Back in 2005, Kevin Crosby was working for an Irish-themed hotel in the U.S. when he became horrified at the Irish music he heard there. Having grown up in a musical family in Galway, the business student had a deep appreciation for Irish music and its tradition, and he felt that what he was seeing and hearing in America was no more than a lot of clichés.
“I was very embarrassed in seeing how Irish culture was being portrayed in the U.S. and North America,” says Crosby, who went on to co-found the high-octane, touring show Celtic Crossroads. “At the same time, my brother Eamon was in Australia and, when we came back to Ireland, he’d had a similar experience, so we decided to put on a street show and put together a unique collection of music and dance.”
Although not performers themselves, the brothers teamed up with friend and multi-instrumentalist Michael McClintock, now the show’s musical director, and created a fun, summer-time street performance, which soon burgeoned through word of mouth.
The show fused traditional Irish music, such as ballads, jigs and reels, with blue-grass, gypsy and jazz and traced the history of Irish music and its influence on the world. From the start, the blend was a hit.
“In 2007, we became quite ambitious and decided to take it on tour. We never dreamed that it would turn into a show of worldwide audiences at some of the biggest stages,” says Crosby, who is also the show’s producer.
Today, the Celtic Crossroads troupe is gearing up for its sixth tour of North America. The cast includes some of the best new talent out of Ireland. Among the seven musicians, three dancers and 32 instruments currently in the show, Lisa Canny, a multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer from Co. Mayo has won seven All-Ireland first place titles in the Fleadh Ceoil on both banjo and harp. Bodhrán player Diarmaid Hurley won the All-Ireland Championship in 2002. Other performers include Kate Moloney, an accomplished accordion and flute player, Shaunessy Sinnett, an award-winning dancer, and Charlene Morrison, a dancer and much-lauded classical pianist.
Carolyn Franks, director of the Whatley Center for the Performing Arts in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, saw Celtic Crossroads at Arts Midwest and knew she had to bring the group to her own venue.
“I just loved what I was seeing. The amount of musicianship is extremely appealing, plus the variety of the show – being vocal, instrumental and dance – is wonderful,” she says.
That’s something that staff and patrons at Wolf Trap, America’s National Park for the Performing Arts, have known for years. “I jumped on the bandwagon when they did their first U.S. tour and they have played here almost every time since,” says Peter Zimmerman, director of program and production for the Virginia-based foundation. “We have another two shows coming up in 2013.”
Many of the performers have known each other for a long time, which helps when they’re on the road.
“The Irish music scene is quite a close-knit community, so quite often some of the cast members have known each other since childhood,” says bodhrán-player, Hurley. “The main thing I love about it is I’m travelling, living, and playing music with a really good bunch of close friends who all come from different places and lives, but who came together through the love of the music.”
Crosby says that no two shows are ever the same and he relies on the improvisational creativity of the cast. The musicians often work on fresh material as they travel.
For Marcus Donnelly, the show’s dance director, the constant stream of new material is what keeps Celtic Crossroads challenging for all involved.
“Every show is live and there is an energy and excitement which comes with having to perform on time every time,” he says. “Working with the boys and girls of Celtic Crossroads has been a rollercoaster ride through hell and high water, from busking on the smallest streets of my hometown in the west of Ireland to sold-out arenas across North America.”
As their winter tour begins, Celtic Crossroads remains focused on bringing authentic Irish music to their audiences. ~ By Keith Loria