Musicians James Keigher and Donnie Macdonald, aka Men of Worth, have sung songs and told stories in a wide variety of venues — bars, pubs, restaurants, music halls, churches, schools, auditoriums, libraries, kitchens, barns, tents, open decks, open fields, open-air amphitheaters and (more and more frequently) on bouncing tour buses traversing the wilds of Scotland and Ireland. But as their 31-year career has evolved, the musical twosome has become increasingly fond of playing on the stages of little theaters, and in small towns.
“We’re very simple and basic in our performance approach, actually, and it seems to work well in these smaller theaters, such as Cinnabar Theater, which we always look forward to returning to,” says Keigher, originally of County Mayo, Ireland, now a resident of Talent, Oregon. Macdonald, hailing from the Isle of Lewis, in the Hebrides of Scotland, makes his home in the Sacramento area.
“We’ve been working as a musical duo for over 30 years,” notes Keigher, “performing in music venues all over the place, but gradually, we’ve gotten more involved with the theatrical performing arts, becoming more familiar with small theaters in small communities, which are wonderful places to perform.”
For one thing, their audiences tend to actually sit in one place and listen. That’s hardly the case in many of the pubs and cafés that Celtic duos often find themselves playing in, reduced to merely providing the soundtrack to a roomful of loud conversationalists. In theaters, where people are accustomed to directing their attention to whatever is happening on the stage, musical groups like Men of Worth are given the opportunity to really make a connection with their audiences.
“It makes for a very cozy atmosphere,” affirms Macdonald. “Over the years, we wanted to get away from the whole pub dance band scenario, where you have your lyrics in front of you and you can just blast away. We like a Men of Worth performance to have the feeling that the musicians and the audiences are all a bit interested in each other, instead of everyone being in their own little worlds in the same room.”
Men of Worth take their name from an old folk song by Scottish bard Archie Fisher, a tune describing the danger posed by industrial jobs luring workers from their rural lives. It includes the lines, “I ken you’re men of worth/you’re the best that’s in the North/not men of greed, but men who need the work that’s come your way/ from Flotta to Kishorn, a new industry is born/Now Peterhead and Cromarty will never be the same.”
There’s just something about the musical sound and borderline-magical language of a good old Celtic song that gives audiences an instant feeling of comfort and safety, of whimsy and magic — even when the lyrics turn a bit bleak and despairing.
“You’ve hit the nail on the head there,” agrees Keigher. “It is a comforting sound to a lot of people. The approach we take adds to that sense of comfort and community, in the way we bring everybody together to sing the chorus of a song, or by taking a few requests, or telling stories that might go along with a particular tune.”
“We’ve covered a lot of the very best songs that the folk tradition of Scotland and Ireland have to offer,” adds Macdonald. “We’ve released 10 or 11 albums, and I think there’s very little repetition on them, it’s always something different. So, though it’s a very sweet and soothing sound, a familiar kind of sound that we have, we also keep people on their toes from tune to tune.”
MEN OF WORTH
What? Irish-Scottish duo performs classic and original Celtic folk tunes
When? Sunday, August 13, 7:30 p.m.
Where? Cinnabar Theater, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.
How Much? $25 in advance, $30 at the door.
Tickets and information? Cinnabartheater.com