As the 17th annual KVMR Celtic Festival opens its doors this weekend, it’ll also mark the 17th time Annie O’Dea Hestbeck has been a main stage host as well.
The venerable KVMR 89.5 FM broadcaster definitely fits the role, with her hearty sense of humor, passion for the music and an Irish brogue that matches her ever-present smile.
About a year after she and husband Darrel moved permanently here in 1985, “I was pushing a baby stroller into a shop in Nevada City” and then-KVMR program director Greg Gavin heard her talking.
“He told me, ‘You’ve got a great voice for radio,’” recalls Annie, with a chuckle. “I thought he was nuts.”
Not long after, the County Clare, Ireland native found herself “happy as a clam” and immersed herself as a volunteer, then a broadcaster at KVMR, where she still hosts “Celtic Cadence” 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays (89.5 FM, kvmr.org streaming).
“Listeners love the fact that you’re present,” said Hestbeck. “Somebody called last week and told me the show felt like they had a friend there in the room right next to them.”
She mixes plenty of music from Ireland and Scotland in, but also includes personal favorites like Richard Thompson, Steeleye Span and John McCutcheon.
The popularity of Celtic music led KVMR to hold the “Crannog Pub” each St. Patrick’s Day with local musicians, actors and artists donating their talents. And Hestbeck says an increasing number of touring Celtic artists were impressed by the Nevada City radio station’s monthly NightLive shows during the ‘90s.
“Jeez, we thought, we’ve got the weather, we’ve got the people there for the music...”
Pretty soon, there was an entire Celtic Festival, which was so successful its first year the station ran out of printed tickets before the gates even opened.
Annie now shares emceeing duties with fellow broadcaster Jerianne Van Dijk.
“I’m able to walk around and enjoy the festival more now,” she said. “I like meeting listeners one-on-one.”
What few people know is that, as a youngster growing up in Ennis, Ireland, Annie had a promising career as a classical pianist in international competition cut short when she lost part of a finger in a deli accident at her family’s pub at age 16.
“I had worked so hard practicing every day after school,” she remembers. She’d even been accepted into the Royal Irish Academy of Music.
“After that (accident), I immersed myself into reading books and listening to, not playing, music.”
Stints as an Italian tour guide and as a New York City waitress led to Hestbeck saying “something just clicked” and she ended up permanently in the U.S.
“I’m so grateful for where I live and what I have” Annie said. “I love the nature of the seasons here and how village-like it is.”
She jokes that her now-adult children Liza and Conor grew up convinced “the rest of the world is like this...that there’s a KVMR everywhere.”
There is, however, an O’Dea’s Pub, back in her native Ennis, where you just might get a free pint if you stop by and mention Annie and KVMR, with her brother now replacing her parents at the helm.
According to Hestbeck, the pub is very easy to find.
“It’s right next to the Church, just look for the spires,” she said.
Celtic Festival Broadcast
KVMR’s live remote broadcast of this year’s Celtic Festival starts at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, finishing up at approximately 10 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday when the headlining acts are over. Hestbeck is touting Saturday night closers Manran (8:30 p.m. performance) as “a great, innovative band” that’s on its very first American tour.
A weekly wrap-up of news and oddities about community radio station KVMR (89.5 FM, kvmr.org streaming), a noncommercial station offering diverse musical programming, independent news and provocative public affairs from about 150 volunteer “citizen-broadcasters.” A video about the station’s new building is at vimeo.com/63303996 Complete program listings are available at kvmr.org.