When Oisin Mac Diarmada leaves for the U.S. this week for his annual "Irish Christmas in America" tour (including a stop at AMSDconcerts on Dec. 1), one thing he'll leave behind on the Emerald Isle is his love of tea.
"I'm not thinking about tea, I'm thinking about coffee!" he said by phone last week from his home in County Sligo. When you've been spoiled by Barry's and Lyons one's whole life, Lipton's is kind of hard to accept.
And if most Americans would readily admit that we can't brew a decent pot of tea to save our lives, he pointed out that we Yanks do know how to make a nice pot of coffee.
Mac Diarmada should know; his full-time band, Teada, tours most of the year, and is a regular on the folk circuit in the States.
He said he started the annual "Irish Christmas in America" tour six years ago as an opportunity to share Irish holiday traditions with Americans.
"It's a more broad show; people come to it who don't normally come to a traditional Irish concert. We get a lot of families as well. It's a nice little mix."
The American holiday tour grew out of an European tour that he played on for a few years, and it offered the participants new artistic possibilities as well as holiday charm.
"I thought it would be fun to put something together in the United States using the resources of Teada. A lot of the guys in the band would also tour, and it was also an opportunity to bring in outside people.
"Teada is primarily an instrumental band, so we've really focused on bringing in vocalists."
Touring the United States so often has given Mac Diarmada an understanding of how differently Americans and Irish view Irish music.
"Musical tastes are quite broad in Ireland. If you say 'Irish music,' that could mean anything, even Irish musicians playing rock music.
"If you used the term 'Irish traditional music,' they would have the understanding that Americans have of Irish music."
While this year's Christmas production has yet to hold its first show, Mac Diarmada said he's already busy planning the 2011 edition.
"A lot of the good venues book up far ahead. When I go out this year, it's good to know what's ahead for next year."
He varies the lineup year to year (although his fiddle is obviously a constant) because the Christmas show often returns to the same venues.
"You don't want to go out with the same show every year," he said, explaining that regulars want to see something different, albeit along the same lines.
This year's featured singer is Seamus Begley (who also plays accordion) of County Kerry. Mac Diarmada said Begley has deep knowledge of some of the older Irish traditions that are being forgotten by younger generations.
"A guy like Seamus has lived through a lot of Christmas customs; he's not just some guy onstage playing music."
The other members of this year's cast are Grainne Hambly on harp, Tommy Martin on Uilleann pipes and whistles, narrator Tristan Rosenstock, dancer Brian Cunningham and guitarist Sean McElwain.
Personality is also an important consideration, Mac Diarmada said, when putting together each year's lineup.
"Only a little bit of time is spent onstage; most of it is spent on buses and in hotels."
But that time together offstage is also important in helping nurture the music.
"A great sharing of knowledge between the generations" is necessary to keep traditional Irish music alive, Mac Diarmada said. "Sometimes it takes a bit of tolerance and understanding."
But he said overall, traditional Irish music is very healthy, with young kids still falling for the music of earlier generations.
"It's a pretty broad church, really. You get people who are very happy to play the music as they learned it, and others who want to push it in new directions.
"There is a lot of room for creativity within traditional Irish music. You won't please everybody, but there's a sort of healthy vibrancy."
"Irish Christmas in America"
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1
Where: AMSDconcerts, 4650 Mansfield St. (Normal Heights United Methodist C
Music show brings Irish holiday traditions to U.S.
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