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The City Journals

Celtic Reels and Irish Tales are ‘The Craic’ at Viridian

Apr 08, 2016 10:30AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Mylinda LeGrande | [email protected]

West Jordan - The luck of the Irish was in the air on March 12 at the Viridian Event Center. “The Craic” is an Irish term meaning to have a fun and social time at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. On this night, the hall was near bursting, with every seat filled, families sitting on the floor in the front and others standing at the back and along the sides. All had come to see Cross Strung, a locally grown but nationally touring family band. 

This national touring act performs less often in Utah and more often nationally. It is made up of three sisters and a brother-in-law. Sherrie Cluff is the leader and mother of the Cross Strung family band. She sometimes joins the band to play a bohdrum, Irish flutes and whistles. 

Other band members include Leah Cluff, 21, who plays violin and cello. She discovered Celtic music for the family. She recently studied it in Ireland with master musicians. Sarah Riggs, 25, plays the mandolin. Her husband, Dan, 28, plays the fiddle. Emma is 19 and plays both electric and violin bass instruments and sings vocals. 

Leah Cluff, one of the sisters, said, “We’ve been playing together for about 15 years. My mom wanted music in the home. We started out with bluegrass but then discovered Celtic music, so we do a little bit of everything. We’ve been touring for about five years now. We use about 12 instruments, including an Irish drum called a bohdrum. We also use Irish whistles. Some of the bands we take inspirations and songs from are, first, Hanneke Castle,  a Scottish performer. She takes a modern twist to traditional music. Another band we admire is called Cricket Stills. They are incredible. They take traditional music and put a completely different spin on it. Those are the bands we look for the songs that have been changed in some way and we use them [in our performances].”

A few of the songs from the set list that the band played included “Fair Maiden,” “Whistle Medley,” David’s Jig,” “Danny Boy,” “Grandpa John,” “America the Beautiful,” “The Curse Reversed” and crowd favorite “Half Hung McNaughton.”  

Nathalie Chipping, a student at West Jordan High, is required to attend a live event every quarter for her orchestra class. 

“I found out about it from their website. I play cello, so I enjoyed hearing the cello part along with the songs. I like the rhythmic beat to the music,” she said.

Along with the band, other entertainers at this show included Rachel and Ryan from the Acadamh Rince Irish Dancer Group. They wore traditional Celtic dancer costumes. While the band played, they thrilled the audience with Irish jigs and reels. It added to the festivity of the St. Patrick’s Day holiday that would be celebrated later that week. 

Paul Evans has been attending these concerts with his wife, Angie, for the last two years. 

“We have a neighborhood Facebook page. They posted about an Excellence in the Community event a few years ago, which was the first we attended. Since then, if we are [in town], we are here. We love these concerts. I’ll tell you what: the musical talent of that family — what a great blessing it is to have that kind of hand-clapping, foot-stomping music [available] for free. There are serious musicians that come out to perform at these events. The only thing I would change is to have the whole auditorium open. These concerts are getting popular,” he said.

Besides the organizer, Jeff Whitely, the Excellent in the Community team included Austin Meeks on sound and Meg Sanderson as the photographer. Whitely founded this group after being a street musician in Paris. 

“We present a concert on the second Saturday of each month where we feature local musicians. Our founding premise is that Utah talent is underestimated, undervalued, underutilized and is an undervisible resource. We, in a gentle way, try to persuade civic leaders to recognize the accomplishments of Utah musicians and to harvest those accomplishments for the good of the community. If music programs are cut back in schools, please bring your kids here regularly,” he said.