February 27, 2013

Alchemists of Sound: The Chieftains at The State Theatre

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Who are The Chieftains? The famed Irish group is a legend among musicians with collaboration credits  including The Rolling Stones, The Civil Wars, Art Garfunkel and Bon Iver. Their latest tour date? The State Theatre of Ithaca. The group has been around since the ’60’s and, in that time, they has bagged six Grammy Awards and “gave Texas its national anthem — Cotton-eyed Joe.” The band celebrated their 50th anniversary last year with its album Voice of Ages, which I am incidentally listening to right now.  I cannot even describe the emotion that songs like “The Frost is All Over” and “Lily Love” are capable of imparting. They rekindle the magic of classics like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” by blending Irish flutes, uilleann pipes and fiddles with the sounds of groups like The Civil Wars and The Low Anthem.

Tuesday night, while most Cornellians were staking it out in the libraries for some prelim or the other, I decided to take a leap of faith and venture out to the State Theatre for a performance by the legendary Chieftains. My friend and I were by far the youngest members of the audience, and definitely the least  Irish, but we were nevertheless infected by the enthusiasm of the crowd. The theater was filled with elderly ladies and gentlemen doing the absolute Irish thing — drinking beer, clapping, singing, dancing and generally having a good time. The Stamp Crew of Ithaca and the Johnston School of Irish dance joined the band for a few songs and stirred the energy with some vivacious, crazy step dancing. It was the best possible tribute to Irish culture as St. Patrick’s day approaches us.

The beauty of the dance and melodies was only accentuated by the  grandeur of  the State Theatre, which turned 85 this year. The tunes of the flutes, pipes and harp filled the painted walls and transported the audience into a place of calm and happiness. I think my friend who I attended the show with described it the most succinctly. Halfway through the evening, I turned to her, a girl who had never heard the Chieftains’ music until that night,  and asked her what she thought of it. Well she said, very thoughtfully, “You know what Aditi … They’re really chill.”

They performed their record-breaking score “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” a collaboration with The Rolling Stones that won them their sixth Grammy. When they sang “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” my friend and I were about to pass out — this song is our jam. They performed the classic “May Morning Dew” from the album Water From the Well, a song that can make you cry if, like me, you’re very far from home. They performed “I’ll Tell me Ma,” a beautiful song and a regular in Irish pubs, and “Maneo” from their album Santiago. In “Maneo,” the Spanish guitar was simply mesmerizing, easily transporting the audience to the vast Spanish deserts. They also performed “Wabash Cannonball” and two particularly Irish songs — one about getting far too drunk on Christmas and the other about tobacco.

Inserted between a couple of  the group’s musical numbers was a video clip that Maloney’s friend, astronaut Cady Coleman, sent him from space  — a recording of her playing a tune … on the flute. It was one of those moments when you realize you have extraordinary people in your midst. At the end of the video, Maloney reminisced in disbelief: “Here we are, 50 years … where have we gone … where have we travelled … in outer space?!” It was this little video clip led to the conception of  the band’s song, “The Chieftains in Orbit.”

Paddy Moloney, Chieftains frontman, also  announced the death of their former member, Martin Fay, who died last year at 76 and was one of the band’s original members. In addition to marking the group’s anniversary, this  tour commemorates the group’s camaraderie with Martin Fay.

Overall, I can say that I’m glad I took the time out of my studying to make the trip to the State Theatre. I have decided that I want to have several weddings in my life, and now, I will make sure that one is in the Irish tradition — The Chieftains will perform.

Original Author: Aditi Bhowmick