his own that would achieve the sounds of all the Irish instruments from the flute and tin whistle, to the pipes and harp.

“I wanted to deliver this great folk art of ours in a way that people would respond,” Moloney said. “Other people have done a lot of great things, but, to me, this is the full collaboration of all the various rhythms and tunes and songs traditional of Irish music. We brought it forward and people loved it. We had a lot of great admirers, like Paul McCartney and Van Morrison because what we were doing was really crossing over. I’ve just always had a dream that great folk art of ours would be spread throughout the world.”

The band’s 4 and a half-week United States run comes on the heels of a successful Japanese tour that saw hundreds of young people form a massive archway in anticipation for The Chieftains’ arrival. While there, the group performed three sold-out shows in Tokyo.

“Ireland’s Musical Ambassadors,” as they have been rightly named, bring with them Moloney on the uilleann pipes and tin whistle; Matt Malloy on flute; Kevin Conneff on the bodhran and vocals; and Sean Kean on the fiddle. Musicians Trina Marshall, Alyth McCormack and Tara Breen also can be found touring with the Chieftains, on vocals, harp, keyboard, guitar and other instruments, along with dancers John and Nathan Polanski.

The Chieftains’ history has been marked by some pretty big historical moments. Moloney said perhaps the most memorable was when the band went full-time professional and sold out a venue with 6,000 people, no flashing lights, no smoke machines — “just solid music … so exciting … that was a very emotional moment.”

But there was also the time that The Chieftains were the opening act for 1.3 million people who waited in anticipation for the arrival of Pope John Paul II.

The 1979 performance was the confirmation Moloney needed to officially name the band and head to the studio. Inspired by the late Irish poet John Montague’s collection of short stories, “Death of a Chieftain,” The Chieftains were the first band from the west to go on to play on the Great Wall of China in 1983.

The Chieftains have even been to space. Although astronaut Cady Coleman has risked her life with NASA, she has said that one of the most terrifying things she has ever done was perform live on stage with The Chieftains in front of thousands of fans in Belfast and Dublin.

The traditional Irish flute player recorded three songs for The Chieftains 50th anniversary album while on an interstellar mission on board the International Space Station, making her the first astronaut to ever record an album in space. The Irish Independent said one of the songs was called “The Chieftains in Orbit” and she performed each one using Paddy Moloney’s whistle and Matt Malloy’s antique flute, making the moment even more special.

The band kicked off their career with two Grammy Awards and added four more a few years later. An Oscar for the music in Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film “Barry Lyndon” also was added to the mantel.

“I couldn’t believe it, the first time we picked one up,” Moloney said. “We got two and it was a great moment. They’re the pride and joy back on the mantel piece. In a documentary about a year ago, I told the story in a very nice fashion. It goes into my personality and how I brought this all together.”

Tickets are available at caclive.com, at the CAC box office or by calling 570-326-2424.

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