10 July 2004

Elvis and the Old Plank Road

If you are living in the USA, even if you are living under a rock in the USA, you know that though Elvis Presley the man is dead, Elvis Presley the entertainer lives on, mostly in Las Vegas. However, Elvis has his own personal representative in Cairo, NY, in the Catskills Mountains. I was privileged to see Joe Eigo perform last night at Cruise Night in Cairo’s town park. It’s quite a good show, tastefully done as Elvis tributes and impersonations go. The little kids especially loved it when he threw plush hearts while singing “Teddy Bear.” My dad remarked that last night was truly a slice of Americana; a show of classic cars, the smell of grilling burgers in the air, and an Elvis impersonator. I’ll bet you don’t see that in the original Cairo, now do you?
Mr. Eigo’s performance was especially interesting to me because we had been formally introduced by a mutual friend after Mass on Sunday morning. Every Saturday night, Mr. Eigo is the King of Rock and Roll, but on Sunday morning, he becomes (though admittedly bringing his sideburns along for the ride) a humble church organist. He’s quite the character, to say the least.

Yesterday afternoon, I had made a stop at a store called “Guaranteed Irish” to see what could be had. I checked out their enormous CD collection (many of which I already own) and the tiny, new DVD section. Among things like “Aerial Views of County Clare” and “50 Great Irish Songs Played on Accordion,” I found a treasure: The Chieftains in Concert in Nashville: Down the Old Plank Road.” If you love the Chieftains, or if you love bluegrass, find this DVD or at least the two-volume album out of which the live concert sprang. The legendary gentleman perform with many big-name Americans like Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Earl Scruggs, and Martina McBride. They’ve also got Irish dancers, square dancers, and two brothers from Ottowa dancing in the Ottowa style—sort of Irish, sort of clogging, and maybe a little bit French. (I didn’t know Ottowa had its own style—learn something new every day!) We watched the DVD tonight, and it was fantastic. Alison Krauss, by the way, does Irish-style song ornamentation perfectly. She really makes me want to learn the song she sang for this show, “Molly Ban.” There are a lot of sad songs in the Irish repertoire, but this, to me, is one of the saddest and most beautiful; in the twilight along a deserted road, a man shoots what he thinks is a swan, but it turns out to be the woman he loves, who had her white apron wrapped around her.

The real treat for me was watching my idol, Derek Bell, in what must have been one of his last recorded performances. He died in 2002, which I believe is the year this concert happened. He was a talented harpist and pianist, a quiet-looking little man with a quirky sense of humor who forever left his mark on the Irish music community. He has a piano solo in the last song of the concert, which is brilliantly out-of-place in style and yet transitions respectably back to the refrain. While he plays, the other Chieftains look around in mock-disbelief (or maybe it’s real), and shake their heads. Evidently, this is a trademark of his humor. On a live-recorded solo CD of his, a guest artist asks him, “Are you enjoying the audience tonight, Derek?” to which he replies, “No, not very much, but I think later on I’ll cook them for dinner.” It’s the sort of remark that makes you wonder a bit about a man’s sanity, but if you’re like me, you’ll decide he was as sane as the rest of us and probably saner—just funnier, that’s all.

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