World is not enough for them

Maybe space is next: Irish band the Chieftains throws bluegrass, Mexi-Euro fusion into shows

February 18, 2011 

Paddy Moloney has spent nearly five decades at the helm of the Chieftains, essentially the Beatles of traditional Irish music.

He’s released dozens of albums, collaborated with the likes of Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones, and racked up a Grammy or six.

You might expect him to have a few things to talk about. A lot, actually.

“So I should probably let you have a little question or two,” the 72-year-old Irish musician said, chuckling and taking a breath after nine minutes of run-on anecdotes involving Paul McCartney, former South African president Nelson Mandela and the International Space Station.

“On account of the time being so short, I thought I would get everything in,” he joked.

Mostly, he let us know what to expect from the Chieftains’ upcoming shows in Olympia and Seattle. Here are a few highlights:


Among those supporting the band – which also includes Sen Keane, Kevin Conneff and Matt Molloy – are dancers Jon and Nathan Pilatzke and Cara Butler; bluegrass guitarist Jeff White (known for his work with Vince Gill and Lyle Lovett); and fiddle player Deanie Richardson (Patty Loveless).

And maybe a cameo … from outer space? After popularizing Irish music around the world, the Chieftains started on the rest of the universe with a little help from astronaut Catherine Coleman. She took Moloney’s tin whistle and flutes belonging to Molloy and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson to the International Space Station with her and might play a role in next week’s shows.

“We’re going to try and link up Katie with me and we’re going to have a little duet together from the Space Station to earth,” Moloney said.


Butler, known as “the princess of dance,” will recruit local Irish dancers to appear in the shows. The Pilatzke brothers will offer a dynamic Canadian variation called Ottowa Valley Dancing, something that was a hit at Elton John’s house.

“I remember our good friend Elvis Costello got married to Diana Krall, and he invited us all to the reception,” Moloney recalled. “Everybody got up and sang or played or whatever. When the Pilatzkes danced … Sir Paul just couldn’t hold back. Paul McCartney was up, by gosh, dancin’ with ’em. You’ll see why when you see these guys.”


Moloney suggested that 1992’s bluegrass flavored “Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions” and last year’s “Further Down the Old Plank Road” would be well represented next week.

“To put a program together is often very difficult,” he said. “We’ve got a version of ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’ that we did with the Rolling Stones. We throw a bit of ‘Satisfaction’ in the middle just to keep people happy, as we did on the recording. But, gosh, you have to try and get everything into two and a quarter hours, and time flies. It really does.”


Also expect to hear Ry Cooder’s “The Sands of Mexico” and other Mexi-Euro fusion from “San Patricio,” the Chieftains’ concept album about a group of Irish soldiers who fought against the United States during the Mexican-American War.

It briefly topped Billboard’s Latin album chart last year.

“During 1847, there was a huge influence (from) people that came from Europe,” Moloney said. “There’s a lot of polkas (in Mexico). You can hear German polka overtones of folk music from that part of the world, and certainly from Ireland. … It’s so close, a lot of the music in that respect.”


It was Jan. 27. So said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who declared the holiday during the National Arts Club ceremony honoring Moloney for lifetime achievement.

“It was a great occasion,” Moloney said. “I got the key to the city. … And there was some lovely tribute video shown from Liam Neeson who congratulated me, and from Bono who took time out to do a bit of a video. And Michael Flatley, the Lord of the Dance himself, he sent something from Germany, where he’s performing at the moment.”


“Mandela loves Irish music and often gets up to dance, do kind of an African dance to a jig,” he said. “So he asked me if I could put together a jig, which I did. I composed a special jig called ‘The Troublemaker’s Jig,’ because that’s his middle name (Rolihlahla) in African – the Troublemaker.” He laughed. “So, happy times. That was the day before I left for over here. Something’s always happening.”

The Chieftains

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia

Tickets: $27.75 to $65.50

More information: 360-753-8586,


What: The Chieftains perform with Seattle Symphony Orchestra

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle

Tickets: $38 to $65

More information: 206-215-4747,


Listen to outtakes from our interview with Chieftains founder Paddy Moloney at

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