by Sabina Clarke
Chestnut Hill can lay claim to having its very own Chieftain. He is Irish fiddler Paraic Keane, who bears a slight resemblance to the actor Russell Crowe and is descended from a famous tribe in Ireland with an impressive musical pedigree. His father is the renowned fiddler Sean Keane, a former long-time member of The Chieftains, the world’s most celebrated traditional Irish band.

Irish fiddler Paraic Keane, who resembles movie star Russell Crowe, will perform with The Chieftains March 9 at the Kimmel Center. Paraic is the son of renowned fiddler Sean Keane, a former member of The Chieftains. (Photo by Katharine Gilbert)

The Chieftains  have performed with  many of the world’s premier musicians, vocalists and bands including the late Luciano Pavarotti, the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Roseanne Cash, Willie Nelson, Sting, Art Garfunkel Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello and many others.

This year The Chieftains are celebrating their 50th anniversary tour, and Paraic will be performing with them at the Kimmel Center on March 9 and again in New York City’s Carnegie Hall on March 17.

He will be on stage with his father, Sean Keane, who is returning for The Chieftains’ last three performances in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. But he is particularly excited about his Carnegie Hall appearance: “My whole family is coming over from Ireland, and I haven’t seen my siblings in seven years.”

Paraic is an amazing musician with a fiery, distinctive style. He began playing the fiddle at the age of six. At a recent annual fundraising concert at St. Malachy’s Church in Philadelphia sponsored by Mick Moloney and Friends, Paraic’s cameo performance with a young female Asian violinist had the normally staid audience stamping their feet.

Music is imbedded in the Keane DNA. Paraic’s paternal grandparents were fiddlers and hosted legendary players from all over Ireland who came to perform in Dublin. Their house was a hub for traditional Irish music in the 1950s and ‘60s.

His uncle, James Keane, is a widely acclaimed accordion player who won the All-Ireland Junior Championship in 1963, and his father, Sean, won a score of awards including first place in the All-Ireland Championships and the prestigious Fiddler of Dooney competition, earning him the title of master fiddler.

Paraic grew up in Rathcoole southwest of Dublin, near County Kildare. He and his sister Deirdre and brother Darach, who plays the Uilleann Pipes, attended an all-Irish-speaking high school in Clondalkin. After graduation, Paraic studied classical music at the College of Music in Dublin and later toured Ireland, America and Germany with a contemporary rock band that performed original music.

Before eventually settling in Chestnut Hill three years ago, he lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and performed with a resident band called Curfa, which means “chorus” in Irish. He has recorded CD’s with his uncle, James Keane, and his father and can be seen on You Tube.

After some prompting, he revealed that he performed with Van Morrison at a private event in the historic Leixlip Castle in County Kildare. He was also invited to perform on stage with Van Morrison when he attended one of   Morrison’s concerts, but lamented, “I didn’t have my fiddle with me; what a shame because I could have played the second set with him.”

Another music icon he has performed with is Glen Hansard, an Academy Award-winning singer, songwriter and vocalist for the Irish Group, The Frames. And he spent some precious time with Mick Jagger. “I got to hang out with him for a day.”

Far from that  rarefied atmosphere to playing in  Mt. Airy,  he  forged a unique connection with  local musicians he met at the Irish Center’s Coeli Group. He seems content  and assures me that “absolutely, we have great musicians here in Philly.”

Although he sees himself  as a traditional Irish fiddle player, he is on a musical odyssey; exploring and  experimenting with all types of music including jazz fusion and contemporary Irish rock music. convinced that this will enhance his fiddle playing.

You can watch Paraic Keane perform at The Kimmel Center in center city on Friday, March 9, at The Shanachie in Ambler on Friday, March 30, and at Drake’s in Chestnut Hill on Thursday, May 17.

Summing up his father’s influence on his music, Paraic says, “I listened to my father a lot because he has an abundance of knowledge of the music. And it is because of him that I got to hear some of the best musicians ever. I try to emulate him. He has a style of his own, a nice touch. If I can be in any way close to that … but my style is still developing and I’m meeting a lot of musicians here.”

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