An 18th-century legacy, 21st-century fest
Belfast — In 1765, some 35 “founding fathers” followed Capt. John Mitchell from Londonderry, N.H., to a Penobscot Bay harbor he thought would make a good settlement. They thought naming it Londonderry was a good idea … well, most of them did. Irish native John Miller wanted to name it Belfast and, thanks to a coin toss, he got his wish.
The City of Belfast and much of the surrounding area was founded and built by people from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany … and for eight years now, the Maine Celtic Celebration has celebrated this heritage in music, dance, kilt wearing, cheese rolling and a whole lot more every summer, overlooking the harbor that caught Mitchell’s eye all those years ago.
This year’s festival gets under way Friday evening, July 18, with a 6 p.m. opening showcase concert on the main stage at Belfast Common, Front Street between Commercial and Miller. Performers will include Fódhla, a trio of some of the best Irish musicians on the East Coast; The Celtic Company, a Scottish dance troupe from Vermont; and flute/whistle and guitar duo William Coulter and Brian Finnegan.
Saturday, July 19, offers a full day and night of music and more, culminating in a big fireworks display — the first for locals this summer, given Hurricane Arthur’s raining on the Independence Day parade. Performances on the Main Stage run from 10 a.m. to just before the 9:20 p.m. pyrotechnics and include sets by The High Ground, Coulter and Finnegan, the Michael Black Family (with local Chris Brinn on accordion), The Celtic Company, Stanley & Grimm, The Galley Rats, Cillian Vallely and Ryan McGiver, Cóig and Open the Door for Three.
Meanwhile, at the Steamboat Stage at Steamboat Landing, performances run from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and include Twisted Strings, Fiona Howell and Taylor Whiteside, The Maine Highland Fiddlers, Folk Ragoût, Velocipede and locals Emma Walsh, Chris Brinn, Chris Grey and Chuck Donnelly.
Inside at Steamboat Landing, in the Belfast Boathouse, there are sessions at 10 a.m. and during the fireworks; and workshops from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. covering the bodhran, tine whistle, tunes, uilleann pipes, singing and fiddle playing.
The Bay Stage, behind the Boathouse and right on the water, will offer the new family-friendly Kompetition Kilts for all wearing plaid and dance demonstration. Other events throughout the day include a Manx Three Legged Uphill Race and the Kilted Canter 5K (where the pleats hit the streets), a Celtic Dog Breeds parade and show, and children’s activities. Vendors will be purveying everything from Celtic jewelry to organic ice cream.
Sunday, July 20, offers another chance to catch most of the Celebration’s performing artists. On the Main Stage, music will run from 10:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. featuring Velocipede, Folk Ragoût, Open the Door for Three, Cillian Vallely and Ryan McGiver, Cóig and the Belfast Bay Fiddlers.
The Steamboat Stage will host The High Ground, Stanley & Grimm, Fiona Howell and Taylor Whiteside, the Michael Black Family (with Chris Brinn) and The Galley Rats, performing from 10:30 a.m. to around 4 p.m.
The Bay Stage will have presentations beginning 11 a.m. on gig rowing and Gaelic plus a Scottish small pipes demo by local Chris Pinchbeck and a wrap-up 2 p.m. performance by the Maine Youth Celtic Harp Ensemble.
Workshops at the Boathouse will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. covering Irish flute, uilleann pipes, “small fry fiddles” for the next generation, backing tunes and the Cape Breton fiddle tradition.
Other highlights Sunday include the very popular Highlands Heavy Games (registration starts 7:30 a.m.), the can’t-miss New World Cheese Roll Championship at 1:30 p.m. and children’s activities plus the craft and food vendors.
The Maine Celtic Celebration is a volunteer-run phenomenon; no admission is charged, but a $10 per day donation is requested to keep the music, cheese and craic rolling into the future. For a complete schedule, see the official program, produced by Courier Publications, LLC, around town, in the July 10 papers and at villagesoup.com; or visit the event’s website, MaineCelticCelebration.com.
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
(207) 594-4401/4407, ext. 115
Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.