Magic & music: Celtic Festival brings old world festivities |

Magic & music: Celtic Festival brings old world festivities

Katrina Paz
Special to Prospector
Living history demonstrations and reenactments add magic to the 22nd annual KVMR Celtic Festival.
Photo by Charlotte Peterson


WHAT: 22nd annual KVMR Celtic Festival

WHEN: Friday through Sunday. Gates open for campers at noon Friday. The gates will open at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The music will end at 10 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday. For a full schedule of events visit

WHERE: Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley

TICKETS: $21-$55, Camping and RV hookups are available. Visit or call 530-265-9073 for tickets

INFO: Visit for more information

There’s a lot to see at the KVMR Celtic Festival. In its 22nd year, the intimate music festival has grown into a three-day robust celebration with world-renowned musicians, jousting, workshops, music sessions, Highland Games, youth arts program, dancing and reenactments. But it’s not just one thing that makes the festival one of Nevada County’s signature events.

According to Peter Wilson, one of the event organizers, it’s quite simply the magic.

“Our motto is, ‘Come for the music, stay for the magic.’ It’s a musical festival but also has many of the elements of a Renaissance Faire and Scottish Highland Games,” Wilson said. “When you put all three together and you put them under the auspices of KVMR, which has its own community, and then put it at the fairgrounds, it’s really just cool. It’s really special.”

The family-friendly festival cultivates a village atmosphere, with authentic marketplace and camping on-site in the fairgrounds campsites.

Wilson usually stays through the weekend just to take part in the strong camaraderie and impromptu musical gatherings among campers.

Overflowing with festivities

There’s no shortage of music during the main festival hours, however. A mainstay in the international Celtic circles, the event attracts some of the genre’s most acclaimed performers, from Galen Fraser to The Elders, who after performing in Nevada County for several years, are in the midst of their farewell tour.

Making their debut at the KVMR event is Heron Valley, who according to Wilson is currently one of the top bands in Scotland. The young enthusiastic quintet formed in 2014 and has roots in traditional Scottish and Irish music while taking influence from various folk, country and bluegrass styles. Also making their first appearance is Connla, touted as “a new musical powerhouse” by Irish Music Magazine.

House of Hamill joins the festival, bringing unusual fiddle tunes and unpredictable songs while breathing new life into traditional and contemporary melodies. The duo are accomplished and innovative fiddle players as well as classical violinists.

The Seamus Egan Project, Na Rósaí, Black Brothers, Galen Fraser Trio, Annie McCann and Paul Emery, The Rayos, Matthew Byrne, and Cassidy Joy and Friends round out the list of dynamic performers taking the eight stages throughout the weekend.

Guests can get up close and intimate with the music at the various sessions scheduled throughout the festival. As described by the Field Guide to the Irish Music Session, a session, or “seisun” in Gaelic, is a gathering of traditional musicians for the purpose of celebrating their common interest in the music by playing it together in a relaxed, informal setting.

Generally one musician starts playing a tune and whoever knows the tune joins in and plays along.

They’re also one of the many elements and mini gatherings that make the weekend magical.

Up close and personal

The session stage is known for welcoming musicians of all skill levels. Various local and regional groups, including the Holbrooke Hotel Session, San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers and Nevada County Kitchen, will lead the various sessions. Fraser, Na Rósaí and Connla will also take part. Impromptu sessions often breakout throughout the grounds all weekend long.

“The sessions come from a social place,” Wilson said. “Out of people sitting in pubs and sharing tunes. We have touring bands from around the world, and they’re happy to join a session. At a rock ‘n’ roll concert you would never go to sit in a circle with the guys from U2. But at our festival you get Alasdair Fraser and some of the best players in the world teaching you a tune.”

All the festivities begin Friday evening, with the ceilidh (kay-lee) in the Ponderosa Hall and the Royal Tournament and Gathering of the Clans. A ceilidh is a time-honored gathering with folk music, singing, dancing and storytelling.

The Royal Tournament takes place in the arena and includes full contact (professional) jousting, dancing horses, sword fights and hand-to-hand combat, as well a pageantry and parade with medieval tribes and guilds.

While the Friday evening events require a separate ticket from weekend entry, the Imperial Knights will present jousting exhibitions both Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Additional activities include demonstrations with animals of the Celtic lands, including hawks, owls, falcons, moorland ponies and Irish wolfhounds; dance lessons and exhibitions; and a Highland Games event.

The lively old-world marketplace will feature dozens of period crafts as well as a variety of period and modern-day cuisine options.

Katrina Paz is a freelance writer for Prospector and is a resident of Grass Valley.

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