By Sean Smith
Special to the BIR
Starting a new Irish music festival just a few months before one of the biggest financial meltdowns in modern history occurred might seem an inauspicious beginning, but the organizers of the Worcester Irish Music Festival are singing no laments.
The June 11-13 festival will take place for the third year at the Worcester Hibernian Cultural Centre grounds at 19 Temple Street, highlighted by such major Celtic music performers as Solas, the Makem & Spain Brothers, and The Glengarry Bhoys. A diversity of dance and music events, family and children’s activities, as well as the festival’s unique “Boiled Cabbage O’Lympics” are also on the bill.
Festival co-chair John Creedon Jr. acknowledges that, given the economic downturn, there was good reason to wonder if last year’s event would come close to duplicating the encouraging results of its 2008 debut. In fact, he notes, attendance actually increased, from about 2,500 to 3,000. What’s the reason? Creedon thinks it might have something to do with the ticket prices: $12 for one day ($15 at the gate), $25 for a three-day pass ($30 at the gate) and no charge for kids under 12.
“When the economy went south, obviously, all of us had to scale back,” he says. “But June comes around, it’s the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, and I think we all look for a good family event that’s a bargain.
“This festival appeals to a wide range of people, from those who are experienced in, and knowledgeable about, Irish music to those who aren’t necessarily familiar with it but enjoy the sounds and the atmosphere. And while most of those attending are from Worcester and the surrounding communities, we’ve found others who come not only from Boston but Maine and even upstate New York.”
As one of the most enduringly popular contemporary/traditional Irish groups of the past two decades, Solas will undoubtedly thrill Irish music newcomers and veterans like, Creedon says. The Makem & Spain Brothers and Glengarry Bhoys, as well as Prince Edward Island fiddling sensation Cynthia MacLeod – making her festival debut – also invariably create new fans wherever they play, he adds.
Elsewhere on the musical front, Creedon continues, are The Granitemen, playing a mix of Irish classics and contemporary American favorites (“As the Light Declines,” “Belle of Belfast City” and even “Sweet Caroline,” among others), Boston’s premier U2 tribute band The Joshua Tree, and The Boys of the Town. For those who want to do more than listen, there will be Irish music sessions during the course of the festival. Dancers from the McInerney School of Irish Step Dance also will perform throughout the weekend.
Storyteller and singer Kate Chadbourne will be the featured children’s entertainer on June 12. Kids and families also can take part in face-painting, arts and crafts, miniature golf and other games.
And then there’s the “Boiled Cabbage O’Lympics.”
“It’s bizarre, but hysterically funny,” Creedon explains. “Teams of two race against other teams of two through an obstacle course that starts with one teammate pouring a can of Guinness -- shaken, of course -- into a plastic pint cup, kicking a head of boiled cabbage through a course of orange cones, with pint cup in hand, then throwing a rubber snake in a basket à la St. Patrick, followed by bobbing for a potato, then passing the cup of black goodness to their partner to race back down the course.
“At the end, depending on how much Guinness spilled out of the cup, seconds will be tacked onto a team’s final time. The winning team will be awarded the famed ‘Cabbage Cup.’” (Creedon points out that participants must all be at least 21 years of age and that no consumption of Guinness, necessarily, will occur during the activity.)
Creedon notes that proceeds from the festival will benefit the 501(c)(3) Worcester Hibernian Cultural Foundation Inc. to enable the organization to underwrite events that promote and preserve the Irish heritage and culture of Worcester.
“A major goal of this festival was to showcase the Hibernian Cultural Centre, and make it a centerpiece for the area Irish-American community. We’ve been very happy to see the response.”
For more information on the Worcester Irish Festival, see worcesteririshmusicfestival.com.