Ireland to Campus

Cherish the Ladies Brought the Sounds of Ireland to Campus

Pollak Theatre hosted An Irish Homecoming last Friday night showcasing the many talents of all-woman Irish jig band, Cherish The Ladies, featuring Grammy-nominated vocalist Maura O’Connell.

The lobby was filled with people before the doors were open, families and friends sharing kisses and laughter, couples drinking coffee while conversing about their day as everybody waited anxiously for the doors to open.

There were a select few wearing green, sticking out like five leaf clovers. One elderly woman chose her Kelly green knit dress for the evening, everybody seemed overly excited for the concert.

Sam Tobias, of Matawan, is a jazz musician and had seen Cherish the Ladies perform at Pollak Theatre before, and fell in love with Irish music that night. He has since tried incorporating Irish music into his jazz playing.

“I’m very excited to see them again,” said Tobias. “I went through a phase where I started wearing an Irish cap and I spoke an Irish accent for a while. I probably will tonight after seeing them.”

After the doors were open and the auditorium was filled, Cherish the Ladies took the Kelly green stage and bandleader and flutist, Joanie Madden asked the crowd, “You ready for some Irish music?” The band leaps into their first song off their latest album Country Crossroads as Madden played a tin whistle, shaking her head in joy and stomping her feet, just as excited as everyone else for what the evening held. Within less than minute the audience couldn’t help but feel compelled to clap along.

Just when the audience thought nothing could make them happier, four Irish step dancers jumped onto the stage. Their feet moved quickly like the fingers of guitarist Mary Googan and fiddler Graine Murphy, tapping a percussion that mixed well with the lively music. Pianist Kathleen Boyle rounded the rest of Cherish the Ladies, each set in a trance as they played.

The audience gave a roaring applause and Madden thanked them for their enthusiasm. She said she’s glad to be back at Pollak Theatre after being away for so long. She was a great host, telling jokes and stories in between songs that kept the audience very entertained.

Cherish the Ladies changed the pace in their next song called “We Dreamed Our Dreams” featuring vocals by bodhran player, Deirdre Connolly. The song was somber but sweet song with Connolly’s beautiful voice, bringing any Irish man to the brink of tears.

The evening was filled with plenty of sprightly music as Boyle played the piano elegantly while Googan was flawless. Murphy and accordionist Mirella Murray were each set in a trance as they played. Madden just couldn’t seem to hide the smile on her face as she played her flute.

Eventually they were joined by “One of the greatest voices to come out of Ireland,” as Madden introduced Maura O’Connell. Together they performed Teddy O’Neil, a slow moving piece with O’Connell’s smoky vocals, and Irish Blues with Madden’s brother John joining the group on drums.

Jerry O’Sullivan is the last musician to join the party, lending his skills and talent on the uilleann pipes, better known as the traditional Irish pipes.

As they play the audience could picture the fields of green with rivers streaming and the mist rolling down the mountains. Then they were sucked into a celebration at the local pub as the band played gallantly. The only thing missing was some Irish beer.

There was a small intermission and merchandise was set up on tables in front of the doors with t-shirts and plenty of CDs to accompany the long journey to Ireland. Fans surrounded the table, intently inspecting the album artwork and the selection of songs, judging which would be the best choice.

Bob Steiner of Red Bank didn’t know what to expect when he came to the event as he was invited by Vaune Peck, Counselor and Coordinator of Arts Programming and Promotion, but was purely delighted at what he discovered.

“I’ve listened to Irish music before but I never went to an Irish concert before,” said Steiner. “It’s unique and very uplifting.”

After intermission, Cherish the Ladies kept the high spirits going throughout the evening by first playing “The American Wake.” Madden explained the song dealt with the Irish coming over the Atlantic Ocean, “So that we can have a better life here in America.”

It was such a moving piece that had a feeling of sadness and longing, but hope for something great such as imagining the sight of Lady Liberty as the ship steers its way through fog.

They played some sparkling songs that kept the audience clapping throughout the rest of the set, including one Madden wrote in Ireland called “The Wave and The Spade,” which was dedicated to University President Paul Gaffney.

Cherish the Ladies held the best for last, as they had the full band on stage playing happily and were joined by the Irish step dancers. The dancers’ feet soared through the air as they dance around the stage. Even at the end of the show, Madden was still stomping her feet and the musicians continued to play effortlessly.

Deanna Kreger was ushering for the evening and had seen Cherish the Ladies last year, asking to work the event this year to see them again.

“It’s not just for people that like Irish music, it’s for everybody to enjoy and it’s fun,” said Kreger, a senior. “Joanie is really interesting and keeps it lively. I was really excited to see them again.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Cherish the Ladies