WILKES-BARRE – The music and flavor of the Emerald Isle permeated the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday as the Irish singing group Celtic Thunder brought a greatest hits tour to town.
The five-man group is another of those PBS phenomena, much like countryman Daniel O'Donnell and the similar Celtic Woman. Since making its debut in Dublin in August 2007, Celtic Thunder has sold millions of CDs and DVDs, starred in six PBS specials and was named the Billboard Top World Artist twice.
Saturday's show was a bit different than the last few times the group has been in the area. For starters, two of its members have changed (original singers Paul Byrom left to start a solo career and Damian McGinty left to become a star of TV's "Glee"), and they are now under the direction of David Munro instead of longtime musical director Phil Coulter.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
For the first half of the show, Celtic Thunder alternated nicely between group numbers and solo spotlights, and between traditional favorites and original material. In the second half, they also mixed in some more contemporary tunes such as Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places," Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman" and Michael Buble's "Home."
And the group members – now consisting of originals George Donaldson, Ryan Kelly and Keith Harkin plus newer recruits Emmet Cahill and Colm Keegan (and joined and times by Neil Byrne) – also played instruments on stage for the first time.
Harkin, the group's resident heartthrob with his long, blond hair, was the first to speak to the Kirby Center crowd, telling them the group did a poll to see what fans wanted to hear on this tour and they quickly found out the fans wanted to hear all seven Celtic Thunder albums in their entirety. He sang old favorite "The Island" after that, and later in the show strummed an acoustic guitar on Nilsson's "Everybody's Talking" and "Don't Forget About Me," the first single from his recently-released first solo album.
Kelly later assured the audience that the greatest hits tour did not signal the end of Celtic Thunder.
"We are currently working on a totally new show, with 30 tracks you have never heard by Celtic Thunder before," he said. "You will be able to see that in February or March, and we will be happy to come back to Wilkes-Barre, if you will have us."
The audience was into the performance from the opening minutes, even clapping along to the instrumental prelude. They heartily sang along to the group's old favorites, and stood and clapped enthusiastically during some of the evening's numbers.
Highlights of the first half included "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears," a song the group has borrowed from Celtic Woman, "The Galway Girl" (with all five members of the group playing instruments), "Black Velvet Bands" and "Remember Me."
Standouts after the intermission included the aforementioned cover tunes plus the group number "Dulaman" and Donaldson's solo on "Cat's in the Cradle."
If you missed Celtic Thunder on Saturday evening, there are two more shows within driving distance: Oct. 11 at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton, N.Y., and Oct. 13 at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia.
Or you can surely catch them again on PBS.