published Friday, March 18th, 2011

Legendary Irish bagpiper takes the stage at Charles & Myrtle’s


What: Uilleann piper Paddy Keenan.

When: 8 p.m. today.

Where: Charles & Myrtle’s Coffeehouse, 105 McBrien Road.

Admission: $10 suggested donation.

Phone: 892-4960.

Venue website:


Following the Friday night special with Paddy Keenan at Charles & Myrtle’s Coffeehouse, a trio of loclents will play at 8 p.m. Saturday. Roger Alan Wade, Dalton Roberts and Jerre Haskew will each perform seven or eight songs, about two hours’ worth of material, before the finale, “a big surprise” that Haskew promises “will blow the doors off.”


1983: “Poirt an Phiobaire”

1999: “Na Keen Affair”

2003: “The Long Grazing Acre”

2004: “Paddy Keenan”


Paddy Keenan is widely considered by most of his fans as one of the finest uilleann (Irish) bagpipers in the world, yet, as a teenager, he almost lost touch with the instrument entirely.

Keenan initially took up the instrument at age 10 in his native Ireland under the tutelage of his father, John Keenan, who was also a piper. With his natural talent, Keenan flourished on the notoriously finicky instrument but chafed under his father’s strict instruction.

“He saw that I was doing well from a very early age, and I suppose that gave him reason, as a friend of mine once said, ‘to beat it into me,’” Keenan, 62, said, laughing. “He was pretty tough on me, and he knew what he wanted.”

Keenan left Ireland as a teenager to move to London, where he stored his pipes in a friend’s attic and spent three years busking for a living as a blues singer and guitarist. He resisted his friends’ efforts to reunite him with the pipes, even going so far as to refuse to attend an interview they arranged between him and The Beatles.

When he decided, of his own volition, to bring the pipes out of storage and play them in a London park, it was, Keenan said, as if he rediscovered a part of himself he’d lost.

“I felt better about it, about playing them again,” he said. “I felt more in control of the instrument after being off it for a few years. The Irish music sounded so much better to me, so much more live and interesting.”

Shortly after reconnecting with the music, Keenan returned to Ireland, where he began playing with a group of fellow traditional musicians in Dublin. This would become the core of The Bothy Band, a short-lived traditional Irish supergroup, whose work would continue to influence generations of players with its interpretation of standard tunes backed by powerful, driving rhythms.

Keenan’s solo career after The Bothy Band’s dissolution in 1979 has taken him all over the world and will include a stop at Charles & Myrtle’s Coffeehouse tonight.

After piping for 50 years, Keenan said he has struggled with many things, including insecurity with his popularity and, near constantly, with his instrument.

Nevertheless, when he sees his music connecting with an audience, the obstacles all seem worth surmounting.

“I’ve walked out of some gigs where people walk out with tears in their eyes,” Keenan said. “It’s not sad tears — well, maybe [they are], but they’re happy, too.

“That’s nice to see and hear. At least you know you’re not just going around blaring out music. I’m happy to see that the tradition is kept alive.”

Q&A: Legendary uilleann piper Paddy Keenan

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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curiouscat said...

Had the pleasure of enjoying the show Friday night!!! Absolutely amazing experience to see such an exquisite rare instrument and a rare humble master! If you don't know whether you might be Irish, a listen to Paddy's music feels like going home! It was a beautiful show with a lot of surprises (including Paddy's banjo pickin').

March 24, 2011 at 12:54 p.m.
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