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Jan 12, 2012
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Celtic Music Association celebrates 20 years of hosting top Irish bands

By Michael Swanger

The 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 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,” he said.

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 along.”

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 by volunteers.

“It’s the little things that impress the groups that play here,” Grady said. “They really appreciate that.”

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

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