Cherish the Ladies return for Geneva, Binghamton concerts
Fans of Celtic music will be able to continue St. Patrick’s Day festivities with Cherish the Ladies, the acclaimed Irish-American band that has been bringing its blend of traditional and original music around the world for 37 years.
The group returns to upstate New York for two concerts this weekend: Friday at Geneva’s Smith Opera House, and Saturday at the Broome County Forum in Binghamton, where it will join the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Daniel Hege.
In a recent phone interview from her home in Yonkers, N.Y., Cherish the Ladies leader Joanie Madden remarked on the band’s long run.
“37 years?!? That’s unbelievable, she said. “Who would ever think it in a million years that we'd be still going, but it's been quite the journey.
“When we got into the game, we all wanted to do it because we were all in love with the music. And even though we were from America, we all grew up in Irish households, and music was a big part of every one of our lives. I'd say probably 95 percent of the women who’ve been in the band had dads that played music or danced or sang, so we all grew up in that environment and learned the music by osmosis. And here we are now, having done more than 4,000 concerts around the world and recorded 18 albums. It's just shocking, and it's wonderful!”
Madden is looking forward to returning to the Smith Opera House, which the band played on its first-ever tour back in 1985. Friday’s show was a very recent booking.
“A couple of weeks ago we had a private event that was canceled, so I gave (Smith executive director) Susie Monagan a call since we already had the Binghamton show booked for the next night,” Madden said. “We figured, let's go for it while we're in the area because we don't get up there too often.”
For the current tour, Madden is joined by co-founding member Mary Coogan on guitar; All-Ireland champions Mirella Murray on accordion Nollaig Casey on fiddle; pianist Gabriel Donohue, a native of County Galway, who’s filling in for Kathleen Boyle while she’s on maternity leave; and Country Clare native Kate Purcell on vocals. (Purcell often performs with the Burns Sisters, the Binghamton-bred, Ithaca-based group that has released several stellar albums since the mid-1980s, some of which feature Madden’s instrumental contributions.)
The show also will feature world champion Irish step-dancer Michael Holland, Canadian champion dancer Nathan Pilatzke (who toured with the Chieftains for decades), along with North American Champions Noel Spillane and Caitlin Ward.
Madden is especially excited to perform with the Binghamton Philharmonic, as the band hasn’t performed symphony shows since before the pandemic.
“People love them for the freshness of it,” she said of the symphony shows. “We don't come from the classical world. And we love to laugh, we love to enjoy ourselves, and we love the audience to be a part of that. We’re telling our own story about our parents’ immigration, and we’re playing these tunes that are hauntingly gorgeous – some have been around for hundreds of years and some are new tunes of our own. And, of course, we have the dancers – when they come out that elevates the whole room, and the people just go crazy for it.”
“I was talking to some symphony music magazines recently, and they were saying that we're the most successful Celtic pops program in history,” she added. “There's been no other Irish band who's done more symphony shows than us, which, considering one-half the band can't read music, is pretty good.”
In addition to bringing Celtic music around the world by land and by air, for the past decade, Madden also has added a sea-going component to her travels with an annual cruise.
After a pandemic-induced hiatus, the tenth “Joanie Madden’s Folk ‘N Irish Cruise” is scheduled to return in September for a voyage around the Mediterranean Sea.
“They’ve really taken on a life of their own,” she said of the cruises. “I bring around 100 musicians, and maybe 200 of the passengers will also play, and there are sessions all over the ship. We start music at nine o'clock in the morning and it doesn't stop until four in the morning. And we have fantastic dancers, and people come from all over the world, so it's really become a floating festival.”
If You Go
Who: Cherish the Ladies
When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 18
Where: The Smith Opera House, 82 Seneca St., Geneva
Cost: $22.50-$40.50, available online here.
If You Go
Who: Cherish the Ladies with the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19
Where: Broome County Forum Theatre, 236 Washington St., Binghamton
Cost: $20-$55, available online here.