Come rain or stifling Southern sunshine, this year's CelticFest will forge ahead with three days packed full of activities for the entire family. For those who can't handle potentially scorching heat, Don Penzien, festival founder and coordinator, notes the "majority of the festival is held inside in the air conditioning." CelticFest is Sept. 8-10 at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum. Festivities gear up Friday night with the 8th Annual Irish Whiskey and Scotch Tasting, and continue with Celtic Heritage workshops and performances featuring some of the best musicians and dancers from the South and beyond.
"Celtic" encompasses all things and people of Irish and Scottish descent; one-third of Mississippi's population is Celtic. Even if you do not have Celtic origins, don't use that as an excuse not to come and join in the fun. "Every part of the festival is family friendly—well, everything, that is, except the whiskey tasting, for obvious reasons," says Penzien, who is himself a Celtic musician. He is part of the band Legacy and plays guitar, tin whistle and the bodhran (a hand-held drum).
Performers and dancers are coming from as far away as Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas—as well as closer to home from Alabama, Louisiana and from all over Mississippi. Approximately 40 bands and 10 dance troops are scheduled to perform over the course of the weekend.
This year, headliners for the festival include the duo Randal Bays and Dáithí Sproule. Bays has recorded with acclaimed fiddler Martin Hayes, and Sproule, is of the famed Celtic band Altan. Their collaboration features fiddle tunes, soulful Irish singing and guitar duets.
The Fuchsia Band from County Cork, Ireland is back again too—this year, however, as headliners. At last year's festival, just after Katrina hit, the band made quite an impression on Penzien and the festival-goers. The lads of Fuchsia Band were so excited about the festival that they called from Kansas City asking, "What can we do?" What they did was play at the festival free of charge.
There are three days filled to the proverbial brim with music, singing, dancing and community fellowship. Activities begin Friday evening at 7, but around 10 p.m., the Tune Session begins. If you're into organic, unrehearsed music, you don't want to miss this jam session.
On Saturday and Sunday, there are free Heritage workshops to attend, and who doesn't like free? Workshop topics include "Celtic Story Telling," "Gaelic Language & Songs," "Tracing Celtic Music in America" and "Songwriting." If that's not your cup of ale, there are also music and dance workshops. Learn all the right moves during the day, and strut your stuff later that night.
Saturday's Boomers at the Ballpark in Smith-Wills Stadium is an addition to this year's revels. Organizers of the CelticFest and members of the Mississippi Symphony collaborated to make this happen. The featured guest there will be the band Mithril.
On Sunday, join in the Celtic Kirking—a Scottish term, "Kirking of the Tartans," literally means "taking the family to church." The Kirking is a non-denominational church service held at 10 a.m. in the white chapel on the festival grounds.
Thanks to continued sponsorship from the Mississippi Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with the Southern Arts Federation and an abundance of dedicated volunteers, this is the festival's 15th year running. To enjoy the festival, you don't have to have one ounce of Irish or Scottish blood or know the lingo; you can pick that up in no time. You just have to be willing to have a good time.
Admissions are: Adults $10, Seniors $6, Youth (ages 6-17) $5, Child (ages 5 & under) $1. Friday night admission for all ages, $3.
For more information and a schedule, go to www.celticfestms.org