The Hollywood Bowl staged “A Celtic Celebration” by taking in not only the Irish, but also the Scots, the Galicians and some stray American, German and English composers. But with the Chieftains as the concert’s driving force, the unwieldy package was actually a lot of fun.
The effusively congenial, endlessly adaptable Chieftains have been in business for 40 years, doing for Irish music what Ravi Shankar did for Indian music. Like Shankar, they took a centuries-old idiom, projected it to the world, then developed a fondness for hobnobbing with the rock and pop aristocracy that resulted in some controversial hybrids but won an even wider audience.
After the Philharmonic ran through such dubiously Celtic works as Copland’s “Hoe-Down” and Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides” Overture, the Chieftains finished the first half with an unaccompanied set. They still pump out the medleys of reels and jigs with robust, unabashed vigor, with bodhran player Kevin Conneff genially handling the vocals and some high-spirited Irish dancers adding visual appeal. Paddy Moloney — the world’s most famous Uilleann pipes virtuoso — was the irrepressible host as usual, dropping famous names left and right but always with impish humor.
Naturally, they didn’t remain in the traditional sphere for long, taking up “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” the Texas fiddle tune to which they gave the Irish treatment in the 1980s, and “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” which they attempted to cut with the Rolling Stones.
Later, the Chieftains tried to embrace classical music with a “Galician Overture” that ended with a massive jig for Irish band and orchestra, and “Planxty Mozart,” a musical joke in which Philharmonic principal horn player William Lane traded licks from Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 with the band.
Two selections from Leroy Anderson’s wonderful “Irish Suite” were nearly overwhelmed by well-synchronized fireworks.
The finale can only be described as a musical spree: The Chieftains jammed with the Los Angeles Scots Pipe Band in full regalia, singer Patty Griffin crooned “Goodnight Irene,” trumpeter Mark Isham unleashed wild bop licks and harpist Derek Bell showed a talent for ragtime piano. Though not too coherent, it was very entertaining.