After more than 50 years, the Chieftains are still playing strong

CorrespondentFebruary 27, 2014 

The Chieftains, a traditional Irish band, will perform with the North Carolina Symphony at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday night. With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, the band is in demand.

COURTESY OF LAUREN HARNETT — COURTESY OF LAUREN HARNETT

  • Details

    What: The Chieftains with the North Carolina Symphony

    When: 7: 30 p.m. Tuesday

    Where: Meymandi Concert Hall, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

    Cost: $45-$75

    Info: dukeenergycenterraleigh.com

When discussing the longevity of certain musical acts, the Rolling Stones are always cited as the band that seemingly will never retire. It could be said that The Chieftains are just as determined to stay onstage, and, some might argue, more important to the music world.

The traditional Irish band will play Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh on Tuesday night., When discussing his band’s history, founder Paddy Moloney points toward the far reaches of the theatrical world to showcase the group’s influence.

“You know, Michael Flatley started his career dancing for the Chieftains, which led to his creating that ‘Riverdance’ thing, where they all jump up and down,” Moloney says with a laugh.

The 75-year-old leader of the Chieftains says the idea of slowing down has been discussed among the band’s members. But with St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching, their tour manager’s phone just won’t stop ringing. “Everyone is building up to that full week of St. Patrick’s Day, so we are very much in demand.”

Although the band celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, Moloney realizes that not everyone attending Chieftains concerts will be experts when it comes to the group’s history. He welcomes the opportunity to introduce newcomers to a new type of musical experience.

“For those not really familiar with our music, we always do an introduction where we are the only ones that play for the first few songs at the beginning of the show, going over everything we’ve done in the last 52 years,” Moloney says. “Then in the second half, we invite onto the stage our guest musicians and the symphony orchestra. It’s a great program, with some great music.”

Playing onstage with great performers is something The Chieftains have become accustomed to. As the recipients of invitations each year to perform in various foreign countries, they’ve been able to spread their native music far and wide.

“I love to reach out to some musicians we haven’t performed with and attempt to see where a common connection can be found,” Moloney says.

He also says the band is thrilled to play in Raleigh once again and revisit the music increasingly identified with the region.

“We first played Raleigh in 1980, and I enjoyed visiting the area very much,” he says. “If you think about bluegrass, we’ve been mixing that quite a bit lately with our traditional Irish playing and making that kind of connection with the music. There are a lot of bluegrass songs that are originally from Ireland and Scotland, and you can hear it in the music.”

Even with their new musical adventures, the band is still realistic about the future. After all these years of performing, they understand that the day will come when they have to hang up their fiddles.

“I think we’re getting close to that now,” Moloney admits. “When you see us on stage, you’ll notice more young faces accompanying us now. We are helping teach music to anyone that asks, as that is knowledge we would like to pass on.

“Having said that, 10 years ago my wife was asked, ‘Is he ever going to give it up?’, and she responded, ‘Well, I know he’s in rehearsal for retirement.’ But it just continues. Last year, we all swore to each other that we wouldn’t tour the United States past the month of March, but then the dates will just start creeping into the tour calendar.”

Moloney ends with a sigh, “We’re not getting any younger, that’s for sure.”

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