Kavanaugh clan: Celtic class

Take pity on the poor Saint Louis University students – when quality local music finally comes to their campus, they have the misfortune to be out of town for spring break. Such was the case as the Kavanaugh family brought their many musical talents to Xavier Hall’s theater last Saturday.

The concert was split in half, with the first section featuring traditional Irish music and the second set devoted to Jenny Kavanaugh and her Band of Outlaws.

The Irish section was a rebirth of the now-defunct Irish Imports concert that Maureen and Tom Kavanaugh put on for 25-plus years, an annual St. Patrick’s Day event that invited family and friends to celebrate their Irish roots, either real or imagined.

That torch has been passed on to the Kavanaugh children, as John, Jenny and Tommy began the set with a hushed version of “Red is the Rose” that incorporated their innate sense of harmony. Gradually more friends and family joined, them onstage, including the excellent father-son duo of Jack and Kevin Buckley on uileann pipes and fiddle.

Tom joined his progeny for “The Loveliness of Her Love,” dedicated, as always, to his wife. Maureen wasn’t far behind, leading the family in an acappela rendition of “Colcannon,” a celebration of the beloved potato snack.

Of course a Kavanaugh family function wouldn’t be complete without Fr. John, S.J., who joked at the novelty of “the singing priest.” And sing he did, taking the lead on “The Broom of Cowdenknowes,” evoking the soft, pastoral themes of many of the night’s songs.

After a few more songs by the younger Kavanaughs (Tommy’s “McIlhattan” and Jenny’s “Sonny”), the family ended the set with “Wild Mountain Thyme,” inviting the audience to sing along.

As always, the Kavanaugh family demonstrated their love for and knowledge of true traditional Irish music and, for a moment, made the south end of Grand Avenue feel like the west coast of County Clare.

The mood changed slightly after an intermission, as the band of in-laws gave way to Jenny Kavanaugh and her Band of Outlaws.

Though often tagged as an alt-country outfit, the Outlaws emphasize country soul over country twang, as Jenny’s voice is reminiscent of the softer side of Emmylou Harris or Gillian Welch.

The band toned down the set somewhat for the benefit of the audience, the majority of whom were over 60.

But what they sacrificed in volume was regained in a sense of understated grace that Jenny brings into every song.

Such was the case with her new song, quite possibly titled “Miles Away,” which dabbled in Adult Contemporary territory without losing its edge.

This edge is preserved in no small part by the Outlaws, most of whom have a significant St. Louis rock pedigree, hailing from bands like Stillwater, MU330, Drift and other St. Louis greats.

While the pace lagged a bit in the first half of the Outlaws’ set, it was revived by rollicking tunes like the Sun Studios-inspired “Goin’ Nowhere” and especially “Can You Feel It,” featuring keyboardist Darrell Barber’s overdriven organ licks.

But that sweet country heartache came back with “San Antone,” written by guitarist John O’Connor Kavanaugh.

Though the songs themes of love, loss and redemption are well worn, Jenny and the Outlaws keep it from becoming a clich?d country weeper.

Jenny’s Irish roots were showing this St. Patrick’s Day eve, specifically in her interpretation of Andy Irvine’s “The West Coast of Clare,” rewritten from its Celtic form into a country rocker. It was a perfect example of the band’s ability to fuse traditional styles and produce something not altogether new but wholly pleasing.

But for those who missed the show, you’ll have to wait until next St. Patrick’s Day, when this event will hopefully take place again. If so, don’t waste your time drinking green Bud Light at Humphrey’s; find the Kavanaugh concert and experience an Irish holiday with the real deal.