EVANSTON — “A beehive, where everything is buzzing, and the biggest challenge is deciding what to do first.”
That’s how Arts, Inc., Executive Assistant Shasta Wigginton described the group’s annual Ceili at the Roundhouse Celtic Festival, scheduled for the upcoming weekend of March 23-24.
Executive Director Carolee Bowen agrees. “There’s this overwhelming sense of excitement when you’re there.”
This year’s festival promises to be bigger and better than ever, with lots of new musicians, vendors, workshops, demonstrations and food. The festival will be held in Evanston’s Railyards Complex, utilizing all the available space, including the Visitors Center, Superintendent Building, Machine Shop, and all areas of the Roundhouse. There will even be medieval fighting demonstrations outside, weather permitting.
This year the renovated Strand Theatre, now the Evanston Community Center, will also be used for a kick-off concert featuring Celtic rock band Pladdohg at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 22. Pladdohg is a 10-member group that has spent more than 20 years touring and performing. Beer and concessions will be available for the evening event.
The festival itself opens at 3 p.m. on Friday, with children’s activities, dancing, workshops and much more. The Friday evening headline concert starts at 8 p.m. and features traditional Irish band Teada. Festivities continue Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Saturday’s headline concert performers include Ireland’s Socks in the Frying Pan at 6 p.m. and California-based Irish folk band Molly’s Revenge at 8 p.m.
Wigginton and Bowen said there will be lots of food options, including traditional Irish food, Greek options, Indian tacos, desserts and more. The event will also feature weapons demonstrations, whiskey tasting, mythology and other workshops, and authentic vendors. “There will be music and entertainment all day, every minute,” said Bowen.
This is the first Celtic Festival since Bowen and Wigginton embarked on a two-week tour of Ireland and Scotland with other folks from all over the world who are also involved in putting on such festivals. The two said the contacts and connections made on that trip will be invaluable going forward.
“We were able to talk and share both our successes and our problems,” said Bowen. “We found out that they’re pretty similar to the successes and challenges facing everyone everywhere.”
The networking has already helped Arts, Inc., book new bands for next year’s Celtic Festival, said Bowen, who explained one of the biggest challenges with booking entertainment is the need for bands to acquire travel visas to the U.S. “Those visas are expensive,” she said, “but with our new connections we’re able to make use of ‘block booking,’ which means multiple festivals can work together to arrange for groups’ travel to the country and they can do several shows on one trip.”
The two said they were able to attend two huge festivals on their trip as well, which gave them lots of ideas and insider knowledge they can now use for Evanston’s festival.
Bowen and Wigginton shared their enthusiasm with how much the Celtic Festival has grown since its inception. “Our goal when we started was to draw people into town, to make some money for our organization for things like MAT Camp and our other programs, but also to have people staying in hotels and visiting other places.”
Wigginton said last year’s attendance was about 2000 people, and she figures somewhere between 500-800 of those folks are locals. She said she expects attendance to be about the same this year, although Bowen said it tends to vary somewhat depending on the weather.
Wigginton also said they are excited this year because the Wyoming Arts Council and Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund are sending a videographer to make several short videos during the weekend.
“We’re really excited because we’re always trying to get people from around Wyoming to come to [events],” she said.
Bowen said they hope lots of people come check out the Festival, “You have to come see it for yourself to really get the excitement and what it’s about.”