The Willis Clan enthrall audience at Irish Heritage Center

"Amazing."
"Incredible."
"Phenomenal."
"Unbelievable."

Those were some of the words audience members used to describe The Willis Clan after their show last Friday night at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago.

"I loved it!" Kathleen Evans said after the two-hour show.

“We were just saying how we feel like underachievers. We don't dance. We don't sing. Why did we play sports?" she said while sitting at a table with friends and family.

"They were great! They sing beautifully, and they write their own music--a true art," said Mary Evans, Kathleen’s mother.

The Willis Clan is parents Toby and Brenda and their 12 children, ages four to 22: Jessica, Jeremiah, Jennifer, Jeanette, Jackson, Jedi, Jasmine, Juliette, Jamie, Joy Anna, Jaeger and Jada. Mom, who could easily pass for a daughter, played guitar, and dad ran the sound board at the show. But you know they have to do much more than that to have such a close-knit, talented family.

An excerpt from their website says, "We like to enjoy the full spectrum of life. We do music, dance, art, crafts, writing, as well as horses, wrestling, homemade cooking, swimming in the creek, and snuggling up before our fireplace warming our log cabin. We even have a front porch swing.

We also work hard to become excellent at the things we do. Our children have won regional and national dance titles and placed in world competitions for both music and dance. The boys have won state titles in folk style, freestyle, and Greco-Roman wrestling.

We have chosen to take paths less traveled and love it. We hope to share a little of this joy and adventure with everybody we meet."

And share the joy they did Friday night with about 550 people including many friends and relatives, since the Clan is originally from Chicago.

The oldest, Jessica, is the main singer/songwriter in the family of eight girls and four boys. She also plays piano and violin and intros most of the songs.

Thanking everyone for coming out as the show started, Jessica said they were happy to be back in Chicago. "We miss our friends. We miss our Irish heritage, and we miss our pizza."

They started off with their roots, some Irish American songs from their first album.

"This one is about a young girl who runs off with a young man who her dad doesn't approve of. This one's for you, dad--gotta keep him on his toes," Jessica said.

Since moving to Nashville 14 years ago, they've also added some bluegrass and old time country songs, and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry  "30 or 40 times," Jessica said. Referring to bluegrass as the American cousin on Irish music, she introduced her brother, Jackson, on the banjo. "The problem with the banjo is, you spend half the time tuning it and the other half playing out of tune," she said.

The Clan went on to play quite a few new songs and share some information the crowd was happy to hear. They are just finishing up their third album, which is "rock and pop with an Irish influence," Jessica said, and they will be starring in their own reality TV show.

They played a real heart-grabber for all the moms in the audience-- a song that was written as a present to their mother on her birthday, during the taping of the reality show.

They demonstrated their west coast swing steps with the youngest ones  stealing the show as Jaeger dipped Jada.

The kids banter back and forth on stage and you can see they are genuinely having fun. "It's so much fun being in a band with your brothers and sisters and mom," Jessica said.

During a 15-minute intermission, people swarmed the small table where CDs, DVDs and T-shirts were being sold.

The second half brought some of the younger kids to stage with more new songs including "I Wish You Were Here Right Now," a love song Jessica wrote on a roller coaster ride, and "City That I'm Looking For," which she wrote during the family's time on America's Got Talent last summer (Video).

Jessica announced a set of four tunes and invited all the Irish dancers to come up and show off their steps. About a dozen youngsters stormed the stage and danced their hearts out with the audience rooting them on.

A few more songs and the show wrapped up, much to the audience’s dismay.

“Encore!”

All 12 kids were on stage for the encore, an Irish dance that had the crowd whoopin’ and hollerin’.

After the show, the family hung out and visited with fans, chatting and signing CDs.

I know I’m not the only one looking forward to seeing and hearing more from The Willis Clan. Bravo!

We know we normally only give up to a 5 Guitar Rating, but these people each earned their rating. So here it is a one time only, special 14 guitar rating. Congrats Willis Clan, you stole our hearts.

14 guitar rating


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