Towne Crier Cafe

Cherish the Ladies Christmas Show at Towne Crier Cafe

Send to Kindle

Last night we finally got to scratch a 20-month itch, seeing Cherish the Ladies again in concert. They performed a Christmas show at Towne Crier Cafe, the place where we first saw them in April 2008, covered in detail in this post.

We love Cherish the Ladies (CTL), we love Towne Crier Cafe and we love Christmas music. A win/win/win, not just in theory, but executed perfectly last night, even though the Nor’easter tried to thwart CTL from making it (they were in Providence, RI the night before, and were nearly snowed in!).

Every member of CTL is a world-class musician. You should really look them up individually, their accomplishments are impressive. Together, they make magic. In addition to playing traditional Irish music (and last night, Christmas songs), they also write new songs that have the feel of traditional Irish music, but have just the right amount of originality to keep everything fresh.

The two women who started CTL, Joanie Madden and Mary Coogan will be celebrating 25 years of playing together on January 5th, 2010. Wow. Joanie is as entertaining a personality as you could ever want on stage (and off!).

They played mostly Christmas music last night, but that included an original or two, plus some non-traditional arrangements of some classics. All beautiful, played to a very appreciative crowd (which included a few of Joanie’s brothers, and her mother). In fact, her brother John sat in on four numbers and played the drums. One of the rarest of times that CTL has had a drum set on stage with them!

CherishTheLadies

Their current CD is called A Star in the East and they played many songs from it last night.

Sitting left to right on the stage:

Joanie Madden (OK, standing the entire time) plays all manner of flute, whistles, recorders, etc. She’s a genius on all of them. She sings a bit of harmony, very well. She’s the MC, keeping the action moving all night, making everyone laugh, and bringing an energy to the performance that doesn’t seem sustainable, yet she delivers that energy each and every time.

JoanieMadden

Mary Coogan plays guitar, beautifully. She took a few solos, most notably What Child is This / Greensleeves. Absolutely gorgeous!

MaryCoogan

Roisin Dillon on fiddle. She is absolutely incredible. One of the few fiddle players who sits the entire performance, and actually barely moves (you can see the bow move, of course, but otherwise, her play appears entirely effortless!). When Joanie and Roisin play harmony together (Joanie on the whistle or flute, and Roisin on fiddle, it’s truly heavenly).

RoisinDillon

Mirella Murphy on accordion. Mirella is also an extraordinary musician. In addition to winning many accolades and competitions herself, 22 of her students have won gold medals on the accordion, and she’s but a kid herself! Like Roisin, her accordion playing appears entirely effortless.

MirellaMurphy

Kathleen Boyle (KT) sits behind the others playing piano, wonderfully. She played a song that she wrote that was fantastic. No good shot of her at the piano, because it’s buried in the back of the stage, and her back was to us the entire evening.

KathleenBoyle

Michelle Burke is the lead vocalist. Michelle has a gorgeous voice. She joined CTL just before we saw them 20 months ago. In fact that night was only her second performance with them. She was great that night, but last night she was obviously more comfortable and more integrated into the group and the set. Of course, singing traditional Christmas songs can bring out the best, and Michelle did a terrific job, including getting all of us to sing along a number of times.

MichelleBurke

After the show we bought a copy of A Star in the East and got Joanie to sign it. A wonderful evening in every respect, including the always tasty (and spicy!) food at Towne Crier Cafe. Looking forward to our next visit there already. 🙂

CherishTheLadiesBow

Acoustic Alchemy at Towne Crier Cafe

Send to Kindle

Last night we saw Acoustic Alchemy at Towne Crier Cafe, the same place that we saw Cherish The Ladies at back in April.

I’ve only seen Acoustic Alchemy live once before, in 2006 at the Blue Note in NYC, but they’ve been my favorite Jazz group for a very long time. I owned 14 of their CDs (none of them being a Greatest Hits variety), until I bought last year’s CD This Way last night (signed, of course). 🙂

Aside from being an all-around music lover, I’m a guitar nut and I’ve written about many awesome guitar players. One of of the things that makes Acoustic Alchemy special is that they have two awesome guitar players, who complement each other and blend their sounds deliciously well together. They also produce (consistently, for 21 years!) very melodic music, putting them at the forefront of the Smooth Jazz style.

They were at the very top of their game last night. Aside from their obvious, extraordinary talent (that is always there), Towne Crier is a special place (in general), and special to them (in particular). They have played there a number of times, and in fact are returning there for another show this coming Sunday, June 22nd. Don’t miss it if you’re anywhere in the NY area.

Tonight (probably too late if you didn’t know already) they are playing at BB King in NYC. The show tonight benefits Pancreatic Cancer Research, so if you can make it, in addition to hearing a fabulous show, you will be doing your part for a very worthy cause!

Here’s a shot of them all on stage together. Unfortunately, Greg Grainger was tucked in behind his drum set, way in the back, under the Towne Crier Cafe sign, and was invisible from Lois’ angle:

Acoustic Alchemy

Greg Carmichael is one of the two original founders of the group. 21 years later, his fingers still fly up and down a Nylon string acoustic guitar. He produces such a clean gorgeous sound, and has a generally wonderful (and generous) spirit on stage. He’s a joy to watch and listen to. The other co-founder, Nick Webb, sadly passed away from Pancreatic Cancer in 1998. He too was an extraordinary musician. You can read a moving tribute to Nick and their last collaboration together.

Greg Carmichael

Miles Gilderdale replaced Nick Webb as Greg’s partner. He had played with the band previous to being elevated to the co-lead position. He plays both Steel string acoustic and electric guitars. In addition to his amazing guitar playing, he has a fantastic stage presence, and had the crowd in stitches (and at the edge of their seats) when he introduced the amazing band one-by-one during the second set.

Here are two shots of Miles, one on acoustic guitar and the other with him holding his electric guitar and speaking to the audience:

Miles Gilderdale AcousticMiles Gilderdale Electric

Fred White played keyboards. I can’t say enough about this guy. His fingers fly on the keyboard, producing both pure piano sounds as well as funky electronic organ ones. He took a number of exceptional leads, but he’s also incredible when he plays background to the guitars. The reason I put background in italics is that he often shadows their phenomenal guitar leads on the organ, so that even his background playing is stunning.

Fred White

Greg Grainger played the drums. He’s a great Jazz drummer, who has been playing with Acoustic Alchemy (and others) for a very long time. Back in the 80’s, he also played drums for Whitney Houston (in her prime), so he’s been at the top of his game forever, and continued that tradition last night.

Greg introduced his older brother, Gary Grainger to the group a while back. As mentioned above, Lois had no view of Greg. She passed the camera to me for one shot, and I snapped one of Greg, but he’s partially obscured by his own cymbal. In the second shot, Lois snapped him while he was getting up to join the others in a bow, so it too isn’t a great shot. Sorry Greg!

Greg Grainger ObscuredGreg Grainger

Gary Grainger played the electric bass (five string, named after him!). I don’t know where to begin. He’s mesmerizing. Basically, while most bass players (even great ones) lay down solid but straight-forward bottoms to anchor the sound, they reserve any flying fingers for the rare solo that they are accorded. Not so with Gary. He’s essentially playing a beautiful melody all night long, complementing the lead (whether it’s guitars of keyboards) in more of a harmony than just support.

His fingers are in constant motion (both hands) and he is playing a song within a song. Simply gorgeous. His smile also lights up the room (as you can see on any number of YouTube videos of him). He’s played with many greats (you can read a partial bio in the link above about the Bass named after him).

Here are two shots of Gary. One playing the bass and the other with Gary both playing the bass and scatting at the same time:

Gary GraingerGary Grainger Scatting

Anyway, to round it out, all of them are extraordinary musicians, who play together tightly and generously, covering a selection of music that is simply beautiful on so many levels.

They played roughly half of the songs on the current CD (This Way, released in 2007). They also played some of the great oldies (including the title cut from their first CD: Red Dust and Spanish Lace).

The crowd was comprised of Acoustic Alchemy lovers. They couldn’t have been more appreciative of the performance, and gave long and vigorous ovations after each and every song. No wonder Acoustic Alchemy likes coming to Towne Crier!

They came out at 8:06pm (for an 8pm announced show). They played 54 minutes in the first set and left the stage at 9pm. They returned at 9:17 and played until slightly past 10pm. After leaving the stage for two minutes, they returned for a thrilling one-song encore. Total time on stage, including the encore, just under two hours. Absolutely fantastic!

We had a 6:30 dinner reservation for the 8pm show. We arrived at 6:20 and were seated at a very nice table for two. Folks, I mentioned it before when I wrote about Cherish The Ladies, this restaurant is really terrific. Before we even sat down, my mouth was watering for the little jalapeno pepper corn bread that comes with the chips in the basket. It didn’t disappoint! The chips are served with a fantastic chicken salsa.

Last time, we each had soup (I had carrot ginger and Lois had black bean). This time I went for a Caesar Salad as an appetizer. Lois tasted it (more than once) 😉 and declared it to be the best Caesar Salad she’s ever had. I loved it, but nothing is ever likely to top my regular Caesar Salads at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, clearly produced by the staff selling their souls in return for making perfect Caesar Salads! 🙂

Lois had a salad as her main dish (and loved it) and I had one of the many specials of the day, Chicken and Shrimp Jumbalaya. Wow, it was mouth watering, with just the right amount of spice for flavor and heat. Towne Crier is famous for their desserts, but we couldn’t have stuffed it down our throats even if we wanted to, so discovering whether they taste as good as they look will have to wait for another day.

