Celtic Yuletide in Morristown: Breathing new life into an old tune

The best part about Michael Londra’s Celtic Yuletide at the Mayo Performing Arts Center on Saturday was not the holiday music, though there were lovely renditions of Wexford Carol, In the Bleak Midwinter, Winter Fire and Snow and Michael’s Beyond the Star.

HOLD STILL! Our camera was no match for the dancers in 'Michael Londra's Celtic Yuletide' at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

HOLD STILL! Our camera was no match for the dancers in 'Michael Londra's Celtic Yuletide' at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Nor was it the Irish dancing, despite dizzying performances by an assortment of world- and national champions and stage pros.

It wasn’t the five-piece band, even though the marvelous fiddler triumphed over pneumonia (the show must go on!) and the guy on the uilleann pipes served up haunting, other-worldly atmospherics on a cover of Sting’s Fields of Gold.

And it wasn’t Michael Londra’s amusing Gaelic tutorials or his homespun childhood tales of St. Stephen’s Day (Dec. 26) in his native Wexford.

The highlight was a number with no overt Yuletide connotations . . . though its actual meaning is as ambiguous as the song is ubiquitous.

Danny Boy is a sturdy beast. Its wistful melody manages to survive all sorts of vocal abuse in a way that The Star Mangled, er, Spangled Banner–the only song heard more often in this corner of the universe–cannot.

To put a new spin on a song so familiar that it borders on cliché takes talent, and conviction. When Danny Boy is your show-stopping finale, it had better be good.

DANNY BOY: Michael Londra made the song his own at the Mayo Center in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

DANNY BOY: Michael Londra made the song his own at the Mayo Center in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

On Saturday night in Morristown, it was like hearing this tune for the first time. There is a reason Michael Londra’s YouTube version has been viewed nearly six million times.

Best known for his PBS special Beyond Celtic, the former lead singer of Riverdance on Broadway has a sweet tenor (“I sing like a girl,” he joked) that is capable of big things when required.

But where others might go for broke on Danny Boy, he knows when to ease off the throttle. The result at the Mayo was powerful.

The audience hushed as if it were in a recording studio…until Michael and his guitarist delivered the punchline to this traditional song of farewell. Then came the sniffles.

Here is the YouTube version.



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