By Michael Swanger
Cottars perform Saturday, Jan. 14 at 8 p.m.
at Holy Trinity Catholic Church during the
Celtic Music Association’s 20th annual concert
series. Tickets are $25. Call (866) 883-9482
or visit http://www.thecma.org.
Admission includes free drinks.
With a lot of hard work, and perhaps a little
luck of the Irish, the nonprofit Celtic Music
Association (CMA) has brought some of the world’s
top Irish bands to Des Moines for the last 20
years. Jerry Grady, a CMA board member and volunteer,
recalls when it all began in 1992 with the first
concert by the Dublin City Ramblers thanks to
the grassroots efforts of Jerry Freeman, the
Rev. Tom Crowley and a handful of other volunteers.
“I met Jerry and Father Crowley when they were
putting the group together,” said Grady. “I
remember giving them some money and going to
some shows at Holy Trinity. They put a lot of
effort into getting it off the ground.”
Grady, 62, who recently retired from Iowa Public
Television where he produced music and other
entertainment programs for 38 years, said volunteers
help the nonprofit CMA organize concerts and
participate in neighborhood events like the
Beaverdale Fall Festival.
“After I retired, I wanted to throw my hat into
the ring to help them. They’re a terrific group
of volunteers, and it’s been a lot of fun,”
That kind of devoted participation by volunteers,
board members and fans has allowed the CMA to
prosper during the last two decades. It is governed
by approximately 20 board members, receives
funding from about 60 donors earmarked as “Friends
of the CMA” and boasts a mailing list of more
than 800 fans throughout Iowa.
“It has thrived thanks to the will of the people
who belong to the group,” Grady said. “There
is a core group of people who keep it moving
CMA officials say their average concert attendance
is about 350 people. The nonprofit group typically
hosts four concerts per season that range from
traditional to contemporary styles of Celtic
music and dance. Popular acts like the Tannahill
Weavers, Danny Doyle, Cherish the Ladies, Old
Blind Dogs, The Elders and Danu have graced
Holy Trinity’s stage over the years, drawing
fans from as far away as neighboring states.
“It’s remarkable; the CMA in Des Moines has
quite the reputation worldwide. It is one of
the premier Celtic music groups in the country,”
Grady said, noting that Celtic music bands enjoy
playing here because the CMA offers an enthusiastic
fans base and perks like gourmet meals prepared
“It’s the little things that impress the groups
that play here,” Grady said. “They really appreciate
Grady hopes that fans who haven’t attended a
Celtic music concert in the past will take part
in one this season to gain an appreciation for
a genre of music that has deep roots but continues
to evolve and attract fans worldwide.
“It’s a core music. I compare it to Dixieland
jazz because it’s been around so long,” he said.
“If you give people a couple of references of
things to listen to on YouTube, usually you
can get them hooked.”
Grady said fans range in age from teenagers
to octogenarians, but that everyone can relate
to the various styles of music being played
and the overall entertainment of each concert.
“It’s not just the music,” he said. “Irish musicians
have a unique sense of humor, and they tie it
in with the music and dancing.”
Lastly, Grady said the group’s next three concerts
by The Cottars (Jan. 14), Solas (Feb. 18) and
Makem and Spain Brothers (March 10) represent
the kind of popular, diverse entertainment the
CMA has delivered over the years. Of note, the
Solas concert will be held at Hoyt Sherman Auditorium.
“We hope that people will catch Solas at Hoyt
and come see a show at Holy Trinity to appreciate
the different styles and atmospheres,” he said.
“Hopefully they will connect to the music on
an emotional level. That’s why I love it so
much. It stirs me.” CV