The drive there was about 44 minutes, and about 40 minutes back, so not too bad all around. We did wait around for a bit after the show, to get the CD that we purchased there signed by both Greg Carmichael and Gary Grainger (the others hadn’t come out yet, and we were too tired to hang around much longer).

We had a fantastic night, and can’t wait to see Acoustic Alchemy again, or see anyone else that we we like at Towne Crier. Unfortunately, we will not be around next Sunday, or we could accomplish both tasks simultaneously! 🙂

Cherish The Ladies at Towne Crier Cafe

Send to Kindle

Lois and I are very big fans of traditional Irish music. This should come as no surprise to those who know us (or regularly read this space), not because I write about Irish music a lot, but because we really love tons of roots music and there is a lot of Irish roots in that. 😉

Six weeks ago I stumbled upon a notice that an all-female group called Cherish The Ladies was going to be playing at the Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling, NY. I had never heard of Cherish The Ladies (a major shame on me). I had also never been to Pawling, but at least I knew where it was. 😉

I hopped on to YouTube and checked out a dozen videos of Cherish The Ladies. Each was better than the one before, I was instantly hooked, and after checking with Lois, I grabbed two tickets including dinner reservations. Last night finally came and we drove the 45 minutes from the house to Towne Crier Cafe. As is the current custom, I’ll review the show first, then circle back and describe the venue.

The Ladies came on stage at 9:11pm (11 minutes late). The crowd went completely nuts. Joanie Madden (one of the two founding members of the group) asked the crowd how many had seen the Ladies before and roughly 75% indicated yes.

Joanie plays all types of flutes and whistles. She came on stage with a cloth (canvas?) tube rolled up. She unrolled it on the table, and there were individual tube-like pockets, each housing a whistle or a flute of different types and lengths. I’d guess on the order of 20! It was like watching a master surgeon unroll their package of specialized scalpels.

I can assure you that she plays every single one of them with the same precision, cutting through to your soul with every breath and movement of her fingers. Awesome would be too mild a word to describe her musical talent.

Joanie Madden

Mary Coogan is the other co-founder. Last night she exclusively played the guitar (beautifully!), but I can see from her CDs (I’ll mention what we bought later on) that she also plays the banjo and mandolin.

Mary Coogan

Joanie and Mary formed Cherish The Ladies 23 years ago! That’s why I said shame on me for not having heard about them until now!

Roisin Dillon sat in the middle, playing a fiddle that was breathtaking the entire evening. I kid you not when I say that every time Roisin took a solo, the crowd burst into rhythmic clapping, keeping time with her amazing solos.

Roisin Dillon

Mirella Murray was next in line on the stage, playing the accordion. She too is awesome! In addition to winning the All-Ireland competition a number of years back, she teaches accordion and has had a number of her students win the competition. Either she’s a great talent scout or a great teacher. Most likely, both! 🙂

Mirella Murray

Michelle Burke was spanking brand new to the group (hence no link). Amazingly enough, they only met Michelle two days earlier when they played in Cleveland. I don’t know whether Michelle sang with them that night, but she definitely sang with them the night before we saw them, in Buffalo, NY. She sent them a CD of her work, and clearly they liked what they heard.

Michelle Burke

Michelle sang lead (no instruments) on five or six songs. She was fantastic on every single one of them. Joanie sang harmony (all too briefly) on most of the songs, as she harmonizes beautifully with Michelle. Here’s hoping that now that they’ve met, they’ll get a chance to actually work up more harmonies together. 🙂

Kathleen Boyle, sitting behind that row of five women, with her back to the crowd most of the night, played the piano, phenomenally. She’s not listed on the Cherish The Ladies web site, so I don’t know if she’s a regular with the group. Her MySpace page (linked to her name) has two gorgeous songs on it, but neither of them is her playing the piano. Last night she played a song from her new CD, about her parents returning home to Scotland, which was stunningly beautiful.

Kathleen Boyle

Last night was Kathleen’s (K.T.) birthday, and Joanie had a cake delivered on stage and we all sang Happy Birthday to her. 🙂

Kathleen Boyle Birthday Cake

OK, on to the music. Cherish The Ladies are simply fantastic. Not a moment of boredom to be found all night. Their selection (very wide ranging!) was wonderful and while each of them is an incredible solo artist, together, they gel on every song.

Cherish The Ladies

In addition to playing very traditional songs (does a 400-year-old song count?) 😉 they also play quite a number of newer (yet traditional sounding) numbers, many written by Joanie (she’s an extraordinary song-writer!). You can hear some of their stuff on their MySpace page. While I recommend that, seeing them live is a much bigger treat.

Perhaps you can get a touch of that flavor with the following YouTube Video of them. The video is long (12.5 minutes), but it also shows a nice range and solos from Joanie, Roisin and Mirella. It also ends with some step dancing, which we missed last night due to the very small stage at Towne Crier Cafe.

