Irish folk band The Chieftains bring Irish culture, joy to Hancher

Grammy Award-winning Irish folk band The Chieftains lit up Hancher on Wednesday night with traditional Irish music and dancing.


Naomi Hofferber, Senior Reporter

A pitch from Paddy Maloney’s small tin whistle filled Hancher auditorium, light and fluttery, as his seat was lit by an overhead light on stage. One by one, instruments joined Maloney in his tune, and Grammy Award-winning Irish folk band The Chieftains made their presence known.

The band, which has been performing for 58 years, lit up Hancher Auditorium on Wednesday night with traditional Irish tunes, dancing, and even a story all the way from outer space.

The night began with a slideshow of photos showcasing The Chieftains throughout their history, a history which includes such accomplishments as performing on the Great Wall of China, playing the Capitol Building in DC, and playing before Queen Elizabeth II.

While The Chieftains’ roster has changed throughout the past 58 years, it regularly features Paddy Maloney, the founder of the band who plays the tin whistle and uilleann pipes, Kevin Conneff, who plays the bodhran and sings, and Matt Molloy, a flautist.

Wednesday night, four other musicians, armed with violins, a guitar, a harp, a piano, an accordian, and a saxaphone, joined the trio to perform a variety of traditional Irish songs.

Each song would spill into the next; a sad or peaceful slower tune would, in a blink, turn upbeat and wild. Audience members moved in their seats to the music, nodding or clapping along as the band offered a variety of tunes.

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Nearly every song was punctuated with stomping feet, clapping hands, or a variety of dancers brought out on stage, who emphasized the sheer energy and joy radiating from the music. The crowd clapped along, entranced as the Polanski brothers, John and Nathan, battled in a wild dance off, legs twisting in tight precision with the music, tapping out a wild beat with their feet

After every few songs, The Chieftains would bring out a new surprise for the audience, whether it was an impressive army of bagpipers in the form of pipe band Turlach Ur, a fleet of Irish dancers from The Champagne Academy of Irish Dance, a UI choir, or traditional singers and dancers who seemed to appear out of the woodwork to put on a beautiful display of Irish culture.

At one point in the show, Maloney explained his connection to NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, who brought Maloney’s tin whistle and Molloy’s flute into space with her. A video screened of Coleman playing the instruments, which the full band played along with, for a piece that was literally out of this world.

The hour and a half performance flew by, often driven by a lively, frantic beat, leading up to a finale in which everyone was given a solo to showcase their talents, singers and dancers alike, and an eventual encore, in which the audience was encouraged to get up and clap and move to the music, as dancers circled into the audience.