The musicians in the traditional Irish band Goitse are young—so young that they had to miss their college graduation last summer to go on their first American tour.
"It was great fun anyway," accordion player Tadhg Ó Meachair said by phone from Maine last week. In Peoria, Ill., on their graduation day, "We rang our friends back home, and they gave us a massive cheer."
For their second American tour, which brings them to Tucson's Berger Performing Arts Center this Saturday, Feb. 25, the 20-something musicians had to leave behind their youngest member. Banjo player James Harvey is still enrolled at the band's alma mater, the University of Limerick, and "he has his thesis due next week," Ó Meachair said sympathetically.
No matter. The other musicians of Goitse (Irish for "come here") have enlisted fellow Limerick grad Dave Curley, a singer who plays banjo and mandolin, to fill in for Harvey. Joining Curley on vocals will be Áine McGeeney, who also plays fiddle. Colm Phelan plays bodhrán, the Celtic drum, and Conal O'Kane handles guitar. At Berger, Tucson's Tir Conaill dancers will join the band onstage to do a little step-dancing and soft shoe.
O'Kane is a Philadelphia native, the lone American in the Irish Goitse bunch.
"His dad was from Donegal," Ó Meachair said, and O'Kane spent childhood summers in his father's hometown, learning fiddle and banjo. In his late teens, he returned to Ireland to perfect his music. Like his future band mates, he enrolled in the University of Limerick's well-regarded Irish World Academy of Music and Dance.
Goitse debuted as a student pickup band for a charity event.
"We had a bit of a spark," Ó Meachair said, speaking in a heavy Irish brogue. "We decided to form a band. Now we're nearly four years at it."
They released their debut CD Goitse in 2010, and have been in demand ever since at Ireland's traditional festivals. The old music is "as strong as it's ever been in Ireland," Ó Meachair said. But like many younger bands, Goitse creates music that is "traditional with a twist. We all have our own influences. We listen to a wide range of music."
They play older tunes as well as their own compositions, and the new work, he said, "has a contemporary feel without losing sight of its roots."
In the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day, there'll be Irish music galore in Tucson. See below for a sampling; check the music listings for club gigs, and visit www.tucsonirishcommunity.com for other events.
The Rogue Theatre, though, takes a different tack, celebrating the Irish gift for language.
Friday night, Rogue opens The New Electric Ballroom. Written in 2005 by Irishman Enda Walsh, a prolific playwright whose musical stage version of Once opens on Broadway this spring, The New Electric Ballroom is a tragi-comedy set in a remote Irish fishing village. Two sisters in their 60s spend each day regretting and re-living their failed shots at romance when they were young.
Reviewing a Brooklyn production in 2009, The New York Times' Charles Isherwood called it a "mordantly funny, weirdly transfixing play," with characters who "spout language as if it were blood pouring from an arterial wound."
Walsh has said that he's conscious of the brilliant Irish playwrights who preceded him.
"I always feel when I'm writing as if I have all those great Irish writers around me, and echoes of Irish plays," he told a reporter for the Irish Voice in 2009, "but my own work comes out the way they come out. There's a great big sort of blender that goes on, and something new is formed."
Directed by Bryan Rafael Falcón, the Rogue production stars Cynthia Meier, Cynthia Jeffery, Laura Lippman and Joseph McGrath.
The play previews at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23, and opens at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 24. Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights; and at 2 p.m., Sunday afternoons, through March 11, at the Rogue Theatre at the Historic YMCA, 300 E. University Blvd. Regular tickets are $30; preview tickets are $23; half-price nights are Thursday, March 1 and 8; student rush tickets are $15, pending availability, 15 minutes before curtain. A musical preshow by 12 Measures of Interest takes place 15 minutes before curtain; www.theroguetheatre.org; 551-2053.
If you want to practice your Irish dancing before the St. Patrick's rush, try Chris McGrory's adult ceili class. McGrory is associated with the prize-winning Tir Conaill dancers, but he gently leads inexperienced adults through Irish social dances on the last Monday of every month. Check it out from 7:30 to 9 p.m., Monday, Feb. 27; 4580 E. Broadway Blvd.; $5; 991-3605.
Neophyte dancers will be glad for the lessons if they go to the Emerald Ball, a charity gala put on the Emerald Isle Society. The busy young dancers of Tir Conaill will give a performance, and so will their teacher, Michael Patrick Gallagher, formerly of Riverdance, but galagoers will get up and dance themselves when the Mulligans band plays Irish music. The event benefits Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Southern Arizona, and the Pima Council on Aging. A $125 ticket covers dinner, dancing and performances, at 6 p.m., Saturday, March 3, at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa, 3800 W. Starr Pass Blvd.; www.emeraldislesociety.org; 360-0729.
You may get a glimpse of new Mayor Jonathan O'Rothschild at the annual St. Patrick's Day Mayor's Luncheon, hosted by Tucson-Roscommon Sister Cities. The corned-beef-and-cabbage fest is on the day before St. Paddy's, at 11:30 a.m., Friday, March 16, at the Manning House, 450 W. Paseo Redondo; $25; reservations at 770-0714.
Irishman John Doyle charmed Tucsonans a half-dozen years ago with his stories and guitar-playing, and he returns on St. Patrick's Eve, this time with former bandmates in the acclaimed Solas: Karan Casey on vocals and John Williams on accordion, concertina, tin whistle and bodhrán. The reunion show is at 8 p.m., Friday, March 16, at Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Advance tickets are $25 regular admission, and $23 for seniors and members of Tucson Friends of Traditional Music; online for a fee at www.inconcerttucson.com; and at (800) 595-4849. It's $3 more for tickets at the door.
St. Patrick's Day, March 17, conveniently falls on a Saturday this year. The 25th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade takes a new route this year, beginning at 11 a.m. at the shamrock painted on the street at the corner of Pennington Street and Stone Avenue, before ending at El Presidio Park. Mike Haggerty, a founder of the parade and a former Tucson City Council member, is the marshal. To honor the millions who perished in the Irish famine of the late 1840s, festival and paradegoers are asked to donate nonperishable food to the Community Food Bank at stations set up along the route.
The companion St. Patrick's Day Festival likewise is in a new location downtown, at El Presidio Park, 160 W. Alameda St. The party offers live music and dance, children's activities, food and merchandise. A few attractions open at 10 a.m., then take a break for the parade at 11 a.m. Tim Prendiville kicks off the live performances with a prayer at 12:15 p.m., and the show goes on until 5. Dancers include the ubiquitous Tir Conaill, accompanied by Chris McGrory, as well as the Maguire Academy and Kelly Dancers. Scatter the Dust, Neal Flint, Out of Kilters, Púca, Aris and the Dusty Buskers provide the music; tucsonstpatricksday.com.
The day after St. Patrick's Day, AwenRising extends the holiday with a concert, A Celtic Celebration of Song and Sound, at 3 p.m., Sunday, March 18, at Christ Presbyterian Church, 6565 E. Broadway Blvd. Tickets are $12 and $15 at the door. The acoustic chamber ensemble blends voices and instruments; the vocalists will sing works in Irish and English, including "The Rune of St. Patrick," a new composition by Robert Hanshaw, a young Tucson composer.
Finally, almost a week after St. Patrick's, the band Púca—consisting of Dave Firestine (mandolin) and Claire Jamieson Zucker (vocals and bodhran), formerly of Round the House—reprise their festival gig with Irish and American music from 7 to 10 p.m., Friday, March 23, at Canyon's Crown Restaurant and Pub, 6958 E. Tanque Verde Road; www.canyonscrown.com; 885-8277.