Celebrating Ireland: Katie McMahon returning to Austin in time for St. Patrick’s Day
Published 7:09 am Saturday, March 9, 2019
There isn’t much that isn’t musical about Katie McMahon.
The native of Dublin, Ireland, admitted that she was musical almost from the very beginning.
“Apparently I did concerts when I was two in my high chair,” McMahon said, from her Minneapolis home. “Thank God I was able to go into the business. I might have been very irritating.”
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McMahon gives an infectious laugh as she recounts a bit more about her musical family.
“It started with my mom who is from Germany,” she explained. “We used to walk around Ireland, very VonTrapish like, singing German songs in three-part harmony.”
That love of music is returning to Austin, when McMahon plays the Paramount Theatre with her show Celtic Rhythm at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 16.
It’s a place she’s familiar with, having performed her annual Christmas concert a couple of times in Austin.
“It’s a lovely theater and I really like it,” McMahon said. “I’ve always had a great time there and it will be nice to see some people from previous shows.”
McMahon and her Irish roots have a very special connection to a very important part of musical history as she was the original soloist for the original Riverdance, which grew out of a 10-piece group.
This was prior to Michael Flatley and the mainstream took hold of the act.
Before that, she was a part of the group Anúna which she joined in 1991.
“It was really kind of crazy,” McMahon remembers. “We were our own group (Anúna). We had been growing on our own as a group when I was asked to be a part of Riverdance.”
It was a time that was measured by people now knowning who she was through Riverdance and recognizing her in public.
Since then McMahon has gone on to make five solo CDs, has toured both internationally and at home, and during all of that, married and is raising two children.
McMahon looks back at her early days with Anúna and Riverdance fondly. It was a turning point in her career.
“It’s been great for me,” she said. “It’s really pushed the popularity of Irish music. It’s very accessible for people who haven’t been into it for a while.”
In that way, McMahon sees her time on stage, singing songs of her home country, as a way to introduce Ireland to people in the United States and abroad.
“We felt like we were ambassadors for our country,” McMahon said. “Ireland is a really tiny country in comparison. It was really exciting. We had just had this peace process so I was really proud of our Irish music.”
Through that process of introdution, McMahon hopes to get past the surface image of how Ireland and the culture is perceived.
“I really want people to get a deeper understanding of Ireland,” she said. “Sometimes there is a plastic attitude to Ireland: St. Patrick’s Day, green beer … there’s a depth of culture that you tap in to.”
Of course, singing these ballads and lullabies can be a double-edged sword.
“I feel a bit homesick sometimes, but it’s wonderful I’m able to sing these songs over here and people want to come and listen,” she said.
Aside from touring, McMahon has two projects currently in the works. One is a simple album of Celtic lullabies that evolved from an intial idea of exploring lullabies from different countries. The album will largely be harp and voices.
The other project is more ambitious and celebrates the stories of “feisty females.”
As McMahon describes it, it’s a concept of songs she’s discovered over the years, largely from the 19th century.
“Women who have turned things on their heads,” McMahon said.
As for Austin’s March 16 show, McMahon said to expect the whole Irish experience.
“We’re going to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day,” she said. “We will have a mixture of traditional music from Ireland along with some contemporary numbers.”
“I’ll even tell a story about St. Patrick, though we never had snakes, so that’s a myth,” McMahon continued. “There will be some more well known Irish songs and absolutely, a couple of stories.”