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  • Carnegie Hall Presents
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Happy St. Patrick's Day With The Chieftains at Carnegie Hall!

How better to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than with The Chieftains celebrating their 50th anniversary with a concert at Carnegie Hall?

Here, music journalist Jeff Tamarkin writes about the contemporary element of the group's Voice of Ages 50th anniversary tour and album.

Read nearly any article about the legendary Chieftains and you will invariably see them described as one of the most popular traditional Irish music bands in the world. That is certainly apt. For a remarkable 50 years, The Chieftains have brought their uilleann pipes, tin whistle, flute, bodhrán, and fiddle to every corner of the globe. They are truly Ireland’s ambassadors to the world.

But calling The Chieftains traditional and leaving it at that does them a great disservice. Since their start in 1962, the group—still led by founder Paddy Moloney—has always sought to expand into new musical areas. Over the years, they have performed with an astoundingly diverse array of admirers, including Van Morrison, Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, the Rolling Stones, and even Madonna. Rock giant Frank Zappa—who invited the group to play at his home—once said of The Chieftains, “I hear traces of not only Celtic history, but global history in their work, echoing back to the beginning of time.”

Never has the group’s thirst for artistic growth been clearer than it is on Voice of Ages, The Chieftains’ new release on Concord / Hear Music Records. Co-produced by Moloney and T Bone Burnett, the celebrated roots music specialist, the recording finds The Chieftains—who’ve previously been nominated for 18 Grammys and won six—in the company of such cutting-edge contemporary artists as Bon Iver, the Civil Wars, The Low Anthem, and the Decemberists, as well as the old-timey string band Carolina Chocolate Drops and the progressive bluegrass band the Punch Brothers.

“With 50 years of glorious music behind us,” Paddy Moloney recently said, “I can think of nothing more exciting than to spend another 50 years collaborating with the best voices of the future. “It just keeps on going,” he says of the band. “I’m already looking ahead at 2013. Now that I have the recording bug again, I’m mad for it. Retirement is something I should be thinking of, but I’ll go out with my boots on.”

Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of JazzTimes magazine.

Related: March 17, The Chieftains With Paddy Moloney: Voice of Ages 50th Anniversary Tour