Hoppin’ holidays at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall

Christmas cheer takes many forms. In Troy this weekend, it's both Irish and Elvis. At left is Elvis

Eileen Ivers always likes to involve the local community at every show she plays, especially around Christmastime. And for her holiday tours, she’s found a perfect way to do so.

About 12 years ago, the Irish-American fiddler left the band Riverdance and began touring across the U.S. and Europe with her own group, Immigrant Soul. As the band made its rounds, she discovered that nearly everywhere they went, there was a local Irish step dancing group or school devoted to the form. Soon, she was asking these groups and schools to perform with the band.

“That part of the tradition goes hand in hand with traditional Irish music — the dance,” she said recently from her home in Rockland County during a brief break on her holiday tour, which heads to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Sunday.

“Now that we know so many folks throughout the States, we do that in the regular show, and of course the Christmas show is special. It’s a really great way to involve the community; it’s pretty easy enough to reach out to the local communities with the dance groups.”

An Nollaig: Irish Christmas, with Eileen Ivers

Where: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St., Troy

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

How Much: $38, $32, $32, $27, $15 (students)

More Info: 273-0038, www.troymusichall.org

For her appearance at the Music Hall, Ivers has enlisted the Boland School of Irish Dance in Rochester to help out on songs from her 2007 Christmas album “An Nollaig,” named for a Gaelic phrase meaning “Christmas time.” The album covers everything from carols to traditional Celtic music to a classical piece from Johann Sebastian Bach.

In addition to the dance groups, Ivers has also been bringing on a local choir at each tour stop — in Troy it will be the Tri-City Christmas Ensemble.

“When [these groups] join us, it feels like we’ve been performing together for a while instead of just one night only; it’s really very natural with the way we work it out,” she said.

“And my band and I know each other so well. At times it brings an improvisational kind of quality to certain tunes. I think that’s what I love about the show so much — it really touches on a lot of emotions this time of year. We do a lot of traditional old Irish airs, dance tunes and carols in our music and put that forth onstage, and it gets people into the mind-set of the joy of this time of year.”

Elvis yule music

The same spirit of holiday cheer, and even tradition, holds for the Music Hall’s other Christmas show, Blue Suede Christmas, taking place the night before. Scot Bruce and Mike Albert, two Elvis Presley tribute performers from opposite sides of the country — Bruce is based in Los Angeles, Albert in Columbus, Ohio — are teaming up to cover Presley’s entire career, with a strong focus on the King of Rock’s Christmas albums.

Blue Suede Christmas

Where: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St., Troy

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

How Much: $49, $39, $39, $29, $15 (students)

More Info: 273-0038, www.troymusichall.org

“He had great Christmas albums,” Albert said from his home in Columbus. “We hear stories on the road — there’s a lot of households that pull out their Elvis Christmas albums each year to play during tree trimming. He reached all ages with his songs, and he just didn’t stay with rockabilly, or rock ’n’ roll — he graduated his music.”

Bruce and Albert will both be performing with Albert’s band, the seven-piece Big “E” Band. The show goes through Presley’s entire career — Bruce takes on the singer’s early rock ’n’ roll period from the ’50s and early ’60s, while Albert focuses on the late ’60s and early ’70s, crooning ballads and gospel numbers.

“We don’t stand up there and act like Elvis in the first person,” Albert said. “We’re doing a true tribute to someone we admire. I’ve loved his music ever since I could remember. The show is kind of a story. Maybe people really weren’t into Elvis, but they just want to have an enjoyable evening. . . . We keep it light — you have to, I’m wearing a ’70s jumpsuit, you know, so you don’t want to get too serious with it, but we do love his music.”

These two have been putting on their joint tribute tours for the past 14 years, ever since a promoter in Easton, Pa., set the two up together for an annual show at the State Theatre of the Arts that continues to this day.

“The lady said, ‘I want to do an Elvis show, so find me the two best Elvises.’ . . . We sent in our pictures and videos and what have you, she picked us out and we’ve been together ever since,” Albert said.

Ivers, who is known as a founding member of Cherish the Ladies along with her work in Riverdance and her extensive solo career, has been putting on a holiday tour each year since 2006. “An Nollaig” was compiled and released in conjunction with the tour.

“Quite honestly, it took a while to put the record and the tour together,” Ivers said. “I didn’t want another Christmas show just out there. . . . I wanted to select tunes, songs to make up a fulfilling evening.”

The show continues to evolve each year as well as new songs are added.

“Some things have changed in the show; new tunes have been added each year,” she said. “We’ve done that again this year; we added ‘Oh Happy Day,’ a great joyful gospel song, and another tune called ‘Soul Cake’ that I played with Sting — I played on a couple tunes he had on his record [2009’s ‘If on a Winter’s Night’].”

Family traditions

With the show, Ivers hopes to pass on the traditions of her family — both her parents grew up in County Mayo in Ireland.

“Every year my sister and I grew up with a sensibility of the traditions, and also just of, again, the joy — I keep using that word, but it’s so true — of the season,” she said. “My folks were from large families. My mom was one of 10 kids, so they didn’t have much, just a simple kind of oranges-and-balloons treats at Christmas time. But they always had plenty of food, warmth, shelter and that, and that was kind of translated to us in many ways, in subtle, beautiful ways — just the joy of being together again, and the religious aspect of this time of year, and to think of those less fortunate.”

Although Blue Suede Christmas is a much different kind of event, Albert is looking forward to much of the same kind of holiday cheer at the show.

“It’s just gonna be a fun evening, and we’re gonna get them into the Christmas spirit at the same time,” he said.

Categories: Life and Arts

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