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Drinking at the Irish Well 

Lovers of Celtic music have plenty to toast this week.

Celtic supergroup Solas celebrates St. Paddy's.
  • Celtic supergroup Solas celebrates St. Paddy's.
Begorra! Time for twentysomethings to don their most garish green togs and plastic derbies, and get rip-snorting drunk in public -- that's a fine old Irish tradition, right?

Actually, no. In Ireland, as a rule, folks don't engage in such tomfoolery. In fact, until tourism became a major industry, the pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick's Day. Green beer? No self-respecting person of Irish ancestry would drink the stuff. As for parades, when Dublin wanted to hold one, it sent representatives to New York, Boston, and Chicago to see how it was done.

If there's one blessing on which everyone can agree, it's that you can count on some great music with which to celebrate Ireland's patron saint. Indeed, there will be four excellent acts with Irish roots passing through this week.

It has been nearly 10 years since Solas released its eponymous debut CD. The band is celebrating with both a DVD and a live CD, due out sometime this spring. Both discs will feature such former Solas members as singer Karan Casey, guitarists John Doyle and Donal Clancy, and accordion player John Williams. "It was quite hard to get so many busy people together for this project," says multi-instrumentalist and founding member Seamus Egan. (Casey and Doyle have healthy solo careers, and Clancy and Williams are in-demand studio stars.) Current Solas members like Egan, fiddler Winifred Horan (the other remaining founding member), and accordionist Mick MacAuley all have side projects as well. Solas has released seven CDs and has morphed from a jigs-and-reels Altan knockoff to a more ballad-oriented folk act. But for every fan the band has lost because it "isn't Irish enough," Solas appears to have picked up two or three more, who are captivated by impeccable musicianship and the lilt of Deirdre Scanlon's vocals. The band plays the Beachland Ballroom Thursday.

Friday promises the Saw Doctors, one of the most bankable Irish acts to play Cleveland over the years. Their sixth album, The Cure, hits shelves Tuesday. It finds the Doctors' core -- guitarists Davy Carton and Leo Moran -- a tad less rowdy than in past years. The music blends nostalgia and a folk-rock feel with a heftier dose of introspection than ever. But don't expect that to ruin your St. Pat's Day party; there should still be plenty of "N17," "Hay Wrap," and "Tommy K" to keep every Mickey and Maureen in the room happy. The Docs still rock out -- and are to Galway what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey. This trip, they'll be joined at the Agora by the Mickeys and Pondering Judd.

Founded by former Cork University student Patrick Murphy, Gaelic Storm, which plays Peabody's Down Under on Saturday, will forever be known as the steerage band in the film Titanic. Like Solas, it's been around for a decade and is marking the milestone with a live CD (from a September show in Chicago). The tradition-inflected act from Santa Monica, California has an international flavor, thanks to the Irish-born Murphy, English guitar player Stephen Twigger, Canadian bagpiper Pete Purvis, and Americans Steve Wehmeyer (bodhran), Ellery Klein (fiddle), and Ryan Lacey (drums). Gaelic Storm has always been a vehicle for Murphy, who can name a former seminary-school instructor, Father Wright (better known today as Finbar Wright of the Three Irish Tenors), as his first musical influence.

Finally, on Sunday, at Mentor High School auditorium, there's Cherish the Ladies (joined by the Makem Brothers), a full-fledged Irish folk act that's been a launching pad for some outstanding musicians. Fiddler Winifred Horan cut her teeth in CTL prior to helping start Solas. Eileen Ivers, best known for her contributions to Riverdance, also saw time in the band. Cathie Ryan, with four CDs of her own under her belt, was a CTL vocalist. It's difficult to believe 19 years later, but when Cherish the Ladies was founded, Irish folk and dance music was strictly a man's game.

"The critics said, 'Here comes a marketing ploy,'" says Joanie Madden, who was there when bandmate Mick Moloney conceived of an act featuring the world's top female Celtic musicians. "They thought we were a cutesy girl band, but obviously, we're here for the long haul. We do 125 cities a year." She's joined by fellow founding members Mary Coogan (guitar, banjo, mandolin) and Mirella Murray (accordion), young fiddle virtuoso Roisin Dillon, and the beautiful, honey-throated Heidi Talbot on lead vocals.

More by Steve Byrne


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