Concert review: Celtic Woman wins hearts on Valentine's Day at the Straz Center, downtown Tampa

Celtic Woman: some of THE best craic I've ever had.

WTF is 'craic,' you ask? Well, 'craic' is the word Irish use for fun and having a good time. And that's exactly what I experienced at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Valentine's night. (I studied abroad in Ireland last summer, so I became quite familiar with the term.)

Love was definitely in the air when I arrived. Every demographic was represented, albeit more gray or balding heads than not, but it was a healthy and refreshingly varied mix of folk overall. [Text by Rebecca, photos by Tracy]

Full disclosure: I've seen Celtic Woman twice prior to this night and have been following their music since the group’s inception in 2004. So, obviously, I'm a bit biased.

To sum up the night in one word? Magical. It's the closest a Floridian can get to Ireland without actually flying the seven-plus hours to get there.

The stage setup was elaborate: massive, flowing curtains reflected the lights, and white latticework/trellis-like installations only added to the overall whimsical feel of the production. (The tour is called "Believe," also the name of their most recent album.)

The Celtic ladies who graced the stage for this particular show were vocalists Chloë Agnew, Lisa Lambe, Susan McFadden, and violinist/fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt. McFadden, who is known across the pond for her roles in theater, is the newest member and is filling in for Lisa Kelly, who's on maternity leave. There was also a live band, with just about every musical instrument you can imagine, and then some - a complete drum kit on either side of the stage, a pianist, Scottish and Irish pipes, flutists, and others. The foursome was also joined by a six-voice choir.

Celtic Woman's newest addition was an Irish step-dancer! You may not immediately think of the words "hot" and "sexy" when you picture Irish step-dancing, but believe me, it was.

I'd planned on posting a setlist, but the group had cycled through 25 songs performed by the end of the night and it was hard to keep up. Suffice to say, they performed most of the songs off their newest album, along with select tunes from past albums and some Broadway hits ("I Dreamed a Dreamed" and The Lion King's "Circle of Life" among them).

The evening's highlight was when the audience was encouraged to sing along to the Scottish tune, “Green Grow the Rushes.” Two of the women remarked that Tampa had the best choir they'd seen yet.

The show ended with everyone on their feet and after the lights came up, I remained to watch the crew take down the set, piece by piece. After everyone trickled out, I wandered over to the merch stand and bought a program for $20, with hopes of getting it signed. Five other people were waiting at the stage door when I arrived; the tour bus had been brought around and security was waiting for the group, advising us they may or may not sign anything.

Then the four ladies emerged with their luggage and some Valentine’s Day spoils in hand, and smiled and waved, leaving us all sort of bewildered as to why they didn't stop to sign anything or chat with us since there were so few of us.

One of the roadies asked what we wanted to have signed and said he'd take it onto the bus. Without thinking, I handed him my entire bag to be signed — the one with my whole life in it, that I'd gotten from Trinity College Dublin, where Lisa Lambe graduated) — and stood back. He returned with the bag signed. Fair enough.

Two days later and I’m still enjoying that high you get when seeing a great show — there’s something about the music that just stays with you, makes you feel something.

This show was actually the first of five consecutive Florida performances; the last few take place in Orlando tonight and Melbourne tomorrow night. The tour wraps up April 29.

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