Review: Switchback Delivers Celtic Soul and Much More


w/ Hawaii Irish Dance
Kahilu Theatre
March 26, 2018

Thirty-one years ago, guitarist Brian FitzGerald met bassist Martin McCormack at an Irish pub in Palatine, Illinois, called Durty Nellie’s. They formed a friendship and began to collaborate on songwriting while performing traditional Irish music and exploring their Midwest roots.

Since then, the lively duo (now known as Switchback) has released 15 albums, as well as three PBS specials and concert DVDs. Switchback plays 200 engagements a year at performing arts centers and festivals around North America and Europe, and they are considered one of the premiere Celtic acts.

Brian FitzGerald

In addition to acoustic guitar, FitzGerald plays a mean mandolin and harmonizes flawlessly with McCormack’s classically trained tenor vocals. During Monday’s show at the Kahilu, FitzGerald cut loose with several stunning solos and what seemed like a Celtic version of Chuck Berry’s classic duck walk.

McCormack, on the other hand, is the engaging storyteller of the duo. He explained to the audience about the time he was working a lackluster hospital job in Waukegan, Illinois, and looking for a sign to quit and follow a career in music. “I was driving along in my Honda Civic,” said McCormack, “when a hawk dropped a rodent on my windshield. I realized that was the sign – In order to soar, you got to let go of what gives you sustenance.” The decision paid off.

Kori demonstrates the bodhrán.

Switchback’s show was divided into two fifty-minute sets filled with highlights from their 2016 Twentieth Anniversary Collection album, and a full-screen slide-show with scenes of Ireland’s colorful landscape. What really made the show shine was the addition of eight members from Hawaii Irish Dance, an Irish dance school in Waimea, who joined them for three songs. The crowd was treated to hard-shoe step-dancing equivalent to Irish tap dance and popularized by stage performance groups like Riverdance and Lord of the Dance.  For “Connemara Man,” Corey from the dance troupe joined the duo and played the bodhrán, an Irish frame drum with a goatskin head.

After their show, FitzGerald and McCormack met fans, shared stories, and signed CDs.

Switchback has worked for over two decades in North America and Europe presenting programs to help youth gain a deeper appreciation of music, and graciously agreed to perform a special Tuesday morning show designed just for Big Island school kids. Eight schools (seven schools plus Homeschoolers) filled 330 seats at the Kahilu for a vibrant show full of singalongs and foot-stompin’ tunes.

Switchback with the Hawaii Irish Dance troupe

Switchback is headed for two shows in Honolulu at the Hawaiian Scottish Festival & Highland Games, on April 6 and 8. In November, they’re inviting fans to join them on a personalized tour of Kinsale, Ireland, and Prague, Czech Republic. Details here. Their 2018 tour concludes on December 9 in Woodstock, Illinois.

Set I
Stranded | Rocky Mountain Xpress | Stellar Jay’s Wing | Birds of Prey | Irish Road | Waiting for you/ Danny Boy | Connemara Man | Pour Me

Set II
Kansas Love Song | Red Haired Boy | Black Mountain | Highway | Apple of My Eye | Van Tassel | Rocky Mountain | Benediction

Hills of Connemara

To keep up with Switchback, you might want to stop by their impressive website:

Be sure to visit the Hawaii Irish Dance website, and learn about their schools on the Big Island and Oahu:

All photos by Steve Roby. © 2018


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