Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies reflects back on the Celtic quintet’s 29-year career
Joanie Madden—the flute and whistle player of arguably the world’s foremost Irish-American Celtic group, Cherish the Ladies—knows the band has been neglecting California.
“We haven’t been down to Santa Cruz in years,” Madden laments. “I can’t even remember the last time we were there. We’ve had a lot of people complaining to us, ‘When the hell are you coming back?’”
But considering the band’s humble beginnings, Madden counts it a triumph that she and the rest of the quintet—Mary Coogan (guitar, banjo, mandolin), Mirella Murray (piano accordion), Grainne Murphy (fiddle) and Kathleen Boyle (piano)—have been successful enough to travel to places like Santa Cruz at all, even if only occasionally.
“Cherish the Ladies started completely as a fluke, an idea by Dr. Mick Moloney, who wanted to put a concert series featuring women together, never thinking in a million years that it would still be going,” Madden says. “We started out as a three-concert thing in 1985, and that turned into a two-week tour paid for by the National Endowment for the Arts. Now we’re sitting on 29 years … and we’ve got almost 300 nights of symphony performances under our belts and have played with a bunch of cool musicians, so it’s a pretty amazing feat for anybody.”
Over the course of almost three decades, the band has released 15 albums; recorded with the likes of Arlo Guthrie, Vince Gill and Pete Seeger; performed with The Boston Pops, James Taylor and Joan Baez; and received worldwide critical acclaim. Madden herself has recorded five additional solo records and appeared as a guest musician on nearly 200 more albums.
Though she is proud of the band’s success, Madden is modest when talking about it. “There’s a hell of a lot better musicians than all of us, sitting in their bedrooms, who have never made it onto a stage,” says Madden. “We know how fortunate and lucky we are.”
Cherish the Ladies’ success can partially be attributed to its ability to create an energetic, engaging atmosphere during shows, which feature a vivid combination of singing, traditional music and lively step dancing. Whether it is an ethereal instrumental ballad like “Inisheer”—whose whistle, flute and fiddle playing are remarkable—or an upbeat jig like “An Poc Ar Buille,” their music enchants listeners of all ages.
In addition to featuring two renowned step dancers—Meghan Lucey and Jason Oremus, both of whom performed in Riverdance—the band’s current tour, which makes a stop at Don Quixote’s on July 29, will also be something of a reunion for Madden and Coogan, in the form of guest singer Cathie Ryan.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve performed with Cathie—over 20 years—so that’s a real treat,” Madden says. “Cathie’s one of the top Celtic singers in the world. Her voice is just spectacular.”
The band’s latest release, An Irish Homecoming – Live from Bucknell University, came out earlier this year. The performance has been screening on public television stations across America for a few months now, and Madden couldn’t be happier about it, especially because the show is about to go international.
“TG4, which is Ireland’s national television program, is picking it up to air in December,” Madden says. “So here you have us, a bunch of Irish-Americans, and them knowing our music and wanting to play it in Ireland on their national television show station—that’s very gratifying.”
Over the course of the group’s long history, Madden is thrilled to say they have proved a lot of doubters wrong, including herself.
“My dream was always to play music, but I never thought I’d really accomplish it,” she says. “I think a lot of people didn’t think we’d accomplish it.”
Cherish the Ladies will perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 29, Don Quixote’s, 6275 Highway 9, Felton. Tickets are $22/adv, $25/door. For more information, call 603-2294.