"The thread of Celtic music is its passion and the sense that life goes on no matter how many times you're knocked down," says Kirwin, a native of Ireland and longtime New York resident (and now a U.S. citizen).
Kirwin, who just released the album Celtic Invasion - a collection of songs he has championed via his Sirius radio show - says he harbors a "very broad sense of what is Celtic." Indeed, most "official" definitions of the genre are wide-reaching too, encompassing music of Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, Spain's Galicia region, and parts of North America, including Canada's Cape Breton and Nova Scotia.
Here's a look at some of the acts coming through the Philadelphia region for the St. Patrick's Day holiday.
Black 47 is still going strong more than 25 years after it made a splash with its MTV hit, "Funky Ceili." The six-member band - which takes its name from the worst year of the Irish Potato Famine - is a group of relentless road warriors, performing more than 100 shows a year and, as Kirwin has boasted, never doing the same set twice. Black 47, he says, writes songs "from an Irish sensibility but through a New York prism" that includes elements of hip-hop, reggae, funk, and jazz. (World Cafe Live, Friday, 8 p.m., $17, $20).
The Saw Doctors consider its sound akin to "what Bruce Springsteen would be doing if he grew up in the west of Ireland," guitarist Leo Moran says. The quintet's infamous 1990 hit "I Useta Lover" was recently voted Ireland's Favorite No. 1 single in 50 years of chart history. Onstage, the quintet likes to slip in verses from songs of local interest when performing its song "Hay Wrap." Last year, that move resulted in the band rocking the top of Irish charts with a remake of "Downtown," featuring Petula Clark. In Philly, it might mean the theme from Rocky, or perhaps a few lines of Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," will find their way into the melody. (Borgata, Saturday, 9 p.m., $25, $29.50; TLA (with the Latchikos), March 17, 7 p.m., $25, $28).
Boston's Dropkick Murphys have said their goal is to be the "AC/DC of Celtic punk rock." The band's recently released eighth studio album, Signed and Sealed in Blood, entered the Billboard album chart in February at No. 9. Bassist/singer Ken Casey has said that when the band wrote its first song, "Barroom Hero," in the mid-1990s, its members were surprised to hear how much the vocal melody sounded like old Irish tunes they'd heard repeatedly as kids: "It dawned on us that Irish music was a bigger influence on all of us than we'd realized." (Electric Factory, March 8 and 9, 8:30 p.m., $29.50.)
Two renowned fiddlers - Ireland's Sharon Shannon (who also plays accordion) and Cape Breton's Natalie MacMaster - come to area venues next week. Shannon draws from a diverse musical palette, including reggae, Cajun, and French Canadian music. (Sellersville Theater, Wednesday, 8 p.m., $25, $39.50.) An electrifying performer and an in-demand session musician, MacMaster has a take on traditional jigs, reels, and strathspeys - a dance tune in 4/4 time - that will undoubtedly set toes a-tapping. (Annenberg Center, March 15, 7:30 p.m., $20-$55.)
Chicago-based Celtic punk band the Tossers combine traditional instrumentation of mandolin, fiddle, tin whistle, and banjo with guitar, bass, and drums for a sonic blast of fun. (North Star Bar, Sunday, 8 p.m., $12.) Virginia's Carbon Leaf, meanwhile, weaves indie-rock with Celtic, Appalachian, folk, and country music. The band's Irish-tinged hit "The Boxer" - which tells of a fighter who's at the top of his game professionally, but scraping the bottom of love's barrel - is a crowd favorite. (World Cafe Live at the Queen, in Wilmington, March 15, 8:30 p.m., $21, $26.)
Now in their 50th year, the Irish Rovers show no signs of slowing down. From their 1968 hit "The Unicorn" to last year's passionate single "The Titanic" - which focused on the forgotten Belfast shipyard that built the doomed liner - this troupe of Irish-bred Canadians remains relevant and especially entertaining onstage. (Keswick Theatre, Friday, 7:30 p.m., $29.50 and $35; World Cafe Live at the Queen, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., all ages, $36-$57.)
Considered a major force on the international Irish music scene, the aptly named six-member Dervish brings its dynamic brand of traditional music to life through fiddle, accordion, flute, and the passionate vocals and bodhran playing of Cathy Jordan. (Longwood Gardens, Thursday, 8 p.m., $40.) Canada's Tartan Terrors combine music, comedy, and dance, with bagpipes and yes, tartan-clad band members, for a full-on Celtic experience. (Levoy Theatre, Millville, N.J., March 16, 8 p.m., $20, $25.)
Philly native Bill Monaghan and his brother Jim, together with their band, Celtic Pride, continue their tradition of playing locally on St. Patrick's Day, keeping the focus on what Monaghan calls "rebel songs, ballads, and drinking songs." (Sellersville Theater, March 17, 1 p.m., $15, $20.)
He might be two days late, but the spirit of St. Patrick's Day will linger when world-renowned flutist Sir James Galway brings his "Legacy Tour" to the Kimmel Center. In addition to an array of Irish folk songs, Galway and his troupe - which includes Lady Jeanne Galway on flute, pianist Michael McHale, and a string trio - will perform works by Mozart, Debussy, and Bizet. (Verizon Hall, March 19, 7:30 p.m. $45, $55, $65).
The Music Scene
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut St., 215-898-3900, www.annenbergcenter.org.
Borgata, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City, 866-900-4849, www.theborgata.com.
Electric Factory, 421 N. 7th St., 215-627-1332, www.ticketmaster.com.
Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com.
Levoy Theatre, 126-130 N. High St, Millville, NJ, 856-327-6400, www.levoy.net.
Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Rd., Kennett Square, 215-893-1999, www.ticketphiladelphia.org.
Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St., 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org.
North Star Bar, 2639 Poplar St., 215-787-0488, www.northstarbar.com.
Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com.
Theatre of the Living Arts, 334 South St., 1-800-745-3000, www.tlaphilly.com.
World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com.
World Cafe Live at the Queen, 500 N. Market St., Wilmington, 302-994-1400, www.queen.worldcafelive.com.