Celtic Festival July 2004
Festival scenes (photo: © Ernie Black)

Festival Expands Despite Dreary Weather - July 2004

Despite initially dreary weather, on July 24th, 2004, Blackstone Valley

Robbie O'Connell Band
Robbie O'Connell Band
(photo: © Ernie Black)

celebrated its second annual Celtic Festival, expanded over the inaugeral 2003 event with the addition of a Celtic Village stage and several additional performers and "edu-tainment" features. From the opening ceremony with the Tulach Árd Pipe Band marching across the kelly green field to the final, showstopping performance of Scotland's Celtic Rock band Wolfstone, over 4,000 fans gathered at King Farm in Sutton, MA reveled in Celtic music and culture.

Tulach Árd Pipe Band
Tulach Árd Pipe Band
(photo: © Ernie Black)

They came from all over, including the states of RI, NH, CT, NY, and NJ -- and beyond!

The day-long event featured many outstanding performers: the Robbie O'Connell Band, Pendragon, Aoife Clancy, Laura Cortese, the John Whelan Band, and Wolfstone performing on the main stage, and Charlie Zahm, Rù-Rà Maggie Carchrie & Thomas Leigh, and Jodee James performing in the Celtic Village second stage. Irish singer-songwriter Robbie O'Connell and his band turned in two outstanding sets, first getting things going as the day's first main act, then adding a stunning second set in the afternoon; Robbie sang such great original songs as "Early Riser" and "You're Not Irish" to the enjoyment of all. Laura Cortese followed Robbie onstage and got folks up and dancing in front of the main stage with her mesmerizing fiddle and talented sidemen;

Aoife Clancy playing the bodhran
Aoife Clancy playing the bodhran
(photo: © Ernie Black)

she was followed by Pendragon who charmed with full ensemble instrumentals, excellent songs, and outstanding step dancing by Kevin Doyle. Among the highlights for this reviewer were Aoife Clancy backed by wonderful flute and guitar accompanists, who offered her lilting soprano both a cappella and with her own guitar and joyful bodhran percussion, and

Charlie Zahm
Charlie Zahm
(photo: © Ernie Black)

of course Wolfstone's highly energized blend of traditional Celtic stylings with modern rock elements in the day's final performance which left King's Farm rocking and rolling. Special mention must be made of John Whelan and his band; only a week prior to the festival, Whelan was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness, but he had recovered and offered a soulful, moving performance all the stronger for his ongoing recovery.

If you could pull yourself away from the main stage--a hard thing to do during any of the performances--and wandered beyond the tented avenue of vendors (a wonderful array of Celtic goods from woolens to silverwork, from fine art to books and musical instruments) to the Celtic Village, a second stage

Kevin Doyle takes to the air with Pendragon
Kevin Doyle takes to the air
with Pendragon (photo: © Ernie Black)

beckoned, where you could sit in a more intimate setting under the canopy of a large tent and listen to enchanting performances by the Scots maritime troubadour Charlie Zahm whose resonate baritone and masterful guitar mesmerize the audience, Rù-Rà Maggie Carchrie & Thomas Leigh who charm and inform with their puirt a beul mouth music in Scottish Gaelic, and Jodee James, who balances the Irish and Scottish aspects of the Celtic tradition with authentic Welsh musical contributions. (Many in America see Celtic and think Irish; others think

Callanish dancer
Callanish dancer
(photo: © Ernie Black)

Scots or Irish and Scots, but the Celtic tradition is diverse and draws from many traditions, and the Blackstone Valley Celtic Festival has borught many of these traditions together in one place, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh.)

It was difficult to pick an event at any given time because there were so many options throughout the day, including the McInerney School of Irish Step Dance and the Callanish School of Scottish Dance on the dance stage adjacent to the main stage, and a full lineup of "edu-tainment" in the Celtic Village and other areas featuring border collie sheep herding demonstrations with David Kennard of Wellscroft Farm, Larry Keating's hawks and falcons of Celtic Europe, pony rides, the 79th Highland Regiment Re-enactment, and much more (for a full listing of the day's events, visit our program page). And of course there was wonderful food

Laura Cortese dancers
Laura Cortese Band and dancers
(photo: © Ernie Black)

to enjoy, from Scottish pies to delicious ice cream to lobster rolls, and folks could browse the tented avenue where vendors offered wide a assortment of Celtic crafts for sale whilst listening to the performers on stage.

Although the Festival

Falcon
Falcon
(photo: © Ernie Black)

this year wasn't favored with the beautiful day of sunshine and summery temperature which all enjoyed in 2003--this is New England, after all--the weather gradually improved as the day unfolded. While the day began with heavy rain--which fortunately ended well before the opening ceremony--and overcast skies lingered long into the afternoon, the sun did emerge before day's end and the cool summer air made for comfortable sitting or wandering about the fairgrounds.

Our thanks to the well-coordinated group of over 100 volunteers who made the day run smoothly and who thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Thanks also to the musicians, the King family, and everyone else who made this a special

John Whelan soulful
Soulful John Whelan
(photo: © Ernie Black)

day.

The BVCC has received many phone calls and messages reflecting the enthusiasm and gratitude of many patrons. We are looking forward to our post-event meeting and the opportunity to do it all over again for years to come with a goal to improve on a good thing and continue to bring people to the Valley.

The BVCC wishes to thank and acknowledge all of our major sponsors, Fleet, Telegram & Gazette, Charter Communications, Mass Electric, WXLO 104.5 FM, Oldies 98.9 FM, Wachustt Ales, Miller Beer, Smithwick's Ale, Snapple, and Guinness in helping us bring a signature event to the Valley, to the King Family for opening their doors and hearts to hosting a cultural experience that families and friends enjoyed and will never forget.

Thanks to each and every one of you who took part in creating, organizing, sponsoring and volunteering at this event! What a terrific dedicated effort on the part of so many!

- Ernie Black, Webmaster & Photographer

Wolfstone jamming at the end of the day
Wolfstone jamming at the end of the day
(photo: © Ernie Black)