Life on the road, grounded by faith, fueled by Starbucks

CHERRY HILL — Wearing blue jeans and talking energetically about his current “Classic Irish Christmas” tour, one would never guess that Andy Cooney, Irish-American singer and entertainer, was in the middle of a 21-day, 19-city tour that eventually brought him here, to St. Mary’s Parish Hall, on Sunday, Dec. 6.

Cooney had rehearsals the next day in New York, for his Dec. 8 Carnegie Hall show. After rehearsals on Dec. 7, he drove further up the state to Binghamton for a show there later on in the day, then back to New York City for Carnegie Hall on the 8th. His energy seemed to enlighten the ticket sellers and ushers, and everyone else he came into contact with last Sunday.

“Who doesn’t love Christmas?” Cooney asked. “It’s a nice time to tour. When you get people in the Christmas spirit, it makes for a great audience, a great show.”

Growing up in Long Island, New York, as one of nine children, Cooney was raised in a strong Irish-Catholic family. First singing at family and church gatherings at the age of 5, he was performing in well-known Irish establishments around New York by the age of 17, singing and playing the piano.

His abilities attracted the attention of Irish bandleader Paddy Noonan, who asked 19-year old Andy, in 1986, to join his touring show. For eight years, Cooney toured with Noonan, getting a feel for the touring lifestyle and gaining national recognition. In 1994, he went solo.

“The Irish-Catholic upbringing has definitely come in handy, being in this crazy music business. It’s important to stay close to your faith, because it’s so easy to be drawn away from it. But your faith can really bring (everything) back into perspective, and I’ve been very, very lucky to have that,” said Cooney in an interview before his Cherry Hill performance.

With his Ireland-born grandfather an Irish tenor, Cooney came to love the music from where his grandparents grew up, and from where they came to the United States in the 1920s.

“Irish music has been in my family my entire life. I was reared with it, I grew up with it.”

The tour that came to St. Mary’s includes Irish comedian George Casey, Irish soprano Emma Kate Tobia, and other famed Irish-American musicians.

Cooney’s 13-year old son, Ryan, also gets in the act from time to time, singing a solo rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” and also singing along with his father and other entertainers. “He does one heck of a job,” Cooney says about his son.

Besides the Christmas tours Cooney has been doing the past few years, the entertainer also tours around St. Patrick’s Day, and he heads a “Cruise of Irish Stars,” running from the end of January to the beginning of February, which will bring together Irish entertainers such as tenor Ronan Tynan and Noel V. Ginnity. The cruise will stop at such places as St. Thomas, San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.

Last year, Cooney performed in over 230 shows all over the United States, Ireland, and parts of England.

Cooney has also spent time in the recording studio, producing over a dozen CDS and DVDs. His latest CDs are “The Magic of Christmas,” and “It’ll Be Me.”

Some of his favorite Christmas songs to perform are “O Holy Night” and “The Holy City.” The latter one, Cooney’s finisher on the tour, was written by Frederick Weatherly, who also wrote the Irish perennial “Danny Boy.”

Occasionally, Cooney will bring his show to Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where many believe Mary has appeared. His mother had a devotion to the site, and was able to persuade all of her children, except Cooney, to visit the site while she lived. When she died in 1996, she left two tickets to Cooney and his wife to visit Medjugorje. Cooney continues to make these trips, performing during and after Mass as a tribute to his mother.

For this tour, he has a trailer and 15-passenger bus for his crew. For those late nights on the road, his crew has a ritual, perfectly designed to keep them going no matter what city they are in. “Starbucks,” Cooney said, mentioning that with his iPhone, he can locate one wherever he is.

Cooney’s last show is in Virginia on Dec. 22, and then he is back home to celebrate Christmas in Long Island and take a break from the rigorous touring. Still, soon enough, he’ll be back on the road, entertaining the masses.

“You have to be a hard man for the road,” he says.

Cooney will be back in South Jersey on March 15, 2010, performing at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City.

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