'You won't have time to blink': The Chieftains to bring award-winning Irish music to York

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch
The Chieftains, a Grammy award winning Irish band, will play at the Strand Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. (Photo courtesy of The Chieftains).

After more than 57 years performing, The Chieftains have played on stages large and small around the globe. The Irish band has graced venues from Carnegie Hall to the Great Wall of China with their spin on traditional Irish tunes.

But when it comes down to it, a stage is a stage to the performers — no matter the size or location. 

"We just love going out into the country and going to little cities and towns that people have heard about us," said Paddy Moloney, founder and leader of band. "We just love to come to the show, and we give the same concert and same enjoyment that we experience when we're playing." 

Moloney and The Chieftains will bring their Grammy Award-winning music to York on Wednesday, Feb. 27. The band will perform at 7:30 p.m. in the Strand Theatre at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts.  Tickets are available online at tickets.appellcenter.org

Moloney is no stranger to York, as his band has performed in the city before. The last time he was in York, he was greeted by a welcome surprise — a call from outer space. 

As he was eating dinner in York, a waiter handed him the phone, Moloney said. It turned out to be Cady Coleman, an Air Force officer who was flying over York at the same time, he said.

Coleman had a penny whistle from Moloney with her up in space. She later sent him a video of her playing it while floating around the aircraft, Moloney said, adding the video will be played during the upcoming show. 

That's just one of the many little surprises planned for the jam-packed show, Moloney said. 

"You won't have time to blink," he said. 

The show isn't just "three of us belting away," he said. It highlights various artists including younger singers, dancers and fiddle players. 

The Chieftains have in the past been joined by rock stars, including The Rolling Stones, and world-renowned symphonies. Although Mick Jagger won't be on the Strand Theatre stage with Moloney, the band will be joined by new artists: local York groups. 

A local pipe band, local choir and local dance group will join The Chieftains during the show, Moloney said. 

In fact, the entire audience will have a chance to get in on the fun, he said.  

"We'd love to invite (the) audience to join us in dance, sort of snake dance around the hall," Moloney said. 

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The energy of performing is what Moloney enjoys most about touring, he said. Once the band is on stage, they could play for three hours straight — which they did in Glasgow, he said. 

With nearly six decades of shows behind him, there are times when Moloney has found himself in precarious situations. It hasn't stopped him from performing. 

Before playing a three-night concert series with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he broke his ankle. But it wasn't an opportunity Moloney was going to turn down.

"I hobbled out of the chair, put on my pipes and got a standing ovation," he said. 

There also was the time The Chieftains played at The Great Wall of China in 1983. They were the first Western musicians to play at the site. 

"I don't know what we were doing there; it was a scorching hot day," Moloney said. 

In the end, each performance brings Moloney one step closer to achieving his original goal when he formed the band — spreading the gospel about great, traditional Irish tunes. 

Though traditional in its roots, the pieces The Chieftains perform differ from the classics. "I had my own way of putting together medleys of tunes," Moloney said. 

Moloney has been recognized for his efforts in many ways. In addition to the band's six Grammy Awards, they've won an Emmy, a Genie and contributed to an Oscar-winning movie score. Recently, Moloney was awarded a gold medal from the King of Spain, he said. 

The physical rewards are nice, but they're not what keeps Moloney going. When he hits the stage with his band, that's when "it's all worthwhile." 

"Among musicians and singers, it's a great thing once we get together to make music," he said. "The excitement is always there." 

— Rebecca Klar can be reached at rklar@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_