The Chieftains
at the Rajah Theater in Reading, PA
(20 March 1999)

There are, arguably, plenty of bands performing and recording today who do Irish music better than the Chieftains. But there's something to be said for legends. I mean, it might be nice to see Mark McGwire swat a few balls someday, but what if you'd had a chance to see Ruth or Aaron while they were still in the game...?

The Chieftains have been keeping Irish traditional music alive and well in the world for the past 37 years. It's safe to say that, without this group of aging musicians, we might not have Enya, Clannad, Riverdance, Leahy or any number of terrific Irish outlets and outgrowths thriving today. So when I heard of the Chieftains concert in nearby Reading, Pa., there was no question but I'd try to get seats. The price, even for a nearly nosebleed view from the balcony in a sold-out house, was worth it.

On the Rajah stage, uilleann pipe and tin whistle player Paddy Moloney held court for a few short hours, wisecracking and poking fun at his bandmates without pause between tunes which proved -- if there was any doubt -- that the Chieftains haven't lost their edge. These boys still love their music and they love sharing it with the world at every opportunity. Their musicianship is as crisp and innovative as ever.

Whether playing lively ensemble pieces or sitting back to let one or another member of the band take his turn in the spotlight, the Chieftains maintained a smooth and steady pace for this evening of music, effortlessly running through old tunes and new arrangements, and sharing the stage with a variety of musical guests including, most notably, fiddle sensation Eileen Ivers. But even Ivers' wild and jazzy approach to the music couldn't distract the audience too long from the stars of this show. Besides Moloney, the band is Matt Molloy on flute, Sean Keane and Martin Fay on fiddle, Kevin Conneff on vocals and bodhran, and Derek "Ding Dong" Bell on harp, keyboards and a climactic ragtime piano.

The music was over too quickly, but people left the Rajah with broad smiles and the memory of touching, even briefly, a legend in the Irish music field.

[ by Tom Knapp ]