Cherish the Ladies
at the Weinberg Center,
Frederick, Maryland (8 March 2015)

Recently, on a Sunday afternoon, two amazing things happened in Frederick, Maryland: the weather broke and Cherish the Ladies played our restored downtown movie palace, the Weinberg Center. Either one of those events would have been enough to bring happiness to the bitterest of hearts; together they threatened to overwhelm. Each will live pleasantly in our memories.

Of course, the talent in Cherish the Ladies is a little overwhelming anyway. Consisting of Joanie Madden on flutes and whistles, Kathleen Boyle on piano, Mary Coogan on guitar, Mirella Murray on accordion and with Liz Carroll sitting in for Grainne Murphy on fiddle, the band was celebrating its 30th anniversary. They brought everything they had and left it on the stage.

The opening song set the pattern for the night as the irrepressible Madden, spokeswoman and bandleader, launched an extended and hilarious monologue explaining the origin of "The Boat to Bofin," a rollicking jig that featured Madden's whistles and had room for solos by everyone. In the middle of the song, the stepdancers took the stage and, since all three of the dancers had won world competitions, showed us what championship dancing looked like. Joanie introduced them as "the men in our lives."

It was an Irish gathering in that it featured storytelling and humor almost as much as music.

The band followed up the dancing with a medley of O'Carolan tunes, after which Maura O'Connell took the stage and sang. O'Connell, who is to singing what Judy Dench is to acting, brought down the house.

And that's the way the afternoon went. Maura O'Connell had promised it was going to be a real hooley (an Irish party), and it was. Joanie served as ringleader, making sure each member of the band and each guest got their showcase, while ensuring that the audience got its maximum share of pleasure, all the while keeping up a steady stream of wisecracks and jokes. Her take on the Celtic Woman PBS specials was worth the price of admission alone.

After 30 years together, Cherish the Ladies is nothing if not a well-oiled machine. Many acts who have been touring that long tend to walk through it, just to show up and go through the motions so they can be adored. Not this band. After all these years, they still bring everything they've got to the performance and they've got it all. They know each other and each others' playing styles intimately and can play off of each other, supporting each other beautifully. In this band, the ensemble is the star.

Cherish the Ladies are also masters at building a set. They vary the pace, alternating between band numbers, showcasing the dancers and Maura O'Connell's singing, moving from ballads to uptempo numbers so that the show always remains unpredictable yet has a logical progression.

They played a full two hours but still managed to leave the audience wanting more. In all, the Cherish the Ladies show is like a good dessert: tasty, satisfying, lingering pleasantly in your memory but not leaving you feeling you indulged too much.

by Michael Scott Cain
16 May 2015