Sunday, July 30, 2006

Johnny Cunningham Tribute (Susan McKeown, Phil Cunningham, et al.)

This show was on the same night as the Washington Area Music Awards. Bad planning, that.

Washington Post, Wednesday, February 9, 2005; Page C04

Johnny Cunningham Tribute

Scotch whisky, lemon juice, orange juice, Benedictine and Chambord: That's the "Cunningham," a cocktail conceived by a San Francisco bartender to honor Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham, who died at age 46 in December 2003.

Just over a year later, a quintet of musician friends took to the road to toast the Silly Wizard frontman with songs and tunes. Brother Phil Cunningham, Kevin Burke, Seamus Egan, Aidan Brennan and Susan McKeown wound up their tribute tour at Rockville's Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy on Monday.

A warm glow emanated from the performers, and a tipsy sort of affection saturated the music. Scots may share with the Irish -- whose people made up four-fifths of the group -- a reputation for boozy emotion, but though the artists drank only water, the gaiety, sorrow and wry humor of the Celts intoxicated their audience.

Especially moving was a suite of Cunningham's music from the stage production "Peter & Wendy," wherein McKeown, as Wendy, sang "Give a kiss, fly away / It's the time of spring cleaning / Come again when I'm gone / I'm too old for redeeming." Another heart-tugger was the traditional tune "The Dark Island," Cunningham's favorite. His brother related how their father had wanted it played at his funeral, but neither of the brothers was up to it; when Johnny died, likewise, Phil couldn't manage it.

The accordionist played it on Monday for his brother, and also said he's thinking ahead to his own funeral: "I'm just gonna get a whole bunch of folk that don't like me."

-- Pamela Murray Winters

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