The annual Maine Celtic Celebration will kick off Friday evening, July 16 with a benefit gala event at the Belfast Boathouse. All day Saturday and Sunday, July 17 and 18 on the Belfast waterfront, there will be Celtic-flavored fun, food and entertainment.

Playing the big Saturday night main stage concert that leads to the fireworks is Prydein, a Vermont-based group that combines bagpipes with a rock band’s instruments and sensibility. Guitarist Aron Garceau grew up listening to the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Led Zeppelin; piper Iain Mac Harg grew up listening to the music of the Battlefield Band and the Tannahill Weavers. From this unlikely pairing came a band whose “Farewell to Eirann” was featured on numerous radio stations and podcasts and was hailed “Most Original Track” on Garageband.com.

After taking a hiatus to concentrate on family, the duo revived Prydein in 2004 and brought in Andy Smith, a public school music teacher and bass player for the Mighty Sam McLain Band. Two years later, they added Mighty Sam and Gordon Stone Band drummer Caleb Bronz.

“We’ve played in Maine before. In fact our first gig in Maine was about six years ago when we first got the band together,” said Garceau.

That event was a festival in Bethel that did not turn out to be very well attended, but it proved an auspicious new beginning for Prydein nonetheless.

“It was the first gig for our bassist who has been with us ever since. Plus it’s not everyday you get to hang out backstage with Natalie MacMaster,” said Garceau.

With a new lineup, inspiration and gigs stretching from Canada to the Florida panhandle, Prydein went back into the studio to record “Loud Pipes (save lives).” Released in 2007, it features the group’s high-energy concert closer “Stairway to Scotland,” basically an arrangement of the “Stairway to Heaven” of bagpipe music – “Amazing Grace” and “Scotland the Brave.”

“We’re more like Jethro Tull or AC/DC with bagpipes, although we don’t do ‘Long Way to the Top,’ ” said Garceau.

This far this year, the band’s performance schedule has been a bit sparse, although for good reasons.

“Our drummer was just married two weeks ago and our bagpiper is getting married in two weeks,” he said.

In fact, Mac Garg will not make it to Belfast, as he is the pipe major for the Catamount Pipe band in Vermont, which has a steady gig at Glasgow Lands this time every year. So Prydein will be performing with Dan Houghton, a multi-instrumentalist (bagpipe, bouzouki, guitarist, flute) and a founding member of the well-regarded Scottish folk band Cantrip.

“He also comes with a pretty cool Scottish accent so I might let him do most of the talking,” said Garceau.

Garceau described Prydein as a rock band with a highland bagpiper providing much of the melodies, but a little more “traditional” than other Celtic rock bands in that they do not change up the tunes.

“It’s sort of like coming to see a traditional pipe band backed up by a rock band. Coupled with a couple of traditional songs, a couple of cool ’80s covers (which should have had bagpipes in them back then… just shortsighted on their part), we’re going to have a blast and usually the audience does too,” he said.

When it comes to the tradition of wearing a kilt, the band’s members go their separate ways.

“Iain will mostly wear a kilt when he plays; our bassist likes to and so I say go ahead. Me? I’m half Spanish, a quarter French and a quarter English/Colonial/American (that’s right, English, I said it) and I look terrible in a kilt.  My clan is clan Levi,” said Garceau.

He added the band gets to throw the rules out because it is doing something only a handful of other bands are doing.

“So much music sounds alike to me on the radio, what we play doesn’t sound like anything and that’s what appeals to me. That and the fact that, when the bagpipe was invented, I’m fully convinced that the guy who invented it saw into the future and envisioned it to be played in a rock band,” he said.

Prydein also will perform at noon Sunday.

 

Leading up to Prydein on the main stage Saturday are a couple of other heavy hitters, although not in the metal sense. The Colin Grant, fresh from its July 15 appearance at Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts, will bring some fine Cape Breton fiddling to the festival at 4:45 p.m. and will be followed at 6:05 p.m. by Boston’s Long Time Courting.

In addition to live music, the Maine Celtic Celebration offers musical and dance workshops, dance performances, storytelling and other less arts-oriented events including a 5K road race and parade, Highland Heavy Games, the Men in Kilts Competition and the infamous New World Cheese Rolling Championship (3:40 p.m. Saturday on the Belfast Common). Most of the weekend’s activities are free. Following is a list of music performances. For a complete schedule of all events, visit mainecelticcelebration.com.

Saturday, July 17

9:30 a.m.: morning jam session at The Boathouse

10 a.m.: Maine Highland Fiddlers, main stage

11:05 a.m.: The Old Grey Goose, main stage

12:10: The Milliners, main stage

1 p.m.: accordion expo, Steamboat Landing

1:15 p.m.: Frank Taylor the Flying Scotsman, main stage

2:30 p.m.: Maximum Blue, Steamboat Landing

main stage

4 p.m.: afternoon jam session, The Boathouse

4:45 p.m.: The Colin Grant Band, main stage

6:05 p.m.: Long Time Courting, main stage

7:45 p.m.: Prydein, main stage

Sunday, July 18

9:30 a.m.: morning jam session, The Boathouse

10 a.m.: Belfast Bay Fiddlers, main stage; and MacLir, Steamboat Landing

11 a.m.: Boghat, main stage; and harpists Julia Lane and Kristen Tescher, The Boathouse

Noon: Prydein, main stage; and pipe expo, Steamboat Landing

1 p.m.: Frank Taylor the Flying Scotsman, main stage; and afternoon jam session, The Boathouse

2:15 p.m.: Long Time Courting, main stage

3:30 p.m.: festival session band, main stage

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.