Music Keeps Irish Season Going Even After St. Patrick’s Day

Cherish the Ladies, an all-woman Irish music band, rolls into town Friday, March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s.

“The show is spectacular,” crows Joanie Madden, the Ladies’ founder and its prizewinning flute and tin whistle player. “We’ve been getting standing ovations everywhere,”

The traveling extravaganza of Irish music, song and dance will fill the stage of the Fox Tucson Theatre with a bakers’ dozen of artists. The performers hail from all over the Irish diaspora, coming from the U.S., Canada and Scotland—and Ireland.

Fiddler extraordinaire Liz Carroll, born and bred in the Irish immigrant community in Chicago, is a superstar who played with Altan in Tucson last year. Bronx-born Madden is the daughter of Irish immigrants from Clare and Galway; her father, Joe Madden, was a noted accordionist. Guitarist Mary Coogan, likewise born into the New York immigrant community and to an accordionist father, has been with the Ladies since the band’s start 31 years ago.

Kathleen Boyle, daughter of Irish parents transplanted to Glasgow, plays piano. Of the five Ladies, only accordionist Mirella Murray is from Ireland, from Connemara in the west, the daughter of a traditional sean nós dancer.

Joining the band on their 18-city tour are the singing Ennis Sisters of Newfoundland (“our fans begged me to bring them,” Madden says), percussionist Mark Murphy, and Julie Fitzgerald, a Cape Breton fiddler and champion step dancer. (“She’s amazing.”)

A couple of male step dancers, Jason Oremus and Garrett Coleman, are veterans of Riverdance. Rounding out the dancing crew are five youngsters from Tucson’s own Maguire Academy of Irish Dance.

Growing up among Irish emigres in New York, Madden says, “I heard the music all my childhood, at weddings and house parties for everything from christenings to First Communions.

“My father noticed I had music in me. He tried me on the fiddle and I hated it. He tried me on the piano and I hated it. When I tried the penny whistle I went ballistic over it.”

By the time she was 18, Madden won the prize that led her to create Cherish the Ladies.

“In 1983 a whole pile of us went to compete in the All-Ireland competition,” she says, including noted fiddler Eileen Ivers, then a schoolmate of Madden’s. “Eileen won fiddle. I won flute. A group of us won ceili band. It was an incredible year for the Americans winning championships.”

Mick Moloney, an Irish musician and producer living in Philadelphia, called Madden to congratulate her. “He said, `Did you realize you’re all women? This is a phenomenon. We’ve got to do a concert series.’”

After three sold-out shows in the New York, the pick-up group toured under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts.

“I decided to keep it going as a band,” Madden says, settling on Cherish the Ladies, the title of a popular 18th century jig, as the band’s name.

“Since then, we’ve done 16 albums and toured all over the world,” she says. “We’re going to rock the Fox.”

Want to go? 
Cherish the Ladies
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 18
Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.
Tickets $25 to $40; available at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave., 792-3715; at and 547-3040.

Here are some more Irish music events:
  • Popular local singer-songwriter Nancy McCallion, late of the much-loved Mollies, does a series of St. Patrick’s shows. On the big day itself, she plays outdoors on the Monterey Court patio, teaming up with violinist Heather Hardy and the Wee Band. Corned beef and cabbage are on the menu, natch. 7 p.m., Thursday, March 17, Monterey Court, 505 W. Miracle Mile. $10 at the gate. 207-2429.

  • On Friday night, McCallion and Hardy launch a Wild Irish Dancy Party from 8 to 11 p.m. at the Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave. 690-0991. Former Mollies Gary Mackender and Danny Krieger, and bassist Karl Hoffman also dive in. Guinness on tap.

  • McCallion, Hardy and Krieger stage an Irish Show at Shooters, 3115 E. Prince on Sunday at 2 p.m. 322-0779. 

  • Next week, at the tail end of Irish season, the Scottish band Old Blind Dogs switches things around by playing Celtic music from the eastern side of the Irish Sea. The popular group, anchored by acclaimed singer Aaron Jones, features fiddle, pipes, whistles and percussion instruments. 8 p.m., Saturday, March 26, at Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway. $22; $20 for seniors and Tucson Friends of Traditional Music members. At Antigone Books, The Folk Shop, 2525 N. Campbell, 881-7147 and at, 981-7147.