ALBANY -- Eileen Ivers' energy and her enthusiasm for music and the arts comes through clearly, even in a telephone interview from Logan, Utah.
Ivers brings her multimedia "Beyond the Bog Road" show to the Albany Municipal Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. As she tours across the country, reviews of her shows are sprinkled with words and phrases such as "rocked the house," "rocks the house," "dazzling," "an invigorating, highly energetic evening" and "the bridge that Irish music needs to break through to a mainstream audience." There are also frequent references to how strongly the audience reacts to the show with standing ovations and interactions with parts of the program.
But the show that has many comparing Ivers' fiddle play to Jimi Hendrix's high-voltage guitar work is steeped in a rich history and tradition of a people who have struggled often against nature and man.
"It's based in the Irish tradition," Ivers said Wednesday, the morning after she wrapped up a second show in Logan, Utah. "Really, the show the Albany folks will be seeing, 'Beyond the Bog Road,' traces the music that came from Ireland through the immigrants through the last 200 years and how it integrated with various roots and music along the way -- from French Canadian, old-timey American bluegrass, Cajun -- and how that has affected the journey. It's a multimedia show and at the core is this Irish music."
"I think this is a compelling program of Irish music. It's song, it's dance and it's multimedia. We have a 20-foot-by-10-foot screen on stage which is going to have projections of different films, archival footage. Our dancers are incredible. They're actually from 'Riverdance' and 'Lord of the Dance,' the big dance shows. I'm very humbled and thrilled to have put this project together. It's getting real rave reviews along the road."
A WIDE APPEAL
The legacy of her parents' homeland is what is at Ivers' core. "Basically," she said, "both of my parents are from Ireland, born in the County Mayo in the west of Ireland. Like so many immigrants, they wanted the kids to take up something of the tradition. That's kind of how I got started on the fiddle when I was eight."
Paula Fay, executive director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, said she's seen Ivers perform in Tennessee, and earlier in Chicago as part of "Riverdance."
"She's a fantastic performer," Fay said Friday. "She's genuine."
The Bog Road show is part of the symphony's subscription series and is its major fundraiser for the season. In conjunction with the show, the symphony and Albany Travel are selling chances for an eight-day, two-person tour of Ireland, with tickets selling for $50 each and three chances for $100. The winner will be announced at the symphony's final performance this season on April 17.
"From what I understand," Fay said, "it's ("Beyond the Bog Road") a wonderful performance."
Ivers said hers is a show that appeals to an ecclectic audience.
"We have grandparents, parents and little kids coming out to these shows," she said. "I meet them in the lobby every night and they (children) are just hugging me. I met this young family of kids playing bluegrass music out here in Utah. It's great; it touches folks and it gets the arts stirring up again. That's so vital, and especially for the Albany area."
The reason for the reactions her show gets, she says, is that the music, songs, dances and visual elements all have deep meaning without being boring.
"It is musical history, a journey, but it's not done in any kind of dry or overly educational way, but it's certainly within that," Ivers said. "There's a lot of stories and a little history told through film at times, told through the music, the singing. And even the dance will show Irish dance next to Appalachian clogging and even the birth of tap dance that came out of those forms of dance. It's a very rich story."
CELEBRATING MUSICAL ROOTS
Audiences are often surprised at the common heritages and influences that various musical genres share, she said. The sounds are steeped in tradition, but every generation places its own stamp on its musical heritage.
"It's tradition," she said. "It's passed down through the generations. And it is living tradition. You do make it your own, each generation. What we've done is really incorporate, why does Appalachian music sound a little like Irish, and bluegrass sound like Celtic? And that's what we trace in the show.
"We'll play a Bill Monroe tune next to the circle being broken to a Cajun song to, of course, an Irish innovation song, so it's definitely a part of continuing our culture and celebrating the American music roots that came out of a lot of Scots-Irish and even African influences."
The show is a culmination of research and life experiences, Ivers said.
"It has certainly a lot of research, many years in the making," she said "But also something that comes from performing over 20 years now. Through the years, I've been exposed to various forms of roots music and a lot of informal jamming with great musicians from these disciplines; chatting through the years and hearing these stories. That's also incorporated into the 'Beyond the Bog Road' show, but a lot of the research was also done in the flow of the show, the running order.
"There are horrific aspects of the famine we present that really devastated Ireland's population of only 8 million back in the 1840s, where 1.5 million men, women and children actually died in the country itself and nearly 50 percent of the population emigrated after that. We bring up a lot of these facts that audience members say, wow, they never knew, or I didn't know some historical impact of music in the South. That's why we like to play especially in Georgia, because there's a lot of strong roots there, and that's kind of looked at as well."