Aficionados of traditional Irish music know where to find the world's most influential and successful Irish band, the Chieftains, this time of year -- touring America, of course.

"I don't think we've played a St. Patrick's Day in Dublin in 50 years," quipped the group's animated leader, Paddy Moloney. "Last year we played Carnegie Hall for the 24th time!"

This year, however, the Chieftains are playing the Kennedy Center as part of a 28-date U.S. tour that kicked off in early February.

The National Symphony Orchestra Pops, along with conductor Emil de Cou, present "The Chieftains: Lucky You" this week in celebration not only of St. Patrick's Day, but also of their wildly successful 50th-anniversary album, "Voice of Ages."

The Chieftains and the NSO Pops
» Where: Concert Hall, Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW
» When: 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
» Info: $20 to $85, 800-444-1324, 202-467-4600;

"The band is at the height of performing, and the shows are bigger and better than ever," Moloney noted at the beginning of the tour. "We're excited to be performing with many incredible symphonies this spring, and we hope our fans will enjoy these shows as much as we enjoy performing them."

And so they have, as glowing reviews, elated audiences and box office receipts have confirmed. Their Grammy Award-winning sound remains the same as when the group was founded in 1962. At Moloney's insistence, the musicians would perform on traditional Irish instruments. Audiences would be introduced to the deep sound of the bodhran (a hand-held drum), the high pitches of the uilleann pipes and tin whistle in combination with the fiddle, mandolin and harp. The songs, most of which were new to American ears, were lyrics sung to jigs and reels. There were also ballads and rebel songs, many featuring the words of Irish poets put to music.

Over the years, the group would add solo singers and step dancers in colorful costumes adorned with glittering Celtic symbols. The Chieftains would also collaborate with the likes of Sting, Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones.

The Chieftains' concert with the NSO will be presented in two parts. The first half will feature the group on its own, with guitarist, vocals and dancers. The second half brings the orchestra into the mix with more traditional music and dance. "Lucky You" will be lucky "us" for audiences celebrating along.