When The Chieftains decided to name their current U.S. tour “The Irish Goodbye,” many in the music press seized on that moniker to be hinting that this is their farewell trek. It wouldn’t come as a surprise – they’ve been at it since 1962, and the current trio has been together since the mid-’70s.
But founder and piper Paddy Moloney says it isn’t so.
“Don’t know what all the hubbub’s about,” he says. “An Irish g’bye just means I hope to shake your hand the next time I see ya.”
There’s a reason people keep coming back to see The Chieftans. Moloney had a clear vision about the sound he sought from the very beginning.
“I could hear the sound I wanted in my mind in my teens, long before it actually happened,” he explains. “It was a special sound that I wanted.”
In the beginning, the band held to this vision as traditional Irish folk purists. But over time, their horizons expanded – then expanded over and over again – culminating in them touching nearly every musical genre in some way, without straying from that distinct tone for almost 60 years.
And what a ride it has been. Six Grammys and 18 nominations. An Emmy. A BBC Lifetime Achievement award. Forty-five albums. And collaborations with nearly 60 musicians from all walks of musical life – Ry Cooder, Sting, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello, opera star Luciano Pavarotti and film score wizard John Williams among them.
The current tour, like all Chieftains’ tours, is populated with as much musical eclecticism, diversity and tradition as heard in their recorded efforts. There are four traditional step dancers, a harpist, strings, local choir singers and pipe and drum bands, and an extraordinary fiddler who plays jigs and reels.
Throughout it all, though, the fire of the motherland’s songs rings out loud and clear.
“I’m very happy that we’ve not lost the torch of the traditional flame of Irish and Scottish music,” Moloney says. “I look at all the singers, dancers and players onstage with us at the end and I can’t help but think, ‘Maybe we’ve won.’ It’s one big extended family thing.”
THE CHIEFTAINS 8pm Thursday, Feb. 27. Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $69-$89. 620-2048, sunsetcenter.org.