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Celtic Crossroads and the 'real' Ireland
"It's not like we all sing ‘Danny Boy' around the dinner table back home"
Michael McClintock is one of the world's fastest fiddle players. - photo by Celtic Crossroads

You’ve seen those big, flashy Irish shows that air over PBS, and occasionally blow through town: A lot of costumed step–dancing to dreamy, New Age–y music. A synthesized wash of Celtic–sounding melodies, an air choir, and a couple of live fiddles and maybe a bodhran to give it “authenticity.” A jig here, a reel there, and a lot of lonesome laments.

The Emerald Isle is big business these days; each year, the performing arts community grows with yet another variation on the green theme, each successive show getting one step further from the music’s real roots.

If that’s your thing, great. Those productions are often quite entertaining Celtic Crossroads – appearing Saturday at the Lucas Theatre – takes a different approach to Irish music performance.

Seven musicians, each of them proficient on numerous instruments, just play and sing. Sure, they dance, and sure, they move around a lot; it’s a high energy concert. But with Celtic Crossroads, the music is what it’s all about.

“Back in the times when Ireland was under the rule of the English monarchy, playing and practicing the traditional arts of Ireland was banned,” points out Kevin Crosby, who co–founded Celtic Crossroads in Galway City, and now directs and produces the show.

“But traditional Irish musicians are great lawbreakers, as everybody knows, and they used to pull out their instruments from hiding and gather at the crossroads between towns and villages. Because all the towns would be at curfew, and everybody would have to be gone. That’s where the police were patrolling.

“The crossroads, that was where people would get together and dance, sing songs and tell stories into the late hours of the night.”

Crosby and his compatriots also like to say that the word crossroads refers to an intersection of  Celtic and other forms of world music.

“For commercial reasons, we promote it as a traditional Celtic show,” Crosby says, “but once people come into the theater, and once the lights go down, the whole show kicks off and people are just transported into a wholesome world ... their perceptions of what young musicians are, and what they can do onstage, is totally different to the other shows out there.”

For example, fiddler Michael McClintock, who co–founded the group with Crosby, “is the eighth–fastest fiddle player in the world. Not to let any secrets out, but he plays some very, very well–known American bluegrass numbers. And in, I’d say nine out of every 10 shows we do, there’s a standing ovation during the show, after he plays one particular piece. Mid–show ovations are quite common for us.”

Crosby and his brother Eamon (also a company founder) met McClintock in Australia, and through him they discovered gypsy music, jazz, bluegrass and other styles. They invited him to spend the summer in Galway City, to soak up Irish culture.

“We came up with this idea of putting on a show on the streets in Ireland, whereby we would audition people and get the best of the best musicians,” Crosby says.

It was part of another tradition: “When people play sessions in pubs, they swap their instruments around quite a lot, and they learn different styles of music from their friends or family members.”

Delete - Merge Crosby had spent some time in Illinois, in college, and he’d received a first–hand taste of what Americans considered Irish music to be.

“They knew only a few classical tunes,” he recalls. “They didn’t feel what the young musicians coming out of the country were actually bringing, or how alive the tradition was. Over here, people perceived Celtic music as being very acoustic and low–tempo kind of tunes.

“It’s not like we all sing ‘Danny Boy’ around the dinner table back home. There’s such a young, fresh, unique feel to the music at the moment. We wanted to bring that together.”

Saturday’s Savannah show is the final stop on Celtic Crossroads’ 2009 tour. After all that stomping, sawing and swaying – thirsty work, don’t you know – the musicians are liable to go looking for some stress–busting fun.

“Sometimes, after we’ve performed in a performing arts center, we’ll go across the street for a pint after the show,” says Crosby. “And we’ll give in to everybody asking us to play a tune. And then everybody will pull out their instruments, and people will come flooding in from all the rest of the bars around.

“It creates a great sense of community when music is played.”

Celtic Crossroads

Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.

When: At 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24

Tickets: $24–$37

Phone: (912) 525–5050