For the Chieftains, the past has always provided a window to the future.
As the sextet celebrates its 31st year, it's no surprise to find that the group that helped revive classic centuries-old Irish music has long been a major influence to such contemporaries as Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend and Van Morrison.
Paddy Moloney, founder of the seasoned Celtic ensemble marvels at the universal acceptance of the Chieftains by world-wide audiences, yet he is convinced the secret lies within the music itself.
"There is a great deal of emotion in the Celtic music tradition, which I think reaches everybody," said Moloney in a telephone interview recently. "We have always concentrated on how to play the emotion along with the musical notes."
With Moloney on tin whistle and uillean pipes (Irish bagpipes) and fellow Chieftains Derek Bell (Irish harp), Martin Fay (fiddle), Sean Keane (fiddle), Kevin Conneff (bodhran, or Irish drum), and Matt Molloy (flute), the Chieftains re-create the distinctive folk music of ancient Ireland.
Moloney says that much of the Chieftains music comes from the vast Gaelic repertorie that includes notable contributors such as the 17th-century blind harpist Tourlough O'Carolan and an ambitious study, harpist Edward Bunting.
"They were like the Bachs and Mozarts of their day," says Moloney, who began studying the masters' works at age five on tin whistle.
"I consider their music to be some of the most technically brilliant ever created."
However, much of the Chieftains' material has come from what Moloney calls the ageless folk music process of collecting and adapting songs and poems, both from Gaelic and English translations and passing from musician to musician.
Currently on a 21-city tour of America, the Chieftains are at work on a number of projects.
Late February found them at two sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall with pop singer Roger Daltrey (where they performed a reworked version of the Who's rock anthem Baba O'Reilly.
As the tour winds its way back north later this month, the Chieftains are scheduled to finish working on tracks for their next release for the BMG label that will include guest performances by the Rolling Stones, Bono, Sinead O'Connor, Jerry Garcia, Mark Knoplfler and others.
"It's an exciting time for us," said Moloney.
The Chieftains tonight at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 8 p.m. Tickets $19 and $24.