Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Night of Brogue-Heavy Foot-Stompin' Jig-Reelin' Celtic Music at the Opera House

     When Kansas Explorer Club Member #2 Marci Penner put out the word across the state that the first musical event to be held in the newly restored Opera House in McPherson, Kansas, would be a Celtic music band direct from Ireland - in March, no less - well, how could anyone in their right mind pass that up?
     For those who have not yet had the pleasure, below are two views of the said Opera House, now one of the cornerstones of McPherson's downtown district:

     Yes, it took millions in fundraising to complete the restoration. Was it worth it? Every single penny, ye citizens of McPherson and McPherson County. You can be excused for jutting out your chests for the next year or so and proclaiming, "We Did It! And We Did It RIGHT!!"

     Okay, so this event sounded well worth it. And once I mentioned it to fellow Osborne Countian & current Portis resident Kathy Bristol - wave "hi!" to everyone, Kathy - she was game for the adventure as well. I say adventure because McPherson is a 260-mile round-trip from Osborne, and even Explorers do have to get up early the next morning to make a living and such. I then contacted my sister Sue in Salina and inquired if she would be interested in going along; we could just drop by and pick her up along the way. She said of course even though she would be attending a Celtic Band concert in Salina the very next evening after this one.
     Yes, musical gluttony does run in the family genes.
     Kathy and I took off from Osborne at 4:35PM and headed south and east into cloudy, rain-threatening skies that prior to our departure the local TV weathermen had assured us was the right directions to "clearing skies."  Riiiight.  So through intermittent showers and later talk about the proper methods on raising baby squirrels for re-release into "The Wild" (better that you don't inquire further - Teaching a Baby Squirrel the Proper Way to Pee 101 was just one of the many subjects touched on by the time we were passing the Roxbury interchange on Interstate 135) we picked up Sue and made our way south to McPherson.  We even managed to find a parking stall a mere block north of the Opera House and thus were well within the designated starting time of 7:30PM.

     As soon as possible I urge everyone to find an excuse to drop by McPherson and at least tour the Opera House if not take in an event here.  One can see some of the intricate stenciling work completed throughout the building in the above photo that I managed to take of the mural highlighting the top of the stage area.  I say managed because not one but both sets of batteries I had with me for my camera decided to declare themselves empty of juice once I had taken the aforementioned above photo. Someone had neglected to check them before leaving for this event.


     So you will just have to trust me; it is a great venue, especially for a band such as the one that played there the night of March 9, 2010.

     But who exactly was this band that braved the weather and the distance to stir the blood of Irish Kansans in the month of March?
     I undertook the obvous recourse and consulted the hallowed Internet.  O Mighty Internet, I implored, Google me much-desired information on the David Monely - er, Monnely - rats, what was that name - Ah! The David Munnelly Band.  And lo! the following was bestowed upon me.
     Have I ever mentioned how I feel that the Internet has practically taken over our lives? And to think we used to say that about the telephone.

     Anyway, this is what I discovered:

     Led by Irish button accordion virtuoso David Munnelly, who toured with legendary Irish group The Chieftains from the age of 21 to 25, the award-winning David Munnelly Band is one of the hottest new bands on the international traditional Celtic music scene.  Based in County Mayo, Ireland, virtuoso David Munnelly is taking the New World by storm with his one-of-a-kind style of playing - a living link between two centuries of West of Ireland culture and the Golden Age of Irish American Music of the 1920s incorporating the sound and feel of the Irish-American dance halls of the 1920s and 1930s.  The other band members are: Kieran Munnelly (flute/bodhran/snare/vocals); Tony Byrne (guitar); Paul Kelly (fiddle/mandolin); and the singing of All-Ireland champion Shauna Mullin.
     With members from Mayo, Dublin, Donegal, Tyrone and, Brighton, England this exciting quintet combines button accordion, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, piano, bodhrán and flute for a high-spirited instrumental sound colored with a bit of jazz and ragtime . . . the band is rightly praised and admired for their precision musicianship.
     In 2001 David released his first CD, Swing, in effort to craft a sound that was both unique, yet reminiscent of the free-spirited exuberance which typified the American Irish Dance Hall scene of the Roaring 20s. One year later David’s second CD, By Heck, was released to critical & popular acclaim.
     On the band’s first U.S. tour in 2005 when they covered over 10,000 miles across America, including a performance at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas.  In 2006 David & the group were featured around the world on the BBC World Television programme "Destination Music: Ireland."  In America, they have been featured in a two part concert on the National Public Radio program "Celtic Connections," and in a PBS Television special.  They were awarded "Concert of the Year" awards for both 2006 and 2007 by, who have hailed them as “A creative force at the true epicenter of Irish traditional music.”