You can also hear more of Joanie’s stuff on her MySpace page.

If you were there last night, and didn’t clap along, or stomp your foot, or at least tap your toes or fingers, check your pulse! 🙂

In addition to the awesome music, Joanie is masterful at working the crowd. She’s a bundle of energy and it emanates from her every action and word. She’s hysterical and a wonderful story teller as well. Every year, she and Mary host a week-long musical tour of Ireland. I truly hope that Lois and I can make the time in the very near future. This year it’s May 20-27th, and we definitely can’t make it. Perhaps next year!

During the second set Joanie brought her father up on the stage. He’s a life-long musician as well, and had a big band years ago. He plays the accordion. He wailed with them on at least three numbers. He was great, and everyone enjoyed having him up there, including the Ladies themselves. 🙂

Joe Madden

They took a 25 minute break (announced as a 15 minute break, but they actually mingled in the crowd, and weren’t released to get back on stage). With a one-song encore (after a rousing standing ovation) that involved not leaving the stage (thankfully, since it’s so small it would have been a waste of time!), their total on-stage time was 2 hours (not including the intermission!). Very generous (if a little late for us old fogies).

Cherish The Ladies Standing Ovation

A very magical evening indeed!

On to the background and venue. I already mentioned that finding Cherish The Ladies and Towne Crier Cafe was accidental. Even though I made the reservations happily, as time passes, the normal discomfort sets in. What will the venue be like? Will the group disappoint? Will the show simply be too late for us?

You already know the answer to the second two questions. 😉

You get to pick a wide range of dinner reservation times at Towne Crier. We’re quick eaters (too quick) so picking an early time is attractive to us only to secure better seats. The show was scheduled for 9pm, so I picked 7pm (way too early eating wise, but I hoped very good for seating). I could have picked 6pm, but that seemed crazy (at least I hoped so).

Leaving some extra time (having never been to Pawling) we ended up arriving at 6:40pm. The place was easy to find and the parking lot had plenty of spaces that early. It’s basically an upscale Mexican / Southwestern style restaurant (exactly the kind of food we like). The attitude of the staff was very warm and we felt very welcome immediately. We were seated nearly dead center in the room, very nice seats.

Towne Crier Cafe Logo

The dining room is a very open rectangle on two levels (the upper level is just a single step up). Most of the room is filled with dining tables. At the very back (on the upper level) there aren’t any table cloths, so it’s more of a bar seating area, but it’s still waiter service, no actual bar back there.

As opposed to other places where you eat dinner at a table and then watch the show, Towne Crier orients the majority of their tables on a diagonal (the stage is in the far left corner of the room) so that most seats have a decent view of the stage no matter which side of the table of you are on. In many other venues, one side of the table has to twist and contort to get a good view.

The room holds roughly 150 people seated. The food was fantastic. Service was good to begin with, but as the people kept pouring in, it got a little hectic. Never an attitude, but even though it seemed that they had enough staff, we were left unattended for a reasonably long period. It didn’t bug me, but I know people who it would bother, so I mention it as a potential warning.

Even though we sat down at 6:45pm, we didn’t finish dinner until nearly 8:20pm. The pacing is (or at least last night was) extremely slow. That’s fantastic for people who prefer very leisurely meals. We get a little fidgety in situations like that, but it worked out well given how early we showed up.

They bring out chips and spicy salsa for each table. They also include a few pieces of spicy cornbread. The salsa is extremely spicy, but also extremely tasty. I definitely ate too many chips, just to have something to scoop up some more of the salsa. The cornbread was heavenly.

When the show was over we rushed to the entrance where they were going to use a long counter (where the desserts were originally laid out) as the merch table. We were first on line, a line that grew reasonably long. The Ladies didn’t leave us hanging more than a minute or two (very welcome at 11:35pm!). We bought five CDs. Two of Cherish The Ladies, two of Mary Coogan, one with her Dad (now unfortunately deceased) and one with Kathy Ludlow performing Children’s music, and one solo CD of Joanie Madden.

We only made them sign one of them, The Best of Cherish The Ladies. Thanks to all of you, we promise to cherish it. 🙂

Lois meant to buy their new CD as well, but didn’t grab it, and we were feeling guilty about holding up the line with a hand-written credit card order. We’ll be buying more of their stuff online, including the latest CD.

To repeat, a very magical evening (venue included!). We already have tickets to go back to Towne Crier on June 15th to see my favorite Jazz group, Acoustic Alchemy. If you can’t make it to Pawling that night, they are also playing the next night, June 16th at BB King in NYC.

Don’t forget (how could you?) that there are still 11 days left to win a free copy of a signed Girlyman Live CD! Enter the contest now and do your best to win the CD and spread the Girlyman love! 🙂