in performance: eileen ivers

eileen ivers.

eileen ivers.

It was with no small level of irony that Eileen Ivers, one of the more formidable Irish-American fiddlers of her generation, took to the stage at Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium last night at essentially the same moment the contemporary ensemble Celtic Woman initiated an undoubtedly more flamboyant variation of Emerald Isle music a few blocks away at Rupp Arena.

Ivers made brief, polite and even encouraging notice of the coincidence and then got to work on her own Irish soundscape, one with less theatrical intent and greater global focus. Sure, traditional jigs, airs and reels were at the heart of her playing, but so were nods to more modern and stylistically varied artists by way of Scottish songsmith Dougie MacLean’s Feel So Near (a light and emotive ode to the “spirit of the land” sung with subtle grace by Battlefield Band/Karan Casey guitarist Alan Murray) and American folk-roots pioneer Olla Belle Reed’s I’ve Endured (sung with gusto by banjoist Deirdre Brennan as the stomping climax to an “Irish bluegrass” medley).

But the full breadth of Ivers’ performance vision – which viewed Irish music through migrant eyes as it traveled to the Americas, taking in echoes of Latin and African rhythms along the way – was unveiled through the exuberance and resourcefulness of her playing. She nailed pure tradition in a ghostly solo fiddle version of Lament for Staker Wallace (her contribution to the score of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York) that was bursting with elegant longing. Just before intermission time, though, Ivers went all Jean-Luc Ponty on the Transy crowd by incorporating pedal effects, loops and her band’s rockish ingenuity to summon a blast of fun electric fusion.

The global tides rose higher during the concert’s second half. Some sailed right through the Bluegrass with a nod to Clay County folk empress and activist Aunt Molly Jackson’s Hard Times in Coleman’s Mine. The playing shifted from the rootsy sway of bodhran and harmonica to roaring lines of accordion, fiddle and bass as the tune morphed from a protest lament into a union rally cry.

The kicker though was a merger of Irish jubilance and Soweto soul that led into a global jaunt called Paddy in Zululand. Where do you got from there? Try Georgia and the early Allman Brothers Band nugget Revival, which capped the show as an encore. The sound was still Irish in its fortitude but highly gospel-esque in its musical drive. Such was the final performance destination of the evening for this Americanized but boundlessly spirited Celtic woman.

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