Maine Celtic Celebration

Ceilidh, bones and cheese, on the waterfront

By Dagney C. Ernest | Jul 18, 2012
Photo by: Corey Katz The former Colin Grant Band returns as Sprag Session.
Acadian music group Vishten

Belfast — The annual Maine Celtic Celebration returns to the waterfront’s Steamboat Landing and Belfast Common Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22, offering a family-friendly stew of music, dance, amazing athletic feats, crafts, food (albeit haggis-free) and fireworks. A donation of $10 will be requested, as last year’s fest ended up a bit in the hole.

“It costs money to bring these artists in from all over the place,” said music coordinator Chris Brinn, who comes a bit from all over the place himself.

One of this year’s performers is someone Brinn met when he crossed the pond in 1995. Pat Kane, touted as the Balladeer of the Southern Tier, will perform both afternoons on the Steamboat Stage.

“I met Pat when I first came to the states down in New York, at the Binghamton [Broome County] Irish Festival,” said Brinn.

Another early days acquaintance coming to the festival for a second year is Hanz Araki and the Mighty Few, whom Brinn met during his time in Seattle. Araki is a master of the Irish flute and will lead a Saturday workshop in the instrument. Mighty Few fiddler Kathryn Claire also will lead a workshop, one specifically for “small fry.”

“One thing we offer more so than other festivals are workshops. People can do more than just sit and listen to music, there’s an educational component,” said Brinn.

Workshops in both Celtic music-making and Celtic dancing take place both days in the Belfast Boathouse. And there are other reasons to eschew sitting during the weekend. In addition to the musical offerings, the event hosts a 5K road race Saturday; Highland Heavy Games, not for the faint-hearted, Sunday; and a variety of hearty children’s activities. Then there’s the Men in Kilts competition Saturday … and the New World Cheese Roll Championships Sunday.

“That's really something to see, all these people running down the hill after a wheel of cheese,” said Brinn.

There will be plenty to see on the celebration’s two performance stages. Acadian ensemble Vishten will make the trek from Prince Edward Island to perform both days.

“They’re a great band! I saw them at the Bangor folk festival and they really draw a crowd,” said Brinn.

Also onboard is Sprag Session, which will play before the Saturday night fireworks. The band’s name may be new to the Maine Celtic Celebration but its high-energy front man is not.

“We’ve been trying to get Colin Grant back into the mix, he was a big hit two years ago,” said Brinn.

Also back is popular Portland-based trio The Press Gang. Another Portland combo, harp-flute duo Naia, will close the fest on the Boathouse stage while Belfast Bay Fiddlers play on the main stage and an everybody-in session takes place in the Boathouse. Another Maine duo, Maximum Blue, will open the celebration Saturday, as well as provide a soundtrack for the cheese rolling competition.

Traveling from farther afield are Pádraig Rynne and Ryan McGiver, who will perform both days and offer a workshop.

“Pádraig is one of the top concertina players on the scene now, so we’re really excited to have them,” said Brinn.

Another performer at the top of his game is vocalist extraordinaire Michael Black, of Ireland's famous Black family, who will perform and lead a singing workshop. New England duo Stanley & Grimm (fiddler Nikki Engstrom and singer/guitarist Sean Brennan); young Cape Breton fiddler Chrissy Crowley; and Mt. Desert Island’s Chuck Donnelly and Emma Walsh round out the roster. Brinn has been sitting in with the Downeast duo at Searsport’s Brick House of late and will fill in for Donnelly on Sunday.

Another person Brinn, who performs with the Napper Tandies, has played with is Rockport’s Allison Lakin, who will offer a Sunday workshop in that curious rhythmic accompaniment instrument, the bones. Lakin has been playing the bones for 15 years, making her own from beef spare ribs and carving scrimshaw designs on them.

“She’s great fun, sits in with us at Billy’s [Tavern in Thomaston]. She placed in the All Ireland Competition, you know, did very, very well,” said Brinn.

Those who wish to take advantage of this annual celebration of Maine’s Celtic heritage would do well to check out the complete schedule at

Courier Publications' A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or

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