Due to the area's wealth of theaters and performing arts centers, Hampton Roads has seen a lot of The Chieftains in recent years. For that, we can thank our lucky stars.
A look back at the Daily Press archives shows that the legendary Irish folk band played the Ferguson Center in Newport News in 2006 and the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach in 2008.
The group -- led by pipe-and-whistle master Paddy Moloney -- returned to the Sandler on Sunday, March 11, for a stop on the band's 50th anniversary tour.
Moloney's approaching his mid 70s, so we're not likely to see him so often in the future.
Even though Sunday's show was at times formulaic (a few of the songs, even some of the jokes, were familiar from previous visits) hearing The Chieftains' blend of tradition and globe-trotting experiments was satisfying.
Even after 50 years, there's still nobody like them.
The Chieftains ensemble sound is built around Moloney's uilleann pipes (similar to bagpipes, but powered by bellows instead of the lungs) as well as the singing and percussion of Kevin Conneff and the virtuoso flute of Matt Molloy.
From that foundation, the band stretches in a dozen different directions. American country and bluegrass are natural bedfellows. The band has also found less obvious connections to music from Spain, Mexico and even China.
For me, highlights of Sunday's show included Conneff's lovely, a cappella reading of "May Morning Dew," fiddler Deanie Richardson's hot country-jazz solos during several bluegrass segments of the show and "An Dro," a tune from The Chieftain's 1987 album "Celtic Wedding: The Music of Brittany."
During that tune and another called "March to the Battle," the Tidewater Pipes & Drums were invited to play on stage, giving The Chieftains sound extra drama, weight and volume.
Jim Roberts, a former Daily Press copy editor and pipe major for the band, said the experience was special, even though it wasn't the first time the Tidewater Pipes & Drums played with a major act.
"We've played before Rod Stewart twice, but this is the first time we actually shared the stage with a major artist," Roberts said. "That's not to slight the Fighting Jamesons, [a local band] who we played with last St. Patrick's Day. That was fun, too."
The Tidewater Pipes includes at least one other member with ties to the Peninsula. Brendan Konouck is a Newport News resident.
Roberts said someone from Chieftains management contacted them and the band received the music for its contributions about two months ago. The pipe band started playing the tunes at its regular rehearsals. The band played a five-minute rehearsal with the Chieftains before the show in Virginia Beach.
That didn't allow for very much backstage interaction between the bands, but Roberts said Moloney was easy to work with. "He was very friendly, complimentary and encouraging. It was good."
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