Paddy Moloney has special reason to remember the Chieftains’ last performance in York, in February 2011.
Moloney, a legend in the traditional Irish music community, was enjoying a late dinner after his show at the Strand Theatre when he received a phone call. He answered.
“This is Cady Coleman,” the caller said. “I’m right over you.”
A now-retired NASA astronaut, Coleman is an Irish-American and a big fan of the Chieftains. Astronauts are allowed to take a few personal items in space. So, as a musician herself, she chose musical instruments — including Moloney’s own penny whistle and fellow Chieftain Matt Moloy’s antique flute.
She knew Moloney was in Pennsylvania on tour, so she waited until the shuttle hovered above the state to give him a call.
“I said, ‘Come on, you’re having me on,’ ” the 80-year-old Moloney says. “I thought maybe I had a glass of too many wines or something.”
Though Coleman’s been back on solid ground for some time now, who knows what could happen when Moloney returns to York with the Chieftains on Wednesday.
The performance will include a video of Coleman playing the instruments in space. She actually recorded three songs using the whistle and flute on her journey, marking the first time anyone has recorded an album in space. The songs can be heard on the Chieftains’ 50th anniversary album, “Voice of Ages.”
The Chieftains will be joined by the Kiltie Pipe Band of York at Wednesday's performance.
The band is celebrating its 57th anniversary this year, having formed in Dublin in the early ’60s. Its lengthy history makes it difficult to fathom that there was a time Moloney wasn’t sure what lay ahead for the group’s future.
That changed, however, when the band started to gain a massive following, and not just in Ireland’s traditional music community.
Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and the Who all considered themselves fans of the Chieftains. Legendary British disc jockey John Peel played the Chieftains’ music alongside popular rock hits, further expanding the band’s audience.
“We had a unique sound, the Chieftains, and still do to this day,” Moloney says. “Our sound is still there, our style is still there, but we presented the music in such a way at that time that it opened up the door to a different style of traditional music.”
For Moloney, that means doing more than just churning out traditional songs in a traditional style.
“I particularly selected pieces and harmonies and brought out the core of the music in a different way,” Moloney says.
The band’s long and storied career also includes many collaborations. Moloney names 1988’s “Irish Heartbeat,” his project with fellow Irish musician Van Morrison, as one of his favorites.
“He can be difficult, but we hit it off. … We always intended to make a second one,” Moloney says. “But that was a great album.”
The Chieftains’ current tour schedule has a notable gap on March 17. This year marks the first time in 47 years the band does not have a performance booked on St. Patrick’s Day.
“We’re actually traveling home to Ireland,” Moloney says. “What more could you want?”
Moloney’s earliest memories of the holiday are much more mundane than modern Americans’ bacchanal-esque celebration. While Moloney takes any excuse to enjoy a plate of corned beef and cabbage, he knows St. Patrick’s Day as a holy day. Pubs in his hometown had limited hours, Moloney says, and as a boy he’d attend Mass and watch a small parade in Dublin.
“I couldn’t believe when I came to New York in 1969 for the first time, everybody was wearing shamrocks and green,” Moloney says. “In Chicago, they colored the river green as well. I can understand why it was, just that feeling of belonging and remembering and that sort of thing.”
These days, the Chieftains’ live show include three original members —Moloney, Moloy and Kevin Conneff. There’s also some younger blood, too, in the likes of harpist Triona Marshall, vocalist Alyth McCormack, brothers and dancers John and Aiden Pilatzke (John also plays the fiddle), and singer and fiddle player Tara Breen.
“They fit in so perfectly with the style of what we’ve been doing for so many years, with great appreciation and great respect,” Moloney says. “It’s great to have them with us ... they keep us going, us old guys.”
And Moloney intends to keep performing, for as long as he’s able.
“I don’t see any reason not to,” Moloney says.