Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Luck o’ the central peninsula — Irish folk singer sets eyes smiling

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Audience members wondering what Irish folk singer Fiona Molloy will perform Friday in Soldotna may be surprised to know it’s as much up to them as it is to her.

Molloy said she doesn’t bother with a set list for performances because it inevitably ends up out the window before the concert is through. She prefers to listen to her listeners and take cues from them.

“I try to judge what the reaction from the audience is,” she said. “I do a couple standards just to get people humming or singing along and get them into things, and take it from there.”

Molloy has plenty of directions she could travel, from her previously released CDs to her in-progress new album, which is an international collection of folk songs in French, German and Spanish. But she never strays too far from her roots.

“I usually stay pretty close to the Irish and folk music,” she said.

Molloy was born in Northern Ireland, and was part of the women’s peace movement there. She moved to London, then New York.

“I walked off the plane in JFK and said, ‘This is where I should be.’ I spent the next seven years proving to American immigration that they should keep me here.”

Molloy lived in New York for 23 years and moved to Wisconsin seven years ago, where she lives with her husband, Walter. She plays all over the country and on cruises that bring her in contact with people from beyond the Lower 48. She was playing with Seamus Kennedy — a name well-known to Irish music fans in Alaska for his many visits north — on a Caribbean cruise last year when she met Pat and Mark Ryan, of Anchorage. Pat’s brother owns Chilkoot Charlie’s, in Anchorage, and asked if Molloy would be willing to come perform. That sent the local Irish phone tree into action, which resulted in Mike Sweeney setting up a concert at The Crossing in Soldotna.

At this point in Molloy’s career, she picks and chooses performance destinations.

“We’re pretty settled in life. We tend to take bookings where we want to go,” she said.
Alaska was an easy choice.

“I think Alaska is amazing, beautiful and friendly. I wish I could spend months here, although since I work October through April in Key West and Marco Island (Fla.), I might like to miss the winter months,” she said.

Last year’s Alaska performances were in September. The fall weather didn’t temper the warm reception she received.

“It was terrific. There were really, really good audiences. I felt really good about the performances,” she said. “I judge performances by how people respond to them and how many people come up to talk to me afterward. In Soldotna, in particular, some of them lined up to see me.”

Some of the questions regarded when Seamus Kennedy might make another appearance on the central Kenai Peninsula, but since Molloy has known him for 30 years, she didn’t mind giving updates on her friend, she said.

All in all, with moose sightings, a distant bear viewing and up-close view of the Kenai River, Molloy was ready to commit to a return trip.

Plus, she didn’t get a chance to sample any smoked salmon last time, which was a disappointment, she said.

“I was just sort of praying they would ask me back again this year, and they did,” she said. “Everybody was just great. They’re lovely people up there, just friendly and outgoing, and when they discover you’re not from there, they try to go out of their way to tell you where to go. It was a great time.”

The performance is a fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Literacy Program. Sweeney, with the help of community sponsors, has been raising money for the organization by bringing Irish musicians to town for more than 10 years now.

Proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the program, which then provides grants to local elementary schools, like Kalifornsky Beach, Redoubt and Soldotna elementary schools, to buy reading materials or otherwise support literacy.

“There are a lot of good causes out there, but my wife is a first-grade teacher. She loves teaching reading. That is the big thing in first grade, if you can get your kids to read your first year, it makes life a lot easier, and that’s been an important thing,” Sweeney said. His wife, Gloria Sweeney, teaches at K-Beach Elementary.

Tickets are $15, available in advance at Sweeney’s. The performance is at 8 p.m. Friday at The Crossing. The next fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Literacy Program will be in February, when Seamus Kennedy will perform.

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