Tom Durkin
Special to Prospector

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September 25, 2013
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2013 KVMR Celtic Festival in Grass Valley Sept 27-29

John Taber is already planning the acts and activities for next year’s KVMR Celtic Festival.

“I’m already talking to artists,” said the event producer.

That’s how much lead-time it takes to stage a world-class concert and festival celebrating Irish, Scottish and Welsh music, culture and tradition.

Right now, however, Taber’s totally focused on pulling off this weekend’s 17th annual KVMR Celtic Festival at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. Something he’s been working on, well, since last year.

The party, literally, starts Friday night with a “Ceilidh” [KAY-lee]. “Ceilidh” is the Gaelic word for party, which means “a lot of music, singing, dancing and drinking,” Taber laughed.

The pre-festival Ceilidh is a first-time event this year. The real deal begins 10 a.m. Saturday and ends 8 p.m. Sunday.

“The Nevada County Fairgrounds will transform into a mythical 16th century land with music on eight stages, re-enactors wearing traditional Celtic dress, dancers, parades, animals of the Celtic lands, and a village marketplace with complete with a fully stocked pub and dozens of dining opportunities,” promised Peter Wilson, information manager for the festival.

“KVMR’s Celtic Festival is our biggest fundraising event of the year and brings out some 9,000 to 12,000 folks for this community celebration,” said David Levin, general manager of KVMR community radio.

And this is just not a local festival. Celtic music lovers all over the world can – and will – listen in to KVMR’s live broadcast of the headline acts via the World Wide Web. Over the years, KVMR has developed a global reputation for its live broadcasts of significant musical events, according to previous interviews with Program Director Steve Baker and various DJs.

A fresh lineup every year

“We bring a brand new set of music every year,” Taber stressed.

In other words, you won’t see the same acts you saw last year.

For instance, this year, the award-winning Scottish band Mánran will make its debut festival appearance, headlining the Saturday night show on the main stage (to see a video of the group, scan the QR code on this page or click on the online version of this story at TheUnion.com/ entertainment).

“Their powerful combination of Gaelic/English songs (are) underpinned by driving accordion, fiddle, flute, pipes and a backline of drum and bass,” Wilson said.

That doesn’t mean, however, old favorites are forgotten. Molly’s Revenge is returning, having wowed the crowd in 2011, with their classic blend of Celtic jigs, reels and Gaelic/English songs.

“They love us, and we love them,” said Taber.

Other new and returning acts from previous years include the Irish/American Colleen Raney Band, Irish Female Vocalist of the Decade Cathie Ryan, the kilt-clad Celtic rock band 1916, the legendary piper Paddy Keenan, the hot fiddle of Deby Benton Grosjean, the traditionalist band Bua, and a host of other musicians.

For many festival fans, however, it’s the after-hours get-togethers in the campground that make the Celtic Festival the special experience that it is. Festival attendees are invited to bring their own instruments for scheduled workshops and impromptu jams.

It’s not just about the music

“Choosing what to do may be the biggest challenge at the festival,” Wilson said.

Besides virtually nonstop music on eight stages, there is a whole Celtic village featuring traditional merchandise, pageantry, workshops, demonstrations, storytelling, entertainers, animals, magicians, jugglers, dancers, special children’s activities and athletic games.

Of course, the festival offers all kinds of authentic cuisine — and it wouldn’t be complete without the ever-popular O’Dea’s Irish Pub. KVMR’s Celtic maven, Irish-born Annie O’Dea Hestbeck (Celtic Cadence, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays), has been one of the driving forces behind the festival since its inception.

As for the price of admission, it’s complicated. Depending on your age, KVMR membership status, if you buy in advance or at the gate, and whether you want a one-day pass or full festival camping privileges with RV hookup, the cost of admission can range from free to $240 — and that doesn’t include the separately priced Ceilidh ($14 KVMR members, $18 non-members).

Children 5 and under are free. Youths 6 to 16 get a discount. General admission ranges from $38 for KVMR members who buy in advance to $50 for non-members who pay at the gate.

Even though Event Producer Taber has worked much larger festivals, such as supervising the Grateful Dead for Bill Graham Presents, he has special feeling for the Celtic Festival.

“My favorite part is Saturday and Sunday evenings,” he said. It’s a precious time when he finally has the show running itself, and, “All of a sudden, the weight is lifted.

“You can walk through the crowd and you just feel the magic.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at tdurkin@vfr.net.


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The Union Updated Sep 25, 2013 11:02PM Published Sep 27, 2013 03:09PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.