Cherish the Ladies
at Long's Park,
Lancaster, PA,
(6 August 2006)

It was Ladies night at Long's Park, and the crowd was dancing 'til the moon went down.

Cherish the Ladies, one of the world's most accomplished Irish traditional bands and the first to take the international stage with an all-female lineup, filled Long's Park with music for a nearly balmy Sunday evening's performance.

The Ladies were the 10th of the park's 13-week concert series. Event organizers estimated 8,000 people in the crowd.

And everyone seemed hooked, right from gregarious band leader Joanie Madden's first "Hello, Lancaster" through the very last set of reels.

"I hope you're in the mood for some Irish music, because that's all we know how to do," she announced.

Madden, although sired by Irish natives and a leading force in Irish music, has an unmistakable Bronx accent that delighted the crowd.

"We're Rosie O'Donnell and the Celtic Spice Girls," she roared at one point in the program.

Madden led the way into the first set with a piercingly clear pennywhistle on melody, switching to the pure sound of a silver flute as the tempo picked up a few moments later.

A founder of the band 20 years ago, when Cherish the Ladies was formed for a one-off spotlight performance in New York City, Madden has continued to direct the band's growth through the course of 11 recordings, performances around the world and various changes in personnel.

Mary Coogan, on guitar, sat on Madden's left, and is the other remaining founder left in the band. The rest of the band, seated in an arc across the Long's Park Amphitheater stage, were Belfast native Roisin Dillon on fiddle, guest concertina player Edel Fox from Co. Clare, token Scotswoman Kathleen Boyle on keyboards and Heidi Talbot, from Co. Kildare, on vocals and bodhran.

Talbot, while content to keep the rhythm during the band's popular instrumental sets, held the audience spellbound with her gorgeous vocals. Beginning with "Sweet Thames Flow Softly," a love song by Ewan MacColl, Talbot demonstrated a delicate, but powerful voice that was mesmerizing. Perhaps most chilling of all was "Paddy's Lament," a sad and lonely song from an immigrant's point of view that Talbot sang a cappella to start the second half of the show.

"There is nothing here but war,
where the murderin' cannons roar,
and I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin."

Also in the band's company was a quartet of Irish stepdancers -- Donny Golden, Michael Boyle and sisters Noelle and Sinead Curran -- who kicked up their heels and added lively foot percussion during several tunes.

The audience made their admiration for the precise, graceful dancers plain, and dozens of people joined in on the concrete dance area just off the stage.

Tunes, a mixed bag of traditional and original pieces, ranged from "The Rascal on the Haystack" and "Bonkers in Yonkers" to "The Fairy Queen" and "Woman of the House." Throughout, the Ladies showed a level of polish and perfection that can only come through years of playing.

The musicians played most often as a solid unit of sound, although at times they tossed the melody around a bit, featuring various solo and duo combinations including one number for flute (Madden) and footwork (Golden). Many of the selections this evening came from the band's most recent album, Woman of the House.

As the sun went down and the air cooled into the downright pleasant upper 70s, the dance area became even more crowded. Some dancers showed highly practiced stepdancing skills while others just moved to the music. A few of the best were even pulled onstage by Madden to share their skills with the crowd.

Sitting far in the back, where even Madden was dwarfed by the nearly full moon hanging overhead, Lancaster native Kayli Martin was reliving memories of her childhood.

"I grew up here," Martin, who moved away in 1971 and now lives in Kirkland, Wash., explained. "I used to come to Long's Park when I was a kid. I have very good memories of the place." Home to celebrate her grandmother's 100th birthday, Martin said she doubts she'll make it to any more Long's Park concerts this year. "3,000 miles is a little far."

Les Stoner, from Lebanon, was in the park for a picnic and an evening of music with a group of seven friends. He said the more upbeat sets were to his liking the most. And Mervin Stoltzfus, of Lancaster, said he comes to several Long's Park concerts each summer. "I like this kind of music, and I like the venue," he said.

Madden certainly shared his opinion on the venue.

"This is the most perfect setting," she said, even as she and her bandmates swatted fruitlessly at the many large, dangerous-looking bugs flying around them.

"I'm swallowin' flies as I'm talking," Talbot agreed, as she introduced a "nice and tragic" song about love and poison.

"The flies like Irish music," Madden replied, "that's all I can tell you."

As darkness fell over the grassy field, the concert concluded with the optimistic song "Hard Times Come Again No More," written by American songwriter Stephen Foster and adopted by many Irish singers. A final blast of tunes gave the dancers one last chance to work up a sweat before sending the satisfied crowd home.

by Tom Knapp
26 August 2006

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