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Song and dance key to Irish holidays

SARAH DIXON
vail daily correspondent
Vail Valley music: Grammy-nominated group Cherish the Ladies bring their “Celtic Christmas” show to the Vilar Center on Monday night, with an evening of traditional and modern Christmas dance, song and stories.
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VAIL VALLEY – Different cultures celebrate the holidays in different ways. For some, it’s about the food. For others, it’s about gathering with family and loved ones around a warm fire.

In the Celtic tradition, it’s about all of these things. But as important, Cherish the Ladies’ Joanie Madden says, is song and dance.

“Music and the Irish tradition are so closely tied,” she said from the tour bus between performances last week. “It’s the language we speak. All of us in the band come from musical families, it’s something that’s been passed down through the ages.”

Madden and the entire Cherish the Ladies troupe, along with a cast of award-winning dancers and musicians, take the Vilar Center stage Monday night with their “Celtic Christmas” show.

“When it came time for Christmas in our households, it was all about gathering with friends and family for a jam session,” Madden says. “That’s what we bring to the audience with our show. We’re having a great time up there – lots of laughing on stage. It’s really a social event for everyone in the theater.

“We’ve been playing to sold out crowds all over the country, and every single audience has been on their feet, laughing, singing and clapping by the time the show ends.”

Holiday music is not a new foray for Cherish the Ladies, a band often called to the female version of the Chieftains.

Their 2005 release, “On Christmas Night,” was heralded by The New York Times as one of the top Christmas albums of the year. They followed on that success with this year’s “A Star in the East,” another critically acclaimed recording of holiday tunes. Their “Celtic Christmas” tour is in support of the latest release, but features song, dance and tales from across the bands 25-year history.

“The show features lots of audience participation,” Madden says. “Everyone is singing along. We play lots of Christmas carols that you know every word to: ‘Silent Night,’ ‘The First Noel.’ But we also play some more traditional Celtic music. And if the audience doesn’t know the words, we just teach them!”

The Celtic charm is too much to resist, she says.

“We’re one of the busiest Celtic groups on the road today, and this is part of a 17-city tour of mostly sold out shows,” she says. “It’s been so great to see the multi-generational reach. You look out into the audience and see a grandfather dancing with his toddler grandson. It’s really a celebration of everything we all love about the holidays.”

Cherish the Ladies is no stranger to Beaver Creek. They’ve played the Vilar Center twice before and look forward to the return engagement.

“We’re really thrilled to be coming back to Beaver Creek – what a magical setting for a Christmas show,” Madden says. “And what a beautiful performing arts center. As we’ve experienced twice before, our music loves the sound of the wood in that building. It’s going to resonate.”

And as for the challenges of performing at altitude?

“I’m a flute a player so I definitely could feel it – it’s good thing I’ve got a set of lungs on me,” she says. “Some dancers reached for the oxygen tanks backstage. It’s very demanding dancing, so they’re not ashamed. These are some of the best dancers you’ll ever see, and we’ll all power through it and catch our breath after the show is over!”

Sarah Dixon works at the Vilar Performing Arts Center

in Beaver Creek.


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