On what would normally be a quiet Tuesday night in Waimea, the Kahilu Theatre transformed into a vibrant giant Irish pub (sans whiskey) with folks doing jigs and reels in the aisles, clapping along to the music, and cheering at the top of their lungs. You might have thought it was a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in full swing, but it’s only late February. Who caused this uproar? It was Goitse, the award-winning Irish quintet who rapidly won us over with their polished performance and witty stage charm. Tuesday’s concert also marked the first night of their 2020 American tour.
Ok, their name might look a little confusing to pronounce at first glance, but Colm Phelan (bodhrán) cleared that up. “Goitse is pronounced Go-wit-cha,” said Phelan seated and holding his Irish frame drum. “It’s an informal Gaelic Irish greeting meaning ‘come here.’ Something you say to get someone’s attention.” For the next two hours, along with occasional enhancement from the Hawaii Irish Dance troupe, Goitse gave us an unforgettable evening of entertainment.
Goitse features guitarist Conal O’Kane, banjo player Alan Reid, fiddler/singer Áine McGeeney, pianist and accordion player Tadhg Ó Meachair, and bodhrán player Colm Phelan. Last July, the band released their fifth studio album called Úr. It means “fresh” or “new,” and is the first recording with new member Reid. Throughout the show, Goitse played tunes from the new recording like “Invasion,” “The Queen of Argyll” and “The Eagle’s Rock” with Reid offering some amazing fingerpicking on his banjo during a solo.
McGeeney’s angelic voice on “Henry Joy” was stunning. The singer explained that the song was about a revolutionary who died in 1798 for Irish independence. To appreciate the song’s chorus, McGeeney recited the touching chorus for the audience and invited them to sing along. “Our country’s called Ireland and it’s the garden of the Earth/I’ve dreamed of a future where our people know their worth and our laws are written by reason and not by landlords, kings, or priests/ and you can have this boys, if you come with me.”
After a short break, Goitse returned for a blazing second half, starting with a series of three jigs featuring McGeeney on tin whistle and Philadelphian guitarist Conal O’Kane, the only member not from Ireland.
The talented Hawaii Irish Dance (HID) troupe was featured on three of Goitse songs and was a huge hit with the crowd. I first saw them when they were on a 2018 bill at the Kahilu with the Irish music duo Switchback. They’ve also performed at Celtica’s annual hard-rocking Honokaa concerts with men wearing traditional kilts and waving various flags. (You can see a video of their 2019 show here.) For their third song with Goitse, “Banjoman Button,” HID’s dancers dressed as chimney sweeps, complete with brooms which they cleverly danced with, over and around.
One of the many highlights of the second half was Colm Phelan’s six-minute bodhrán solo. The bodhrán is an ancient frame-drum traditionally made of wood and goatskin. It’s often referred to as “the heartbeat of Irish music.” World and All-Ireland Bodhrán champion Phelan is one of Ireland’s exceptional bodhrán percussionists. Utilizing just his palm and fingers, Phelan pushed his instrument to a wide range of tones. Sometimes it mimicked a tabla or shifted to a brisk tap dance when he knocked on the drum’s wooden frame.
After a standing ovation, Goitse kept the crowd on their feet and dancing for the encore, “Dog Reels.” The energy quickly spilled out to the lobby where fans again applauded and cheered them, got their CDs signed, and had a quick chat with the band.
Additional mahalos go out to Goitse for their free performance to over 400 Big Island school kids before the Tuesday evening concert.
Odds/First Class Bananas* | The Eagle’s Rock | An Bonnán Buí | Invasion | For Good Measure | Henry Joy | Tall Tales* |
Inspired/Chance | My Belfast Love | Months Apart | Banjoman Button* | The Queen of Argyll | bodhrán solo | Transformed |
The Dog Reels
*Accompanied by Hawaii Irish Dance
To learn more about Hawaii Irish Dance, and classes they offer, be sure to visit their website.
To keep up with Goitse, a good place to start is their website.
Read my interview with Tadhg Ó Meachair here.
Concert video footage authorized by Goitse, Hawaii Irish Dance, and the Kahilu Theatre.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos/video: Steve Roby