Celtic musicians abandon formalities for lively performance

Audiences got into the spirit for St. Patrick's Day a month early on Saturday night when The Elders performed self-described "arse kicking music from the heartland" in Geneseo.

The six-member band was formed in 1998 and has been touring ever since.

Lead singer Ian Byrne greeted the attendees by insisting that they engage in all prohibited activities during the performance. From flash photography or climbing over seats to dance in the aisles, wild and rowdy behavior was both allowed and encouraged.

In addition to providing vocals, Byrne played various percussion instruments including a traditional Celtic drum known as the Bodhrán and a whistle that has become a hallmark of Celtic music. Band members included Steve Phillips (guitar and mandolin), Norm Dahlor (bass), Brent Hoad (fiddle and mandolin), Tom Sutherland (drums) and Joe Miquelon (keyboard). Hoad, Phillips and Dahlor contributed vocals to many of the songs, the unity of voices adding to the band's overall sound and creating a rock fusion that pushed it far past traditional Celtic music.    

Byrne told the audience of the stories behind several of the band's songs. The various numbers were performed in different styles and touched on themes of fish, a whale that could never be caught, a parent saying goodbye to a child and the urban development of an old street in Dublin.

In discussing one song about an Irish immigrant who defied the rules of a strict Catholic school, Byrne joked that he had heard "it was kind of like [Geneseo]." Another song, titled "Common Man," was dedicated to the people of Egypt.

Other band members were also given moments to shine. Hoad, for example, played a purely instrumental song on his fiddle that brought the entire audience to its feet. Some pieces were more somber, such as "Men of Erin," which was penned by Byrne after his father died. The song was performed  a capella, and it encouraged a group of fans familiar with the lyrics to join the band on stage.

The band made the audience part of the show. Friendly competition sprouted between men and women and then different sections of the crowd as fans were encouraged to test their knowledge of songs by singing along. The large crowd was energized by the band's passion, and many danced throughout the show.

Toward the end of the performance, Byrne joked that the audience and band should just leave together and head to a pub in town. But when The Elders had finished, the audience showed appreciation with a standing ovation. The crowd chanted and clapped until the members returned on stage for one more song.

When they returned for their encore, Byrne told the audience that Hoad had just broken his $5,000 violin bow and that the group had stood together in a circle, crying. After several moments, though, the men "threw it on the ground and realized that tomorrow was another day" – they looked at one another and realized that the Geneseo crowd had been their best audience to date.