She played in Riverdance. She won the all-Ireland fiddle championships. But Eileen Ivers is far more than an Irish fiddle player.
Ivers has the talent and chutzpah to kick Celtic music through her electric-blue violin and out the other side into a fiery mix of rock, folk, world and Latin music, concocting a heady sound that earned her Grammy awards and the New York Times title of “Jimi Hendrix of the violin.”
When Ivers and her band Immigrant Soul appear at the Pantages Theatre on Saturday, she’ll deliver even more: a new exploration of how the Irish changed folk music worldwide.
“This is material I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” said Ivers from her upstate New York home. Called “Beyond the Bog Road,” Ivers’ tour and upcoming album is a multimedia concert of music, story, dance and film. It takes inspiration from the bog roads that criss-cross Ireland and their legacy of travel as the Irish diaspora spread across the world, influencing local music such as old-time Americana.
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“I’m getting back to the roots of Irish music and immigration,” Ivers said.
The daughter of two Irish immigrants, she grew up in the Bronx of New York, immersed in Irish culture and music.
“Both of my parents were from County Mayo, and I’ve been back every year since I was a child. My husband and I just built a house there. It’s a big part of my psyche. It was a blessing to have a real home in both places,” Ivers said.
Ivers became a nine-time All-Ireland fiddling champion, won the award for tenor banjo and found fame as the original fiddler with Riverdance. She founded the Celtic group Cherish the Ladies, and has played with everyone from Sting to jazz violinist Regina Carter and the London Symphony Orchestra.
But after decades of performing, the violinist still makes new discoveries.
“The passion’s still very much there. I guess this is what I’m supposed to be doing! There’s so much to do, between researching new tunes, writing, arranging and recording,” she said.
A big part of Ivers’ sound is Immigrant Soul, a four-guy band that transforms Ivers’ electric jigs and reels into everything from salsa to rock.
“The guys are great – they’re so steeped in what they do, and passionate,” Ivers explained. “I say, here’s a great song, I hear a bubbling bass line. Then the bass player will jump up and say, ‘Hey, what about this?’ Each person needs to bring something to the table to make it an honest performance. You want everyone to shine.”
One thing you might not guess from hearing Ivers perform is that her college degree (magna cum laude, Iona College) was in mathematics.
“I often wish my brain were as sharp as when I was in the middle of it all,” she said, laughing. “It’s such a great discipline. I got a great bit of advice from one of the Christian brothers there. He told me to do math because you could go anywhere from a math background. And it’s true, music and math go hand in hand. They’re both so beautiful, and math is good for logic, rhythms and harmonies.”
What Ivers loves best about playing is the chance to touch an audience. She is known for meeting people after shows in the lobby.
“It’s so powerful,” she said. “When you get out there, you just play from your heart, representing Irish culture and sharing that journey to the roots. It’s such a privilege to be in that position, in the physicality of improvising – that’s something I keep going back to.”
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, firstname.lastname@example.org