By Chyrisse Tabone
I arrived on Friday evening to a homey little campground filled with Winnebagos, pup tents, and trailers decorated with strung Christmas lights and lanterns. Since the evening temperature dropped to the low-40s, many festival-goers sat in lawn chairs, huddled around small campfires. I believe at the time of arrival the camp-goers had just finished the Friday evening potluck dinner and announcements concerning ‘”crock pots” were heard over the P.A. The inviting smell of fire smoke and the aura of a gypsy camp filled the air with the distinct sound of Celtic bagpipes could be heard emerging from a large, metal-covered pavilion. It truly was a magical evening and I imagined leprechauns dancing in the moonlight.
The concert pavilion was filled with patrons sitting in fold-up canvas chairs. A mobile latte/cappuccino vendor was conveniently parked next to the pavilion and the familiar whir of milk steaming could be heard between the music. The festival had an array of vendors for Celtic aficionados to get their fill of kilts, sterling silver jewelry, and even currant-filled Welsh cakes. Cameron’s British Foods provided authentic British, Celtic, and Scottish fare such as fish and chips, haggis, and bangers and mash.
The bands Cutthroat Shamrock from Tennessee and the Celtic rock band, Rathkeltair from Jacksonville, Beach, Florida started the evening off with a nice array of catchy acoustic and electric tunes. On Friday night, the audience appeared timid and trying to settle in for the weekend and not very animated. People were nestled under the pavilion with their sweater-wearing pooches just trying to keep warm. Since most of the concert goers stayed the whole weekend, many brought their furry children (and human ones too) for the festival weekend. As the Scottish tribal band Albannach began their infectious drum beats accompanied by bag pipes, the audience began to venture near the front of the stage and dance. How could one not dance to Albannach? Their music touches the primeval senses and the feet follow.
On Saturday, the festival offered musical workshops on the hammer dulcimer, the bodhrán, fiddle, Irish dancing, and the penny whistle. With my bodhrán in hand, I attended an hour-long workshop taught by Linda Marie Macchia of West of Galway. She taught how to hold the bodhrán, the tipper, and perform various beats appropriate for Irish jigs and reels. She later invited a couple of us on stage to play with West of Galway, which was an added treat. Lastly, I finally learned how to blow into the pennywhistle (without squeaking) during Don Pigeon’s informal little workshop held beneath a canvas tent. Now how many festivals actually offer laymen instruction in musical training as part of the event? This alone is worth the price of admission for those in attendance.
I stuck around during the afternoon to hear some traditional music played by West of Galway, Brendan Nolan, and Marcille Wallis & Friends. I noticed a few friends from the Pinellas County Scottish and Irish Music Society were arriving and settling in. One could purchase a weekend pass or a single-day pass if desired.
The weather had warmed up and many were able to take off coats and enjoy the sunny Saturday afternoon. In a grassy field, men dressed in kilts and tams participated in Scottish Highland athletics. Walking around the campground and the pavilion, I observed children playing in a nearby creek, well-behaved pooches, and many families just hanging out. The mood of the whole Celtic Heritage Festival, unlike many I have attended, felt like a family reunion. Much kudos to Greg McGrath, Celtic Heritage Productions, for envisioning this kind of Celtic festival and creating it at this lovely location!
By the time Saturday evening rolled around, everybody had loosened up and was ready to dance and party. Cutthroat Shamrock was rocking with their acoustic guitar, vocals, and washboard accompaniment as the audience swayed and sang along. Cutthroat Shamrock hails from Knoxville, Tennessee, but sounds as if they stepped out of the Temple Bar. Rathkeltair then had the crowd worked up with their own brand of acoustic and electric rock songs with catchy and memorable lyrics. I still have an earworm for the lyrics (…”a villain drives an ice cream truck”…). The band featured original songs by singer-songwriter Trevor Tanner, formerly the front man for an 80s band in the UK called The Bolshoi. Rathkeltair played a few familiar cover tunes like Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” and pieces of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” but the highlight was the final jam with a fiddle player and later members of Scottish group Albannach. The final tunes sounded like an impromptu progressive rock jam reminiscent of the 1970s. By the time Albannach played, the kilt-wearing crowd was ready to roll. Probably half of the crowd was dancing, moving, and grooving to the tribal beats, as the odor of smoky campfires filled the air. The energy from the band and the crowd was electric and one could believe they were indeed back in the hills of Scotland, yelling the Mel Gibson/William Wallace chant, “Freedom!”
Overall, the campground was filled to capacity yet the festival still had an intimate and familial feel. I would definitely pencil in the Celtic Family Heritage Festival on the calendar for next year and look for other Celtic Heritage Production festivals located in the southeastern US.
Individual photo galleries of Albannach, Cutthroat Shamrock, and Rathkeltair are presented in the links below:
SEE PHOTO GALLERIES
Learn about more upcoming Celtic Fests: