The Chieftains at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts

The lobby of the George Mason University’s Center for the Arts was a sea of emerald green yesterday, with enthusiastic fans of all ages in more tweed than at an academic convention. The Chieftains played at the GMU Center for the Arts on Sunday, March 16, 2014, for a full and excited house. The afternoon was a showcase of not only their Irish music, but also Irish culture and dance.

The Chieftains. Photo courtesy of George Mason University.
The Chieftains. Photo courtesy of George Mason University.

Saying that The Chieftains are a grand success is an understatement. Ireland’s officially named Musical Ambassadors, celebrating their 52nd year together, have won six Grammys, were the first group to perform a concert in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and the first Western group to perform on the Great Wall of China. Since 1962, The Chieftains have celebrated varied musical collaborations throughout their history, from top folk musicians in Ireland, to more recent collaborations with Mexican and Mexican-American musicians for their 2010 album, San Patricio. The Chieftains continue to enthrall and delight audiences with traditional and bold surprises.

Last night’s performance was no exception. Paddy Moloney, the group’s founder and uilleann pipes and tin whistle player, welcomed the audience in Irish, eliciting laughs and applause. They opened with a fun, fast-paced tune, and audience members started bopping in their seats almost immediately. The group clearly enjoyed performing together, sharing smiles and jokes onstage.

Singer Alyth McCormack also joined The Chieftains onstage, lending her lovely and unique voice to “Carrickfergus” and a few puirt-à-beul, or Scots Gaelic “mouth songs.”  The fast and rhythmic Scots Gaelic tunes included topics like drinking too much at Christmastime and the price of tobacco. It was incredible to hear her spin out the words so quickly and effortlessly, and the green-bedecked audience gobbled it up.

The Chieftains also performed a song they were asked to write for a documentary about Nelson Mandela—“a friend,” Mr. Moloney said. He referred to the piece that started out as a dignified salute, and turned into a driving and rhythmic melody, as a “troublemaker jig.” Selections also included a lament to founding member Sean Potts, who passed away last month, and a piece that showcased each musician in the group with a solo. Each Chieftain member’s personality shone when it was their turn to play, with Canadian Jon Pilatzke’s grating fiddle playing, Matt Molloy’s airy flute, Tim Edey’s guitar accompaniments and sassy accordion, Paddy Moloney’s pipes and tin whistle, and Tara Breen’s plucky and cheeky tune. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear Trion Marshall’s harp playing—I didn’t know the hard could be so exciting and toe tapping!

The audience also thoroughly enjoyed brothers Nathan and Jon Pilatzke and Cara Butler’s Irish dancing sprinkled throughout the performance. The dancers brought an extra spark of Irish culture to Fairfax, with Ms. Butler as The Chieftains’ longtime principal female dancer and the Pilatzke brothers with their Ottawa Valley step dancing.

I also appreciated the community aspect that The Chieftains included—a local bagpipe company, a local Irish dance company, and singers from the George Mason University choir added to and rounded out the performance.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Chieftains played  on March 16, 2014 at the George Mason University Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive, in Fairfax, VA. For future events and performances, check their event calendar.

The Chieftains’ website.


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