     Once again, we bow to KE Explorer #2's instincts, which were indeed were dead on. This band put on a show that boded well for the future of the newly-restored venue, should they continue to bring in talent like this.

     Band leader David Munnelly, who's heavy Irish brogue, dry wit, and foot-stompin'-accordian-playing-style-while-seated was an instant hit.

      David's brother, Keiran Munnelly, launched into a protracted solo on the bodhran, or Irish drum, toward the end of the concert that amazed even his fellow bandmates and brought the house down.

     This is a photo of the group's lead singer, Shauna Mullin.  Once again I'll let the words of convey just how good this lady is:

      You probably have not heard Donegal's Shauna Mullin, yet.  You will.  She is the voice of the future of Irish traditional music.  She is now the singer with the extraordinarily popular David Munnelly Band.  We saw her in concert in 2007, and have never been so stunned in a performance setting.  Extraordinary.  A Gift.
     She is an alto.  As usual with, you hear it here first.  How many singers do you see get a standing ovation in a live performance after their first song?  There are only a few really, truly great traditional singers - think Cathie Ryan, Eddi Reader, Eilis Kennedy, Muirerann Nic Amhlaoibh and Mairi Campbell.  Now add Shauna Mullin.  Before her journey is over, she may be the best of all time.  Correct.  She is that great.  She is that special.  Get on board early - it will be a glorious trip.

     And the nice part is that they really did not overstate a single thing.  She was that good.

     Clearly having not yet given enough kudos and exposure in this blog entry to this particular music group, I wish to add in closing that you can learn more about them at their website at

     The crowd was a little reserved at the start ("Ya need ta get over dat" observed the bandleader early on) but by the end of the two hours all were on their feet a'shoutin' and a'stompin'.  You know you've been to a good concert when afterwards your hands are still red and actually hurt from too much clapping.
     After a quick stop for a fastfood bite to eat (there being not much else open that late at night) we dropped my sister off in Salina and headed back east and north toward Osborne, ever on "deer alert" as usual.  I regaled an unsuspecting Kathy with music ranging from Hallelujah by k.d. lang (2005) to Happy Days Are Here Again by Leo Reisman & His Orchestra (1930) to Bless You by Tony Orlando (1961) to Ring A Rockin' by Neil Sedaka (1958) to Rave On by John Mellencamp (1988) to Home on the Range by Neil Young (1980) to Cha-Ching! by Hedley (2009).  Kathy claimed that she was entertained; at least that was her story and she was sticking to it.
     It was about Luray that I noted that the gas gage had fallen between the Quarter Tank Mark and the Red Line of Doom, with 22 miles before home.  With it being past midnight and with no gas stations in the area open, there was nothing for it but to brave it out - and thinking ahead of all the farmers we would be passing in the next 22 miles and deciding on which ones would be the nicer ones who might not shoot us on sight at this time of night and ask questions in the morning should we have to stop and plead for a gallon or two of gas.  And the "deer alert" continued as well.
     At 1:01AM we drove into Osborne.  I dropped Kathy off at her car and continued to my own home. And as I swung into my driveway the LOW FUEL yellow light sprang on.  It made for a perfect punctuation to another perfect Explorer adventure across Kansas.