It’s Irish time and musicians are all over the land. Tucson has plenty of local Irish music makers, but this year we also have one of the most celebrated Irish bands in the world, Lúnasa, coming to town.
Since late February, they have been traveling all over the United States and Canada, visiting no fewer than 31 cities. We haven’t seen Lúnasa in Tucson since 2015 and, lucky for us, the gang is coming here on Sunday March 19, St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
An “Irish Dream Team,” Lúnasa is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Over those many years, they’ve played more than 2,000 shows in 36 countries. Their repertoire covers the gamut of Celtic traditions, not only from Ireland but also from Brittany in France, and Galicia and Asturias in Spain. They took their name from a Celtic harvest festival dedicated to the ancient god, Lugh, traditionally held on Aug. 1. The story is that Lugh himself first held the festival to honor his mother, Tailtiu, a goddess of agriculture.
The five band members play an array of instruments. Kevin Crawford, their gregarious front man, is on flute, tin whistle, and bodhran, the Irish hand drum. Crawford, born in Birmingham, England, now lives in County Clare, a county famous for nurturing traditional Irish players.
Cillian Vallely, a man from County Armagh in Northern Ireland, is Lúnasa’s prized uilleann piper, the unique Irish bagpipes. The pipes have drones backing the melody, giving the instrument its haunting sound. His parents, Brian and Eithne Vallely founded the legendary Armagh Pipers Club. Cillian carries on the time-honored tradition. Surprisingly, he also has shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen, Mary Chapin Carpenter and others of the like.
Trevor Hutchinson, another man from the north, hails from County Trevor. He was one of the band’s founders. On stage, he stands behind the upright double bass, an instrument uncommon in traditional Celtic music.
Ed Boyd, was born in Bath, England, where he still lives. Boyd joined the band in 2012 and is a fine acoustic guitar player. Like all his bandmates in Lúnasa, he also plays in other groups. His band, Flook, earned a BBC nomination for Best Folk Album in 2019.
Sean Smyth, who co-founded the band with Hutchinson so many years ago, is from County Mayo. An Irish band has to have a fiddle, and he provides one. Smyth’s fiddle, as well as his tin whistle, have won him All-Ireland championships. He has appeared on a slew of Celtic recordings, including one with Matt Molloy and Brendan O’Regan.
Smyth, a medical doctor, is among Ireland’s heroes. He put down his instruments during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic to tend to the sick. Lúnasa went back on the road for a few small shows last year, but the current tour is their most ambitious outing since before the pandemic started.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday, March 19
WHERE: Pima Community College Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road, Tucson
COST: Tickets start at $25
INFO: 520-981-1475, lunasamusic.com
Don’t forget Tucson’s local St. Patrick’s Day favorites. On Friday March 17, the big day itself, three alums from the beloved Mollys share a bill at the House of Bards for their annual St. Patrick’s Day Party. Singer and mandolin player, Catherine Zavala, leads the band Minute2Minute, who will open the show at 6:30. Nancy McCallion and Friends, with Nancy on guitar and vocals, will follow a little later. The Friends include Dan Sorenson, their former bandmate, and all three will eventually share the stage to end the night. House of Bars is located at 4912 E. Speedway Boulevard, Tucson. Cover is $8. Visit houseofbards.com for more information.
Over at Monterey Court, also on Friday, the Celtic Minstrels, take the stage from 6 to 7:15 p.m. to open for the Bad News Blues Band. The Celtic Minstrels are Don Gest on flute, tin whistle and drum, Anton Shekerdziev, on guitar and bouzouki, and William Don Carlos, on fiddle and vocals. Monterey Court sits at 505 W. Miracle Mile, Tucson. Cover is $12 for both bands. For more information, call 520-207-2429 or visit montereycourtaz.com.
And on Saturday morning, March 18, head on out to the Oro Valley Marketplace, 12155 N. Oracle Road, to see the Tucson Irish trio, Kilfadda, at 11 a.m. Admission is free.
Ireland is certainly known for its music, but it’s also a hotbed for literature and the theater. The Rogue Theatre picks up an Irish play every year at this time. On St. Patrick’s Day weekend, the troupe wraps up Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer,” a dark but funny tale about two brothers. The play is set in a seaside town north of Dublin, where one brother has returned to care for his blind sibling. Mysterious guests arrive to dredge up old animosities. The show runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday as well as Sunday, there’s a matinee at 2 p.m.
The Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Boulevard, Tucson. General admission is $42. Call 520-551-2053 or visit theroguetheatre.org for more information.