The Chieftains are the world's most famous traditional Irish folk band, period.

Don't believe it? Consider: The group has played together 35 years and produced nearly as many albums. It has garnered a fistful of Grammys and collaborated with artists ranging from Willie Nelson to Eddie Vedder to Bob Dylan to, yes, 150 chanting Buddhist monks (when they performed at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan, in 1994).Still skeptical? All right - the Chieftains were the first musical group ever to perform at the U.S. Capitol (at the invitation of then-House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, of Irish descent) and the Great Wall of China. They provided the soundtrack for such movies as "Rob Roy," "Circle of Friends" and "Far and Away," and they performed for Pope John Paul II and 1.35 million people in Dublin's Phoenix Park, smashing all live audience attendance records.

Still hesitant? Then go see for yourself - the Chieftains are coming to Salt Lake City Friday and Saturday to play with the Utah Symphony.

The group has been to Utah before. They played with the symphony in 1995, and Centerville bagpipe player Ted Olson made sure he was there.

"I was thrilled just to see them," he said. "If you want to see some of the best mastery of these instruments, you just can't go anywhere else."

"These instruments" are the uileann pipes, tin whistle, two fiddles, a harp, a bodhran (hand-held drum) and a flute that give the six Chieftains their recognizable sound.

Olson got lucky after the concert, managing to get backstage to visit with Paddy Maloney, the group's leader, and the other Chieftains. He found their success hasn't gone to their head.

"They were standing around just talking with people, like they were your next-door neighbors," he said. "They were very friendly, very cordial, very accommodating - it seemed like they really wanted to meet people."

Olson's wife Jenifer "was like a groupie," so excited was she to be face-to-face with the famous musicians.

The Utah Pipe Band, a local bagpipe group, will play in the lobby before this weekend's concerts. Yes, I know, bagpipes are Scottish, not Irish, but hey - they're both Celtic, so close enough.

Tickets range from $17 to $34 and are available at the Abravanel Hall box office, 123 W. South Temple, or by calling 533-NOTE.