Tax season must be upon us: The Chieftains were at the Kennedy Center for a Monday night show.
The band, formed in Dublin 41 years ago, makes an annual pilgrimage to the Concert Hall -- "our home parlor" in the D.C. area, announced chief Chieftain Paddy Moloney -- for a pre-St. Patrick's Day celebration. This year's appearance had a far more somber mood than a typical Chieftains gig, due entirely to the absence of Derek Bell. In October, Bell, the combo's longtime arranger, pianist, harpist and straight man, died suddenly at age 67 while recovering from minor surgery.
Early in the set, Moloney began a very sad tin whistle solo, which he introduced as a lament for Bell, his band mate since 1976. The eulogy became even more melancholy when Moloney was joined by cellist Caroline Lavelle, as the other surviving Chieftains looked on silently. Moloney's whistle and uilleann pipes were also at the center of a medley of James Scott Skinner's "Arthur Street" and the traditional "Concert Reel."
The energy level in the house picked up whenever any of the many guests were brought to the stage. Jon and Nathan Pilatzke, brothers from the Ottawa area, performed several dance routines that bonded traditional Irish steps with modern tap dancing. Local harpist Sue Richards's beautiful plucking gave the crowd a taste of what Bell's finger-picked licks once offered. Country crooner Allison Moorer, who sat in with the Chieftains during the Nashville recording sessions that led to the group's latest disc, "Down the Old Plank Road," came on for the traditional folk tune "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" -- "This is a cheatin' song, which I'm good at," she announced -- and later performed the 12-bar standard, "Blues for Dixie." Chieftains concerts don't often promote the blues, but on this night the selection seemed appropriate.
-- Dave McKenna