“The melodies,” answered Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains when I asked him years ago, “Why does everyone love Irish music?”
Here come Irish melodies, in expert hands. County Clare fiddler/accordionist, whistle and melodeon player Sharon Shannon opens the Music Haven (Schenectady Central Park) free-show season Sunday. She’ll globe-trot, like the whole season, by following her curiosity far from home.
Shannon joined her first band at age 8 and hit the road at 14; joining Arcady, then Celtic-rockers the Waterboys by 20. Her 1991 self-named debut, first of 16 albums, remains Ireland’s top-selling traditional album of all time. However, she seems determined to ramble; making music born in Ireland yet reaching afar.
Her second album incorporated reggae rhythms, she recorded Jimi Hendrix songs with violinist Nigel Kennedy, even played on an album by hard-country Texas troubadour Steve Earle. While she leads her own band on records and onstage, she also plays regularly with a ska band.
Her live albums display that agile mastery of dance tunes that Irish traditional bands must wield, zipping from song to song before you can catch your breath. Justin Adams, expert in Afro-pop beats and middle-eastern scales, produced her new album, “Sacred Earth.”
On Sunday, Shannon plays with Jim Murray, acoustic guitar; Sean Regan, fiddle and foot-stomps; and Jack Maher, electric guitar and mandolin; everybody sings.
Guitarist John Doyle opens, playing solo. A founding member of traditional bands Chanting House and Solas, he boasts a virtuoso musical reach as wide as Shannon’s. 7 p.m. Free. Rain site: Proctors (432 State St., Schenectady).
On future Sundays, Music Haven artists and audiences will fly to Mali, West Africa, with Amadou & Mariam, sail to Cuba with Septeto Santiaguero, dance Cajun style with Louisiana’s Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, explore jazz through Iraqi ears with Amir ElSaffar and his Two Rivers Ensemble and wander the middle east and the Delta with Yemen Blues, all with carefully chosen opening acts. After this season, expect major improvements to the stage-house and seating at Music Haven, a favorite venue, and not just because I can walk there.
CAFFE LENA ONSTAGE @ SPAC
Also Sunday, the second of three Caffe Lena Onstage @ SPAC (Rts. 9 and 50, Saratoga Springs) afternoon shows features the Steel Wheels, Twisted Pine, Western Den and Honeysuckle. All four rootsy acoustic acts should fit SPAC’s new and expanded gazebo stage perfectly.
Unveiled in the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival — Cuban Aruan Ortiz baptized the place with pulsating piano fire — the new gazebo stage is twice as big as the 1981 original.
Sons of Virginia Mennonite families, the Steel Wheels recorded “Wild as We Came Here” in producer/Josh Ritter keyboardist Sam Kassirer’s Maine farmhouse in just 10 days. They’re Trent Wagler, guitar and banjo; Eric Brubaker, fiddle; Brian Dickel, bass; and Jay Lapp, mandolin.
New England’s Twisted Pine — Rachel Sumner, guitar; Kathleen Parks, fiddle; Dan Bui, mandolin; Chris Sartori, bass — won bluegrass competitions before exploring new directions onstage and on a debut album due soon.
The collaboration of singer Deni Hlavinka and guitarist Chris West (often plus others), the Western Den released their debut “Battle Hymns” in 2013 and have opened for Melissa Ferrick, Paula Cole and others.
Spunky/progressive folk crew Honeysuckle may be the most modern-sounding of these four bands, comprising Holly McGarry, Benjamin Burns, and Chris Bloniarz: everybody sings and plays several instruments. Noon. Free. 583-0022 www.caffelena.org Rain site: Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs)
Please note, this Caffe Lena Onstage @ SPAC noontime series in the gazebo is different from the SPAC Onstage series, evening shows with artists and audiences together on the SPAC main stage: the Hot Sardines Aug. 7, Time for Three Aug. 14, Black Violin Aug. 21, and Tiempo Libre Aug. 28
EDWARDS AT CAFFE LENA
Durable singer-songwriter Jonathan Edwards — returning Friday to Caffe Lena — played an “everybody-onstage” show years ago here: When rain pelted the Guilderland Performing Arts Center, he simply brought us all onstage with him. Easy-going and flexible, he and Nicolette Larson pumped gas at Floyd Ladd’s (now vanished) gas station on Erie Boulevard when they starred in the jukebox musical Pump Boys and Dinettes at Proctors in 1983.
In addition to vintage faves “Sunshine Go Away,” “Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy” and “Sometimes,” expect cool fresh tunes from his 16th album “Tomorrow’s Child.” Starring such Nashville luminaries as Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Kenny Malone and producer/plays-everything guy Darrell Scott, it all fits like your favorite jeans, silky-smooth. 8 p.m. $22 advance, $25 door, $12.50 students and children. 583-0022 www.caffelena.org
JAZZ at Skidmore
Tonight, pianist Jon Batiste leads Stay Human at Skidmore’s Zankel Music Center (815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs). Before Stay Human became the house band on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” both Batiste and cowboy-hatted drummer Joseph Saylor attended Skidmore’s Jazz Institute.
Batiste played Skidmore in 2009 after accompanying singer Cassandra Wilson at The Egg that same year, and he played SPAC’s jazz festival in 2014 with his big, happy Stay Human crew, armed with tubas, saxes, basses, drums and sometimes more.
Last of five events in the Stewart’s Signature Series, this show benefits the Jazz Institute’s McCormack Scholarship Fund. 8 p.m. $30. 580-5321 www.skidmore.edu/zankel
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected].