With a population of around 5 million, Ireland seems to punch above its weight class when it comes to popular music and other cultural influences.
I recently spoke to John Condron, one of more than 30 talented musicians, singers and other entertainers headlining “A Shamrockin’ Good Time with Tim Placher and Friends” at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet.
Placher is an award-winning former columnist for the Daily Southtown who teaches choir to middle school students. He’s rounded up some of the area’s top talent for previous shows featuring songs by Buddy Holly, Prince, the Traveling Wilburys and other themes. Last summer, he composed a series of prison-themed songs at a one-day festival at the Old Jail in Joliet.
This time it’s music with Irish ties, sounds that seem to move the soul and spirit like no other genre. The beauty of Irish music could be linked to the resilience of a nation that overcame famine, war and other hardships.
The performers on Friday’s show are local, but the caliber of talent is world-class. Gavin Coyle, for example, grew up in Derry, Ireland. Her amazing voice can give you chills. Coyle won the All Ireland Singing Competition aged 14.
It was the same age he first visited America as part of a program that sought to provide peaceful alternatives for children in war-torn Northern Ireland. He became a permanent resident of the United States in 1995.
Condron co-wrote, performed and recorded a song with well-known Irish artists Mickey Harte and Paul Brady, sometimes referred to as the Bob Dylan of Ireland. Their track “Come Gather All” was an official campaign anthem for the Donegal Gathering 2013, a tourism promotion.
A list of notable musicians supports Coyle, Condron and other talented singers. The show features violinists Katie Bern-Gordon, conductor at Century Junior High School in Orland Park, and Anne Hatfield-Martin. Hatfield-Martin and his sister, Mary Hatfield, both toured as fiddlers with Michael Flatley’s production of “Lord of the Dance.”
Max Dunne of Evergreen Park plays the flute and the uilleann flute, a type of bagpipe. Steve Haberichter plays the mandolin. Readers may know Haberichter as owner of Down Home Guitars in Frankfurt and founder of the award-winning Frankfurt Bluegrass Festival, which returns to Breidert Green on July 9 and 10 for its 10th anniversary.
I was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall during rehearsals. I play acoustic guitar on a few songs as an unpaid contributor. My parts are simple and help provide a platform for the most talented performers to shine.
The show features both traditional and contemporary Irish music. On the traditional side, there are interpretations of standards like “Danny Boy”. The event features Irish dancers, pipers and other entertainment to help carry the St. Patrick’s Day celebration through the weekend.
Several students from Placher’s choir will perform “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, a classic popularized by Bing Crosby in 1939. “Red Is the Rose” is a beautiful lilting ballad. “Miss Otis Regrets” is a 1934 Cole Porter number about the fictional lynching of a socialite who murders her unfaithful lover.
The contemporary figures help to realize the big impact the relatively small country of Ireland has had on rock music. Local rock band Arbor Creek will perform some songs from Thin Lizzy, a quartet that rocked American airwaves during the height of the 1970s album era.
Audience members will hear performances of songs from The Boomtown Rats and The Pogues, fun bands that helped define the punk and new wave sounds of the 1980s. The show features some songs from The Cranberries, a wonderful ensemble led by the late Dolores O’Riordan.
Irish rock music heavyweights Van Morrison and U2 are of course in the spotlight. The show offers a few hours of sensational family entertainment in the majestic setting of a 1920s vaudeville theatre.
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I am amazed at how Ireland has produced so many famous singers, musicians and composers. Condron hosts a weekly gathering of locals who create traditional Irish music every Monday night at the Hughie McClafferty pub and restaurant in downtown Lemont.
I am of Polish origin. With a population of over 38 million, Poland is nearly eight times larger than Ireland. Yet it seems Poland hasn’t produced a world-famous musician since the days of pianist Frederic Chopin (1810-1849).
Polish cuisine is delicious, we have colorful traditional clothes and celebrate our cultural heritage like all other nations. We have a strong presence in the Chicago area, which is why Illinois celebrates Pulaski Day in March. But Poland cannot compete with Ireland in terms of popular music and culture.
I have to hand it over to Ireland. The country has produced many talented performers and composers who have spread joy to the world through the gift of music.
As well as showcasing local talent and celebrating Irish heritage, Friday’s event will benefit the Rialto Square Theater Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the historic venue and its outreach activities. Sponsors include the Irish American Society of County Will, which presents the annual Manhattan Irish Fest. To visit rialtosquare.com for tickets and more information.
Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.