“From Galway to Graceland” — McLean Avenue Band & Emerald Fire LIVE!

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery.

Thursday, March 10, 2016, was a day of surprises!

In Lakewood, NJ, the temperature hit 82 degrees, setting an all-time record as the warmest March 10th in history.

And, at the same time, heating up the stage at The Strand Theater in Lakewood was the acclaimed music and dance show “From Galway to Graceland” featuring the McLean Avenue band and the Emerald Fire dancers.

Sparks flew during this interactive performance which included a unique array of traditional Irish songs and Celtic tales in addition to rockabilly and bluegrass originals.

The leader of McLean Avenue band is singer/songwriter, Padraig Allen, who was born in County Westmeath, Ireland, but who came to America in the late 1990s.

Allen’s vocals, guitar playing, storytelling, and emcee skills provided the thread which unified this unique tapestry of an evening. Woven into the fabric were such Irish favorites as “The Rattlin’ Bog” and “Cockles and Mussels.” But there were lots of surprises, too, including high-energy cover versions of Old Crow Medicine Show’s hooky “Wagon Wheel” and British songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson’s captivating “Galway to Graceland.”

Backing up Allen were McLean Avenue band members Kevin McHugh, a native of Dublin, Ireland, on drums, pipes, and vocals; Greg Gruber on keyboards and vocals; Joe Biancorosso on guitar and vocals; and the impressive All-Ireland Under-18 Fiddle Champion Jake James on fiddle and bodhran, a traditional Celtic frame drum.

Over the course of the evening this talented group of musicians surprised the audience with several cuts from their critically-acclaimed CD, Easy & Free — some of which one might likely expect to find on a Dave Matthews Band album rather than on a so-called “Irish Music” CD.

Punctuating the rollicking sound of Padraig and the McLean Avenue band was the Irish dancing of Emerald Fire, a spirited troupe which made their performing debut in 2001 at the Vienna Music Festival in Austria. From there, they went on to appear on TV in the United States on PBS, Fox NY, and NBC’s The Today Show.

Weaving jazz, ballet, tap, and hip-hop into their performances, Emerald Fire consists of leader Joanna Barry, the Emerald Sparks dancers — Grace Connolly, Finn Douglas, Isabel Perez, Kaitlyn Rivera, and Madeleine McKinney — and featured dancer Leah Rankin.

Emerald Fire lead dancer and choreographer, Joanna Barry, also doubles as the trainer of the Emerald Sparks dancers, a group of youngsters who study with her at the Garden Street School of the Performing Arts in Hoboken, NJ. A native of Dublin, Barry began her own performing arts training at the age of three. Since then, she’s been energizing audiences everywhere from Ireland to the US and Europe to Japan.

During the course of this interactive evening — which featured lots of audience participation in the form of singing, clapping, and prancing in the aisles — Padraig, Joanna, and their respective groups surprised the crowd by inviting audience members of all ages onto the stage to participate in some lively Irish dancing!

And for another surprise, guitarist Joe Biancorosso, originally from Italy, performed a glowing version of the Andrea Bocelli favorite “Con Te Partiro” on vocals and Fender electric guitar.

And for yet one last surprise, fiddler extraordinaire Jake James delighted the Strand audience with his fiery version of a traditional Irish broom dance!

All in all, if you like magic footwork, raucous fiddle, traditional Irish songs, and Celtic tales — all wrapped up with a bow of red-hot rockabilly tunes — then surprise a friend, a family member, or yourself (!) with tickets to a McLean Avenue Band & Emerald Fire performance. You’ll be sure to find yourself feelin’ Easy & Free all the way “From Galway to Graceland!”

For more on the McLean Avenue band — including information on their latest CD, Easy & Free — see mcleanavenueband.com. For more on Emerald Fire see emeraldfiredance. For information on upcoming performances at The Strand — including Visions: The Atlantic City Ballet on March 26 and Plainsong with Iain Matthews & Andy Roberts on April 9 — see www.strand.org.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.