Ireland’s Lúnasa to team up with Lawrence native Ashley Davis for Lied Center holiday show
After 20 years in the business, more than 250,000 albums sold and gigs at such high-profile venues as the Hollywood Bowl and Sydney Opera House, Cillian Vallely’s days of couch surfing as a young musician are long gone.
Vallely plays pipes in Lúnasa, one of Ireland’s most acclaimed traditional Celtic groups. The band has toured all over the world and up and down America’s coasts, but rarely “into the heart” of the country, Vallely says.
On Saturday, Lúnasa will make its Lawrence debut with a holiday concert at the Lied Center co-headlined by Lawrence-based Celtic singer and friend of the band Ashley Davis. While in town this week, they’ll receive a true Midwestern welcome, with local friends of Davis’ pitching in to provide food and lodging.
“It’s funny, we haven’t done this in a decade,” Vallely remembers of the band’s early days “relying on the goodwill” of others. “When it’s actually friends that are putting you up, it’s better than a hotel because you get to meet people and stuff like that.
“But generally, if a stranger in any country says, ‘You can split up between three or four different families,’ we say no,” jokes Vallely, a native of Northern Ireland who has lived primarily in the U.S. for the last 20 years.
Lúnasa will join Davis as the special guests for her annual Christmas show at the Lied Center, this year slated for 7:30 p.m. Saturday and again on Tuesday. The five-piece, all-instrumental band will mostly draw from Davis’ repertoire (the singer-songwriter has two holiday albums to her name), the classic American Christmas song catalogue and a few of the group’s own favorites.
If you go
What: “Ashley Davis with special guest Lúnasa: An Irish Christmas”
Where: Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Tuesday
How much: General-admission tickets are $25. They can be purchased at the Lied Center ticket office, at 864-2787 or at lied.ku.edu.
“We know she’s a great singer already, but it’s exciting to be doing something new,” Vallely says of working with Davis. “And this mix of American songs and Irish songs is a nice new challenge for us.”
Lending their traditional Irish instrumentation to classics like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Let it Snow,” he suspects, will be “a lot of fun,” too.
It’s Lúnasa’s first national Christmas tour, and originally, the boys had asked Davis if she wanted to travel with them as their guest singer. Davis, recounting the story in an email, said she was interested but wasn’t willing to give up her annual hometown Christmas concert.
So, a happy compromise was reached — Davis would come along for the Lúnasa Christmas shows if the band would make a stop in Lawrence for hers.
“We came to Kansas City one time many years ago and we played in Manhattan, Kansas one time many years ago. But it’s definitely been 10-plus years,” Vallely says. “We’re very keen to see the area, especially with Ashley showing us the sights, you know?”
So far, he says, that’ll probably include the University of Kansas campus, downtown Lawrence and Free State Brewing Co. The band had been promised a few brews on its day off, Vallely says.
Growing up in the small city of Armagh, Northern Ireland, the holidays were mostly a time for family and prayer, Vallely remembers. Christmas stretched on for weeks, and, though “commercialism and Santa Claus” were a part of things, too, the holidays were also “catch-up time,” with all old friends returning home from all corners of the globe.
“Because of immigration, so many people like myself leave the country when they’re young and the one time they go back is Christmas,” Vallely says.
This year, Vallely will take a break from touring to go home for Christmas, but to a different home from the one he grew up in. Vallely’s kids are in the U.S., his home of 20 years, so that’s where he’ll be Christmas Day.
After that, it’s busily promoting Lúnasa’s new album, due in February.
“Maybe we’ll do a Christmas album, but it’s not at the top of the list,” Vallely says.
But “hopefully we’ll do this again,” he says of the upcoming Lawrence show. “I’m sure we’ll have a great time.”