BROOKSVILLE — The first week of February always seemed to be a difficult time for Celtic entertainers to find performance venues in Florida. So, about five years ago, a group of artists contacted Greg McGrath, the late chief financial officer of Celtic Heritage Productions, and asked him to help find them gigs.
McGrath did something better, and in 2012 put together the first Celtic Family Jamboree at the Sertoma Youth Ranch. The fourth jamboree kicks off this evening and will include music, workshops, camping and camaraderie.
"This is such a great event," said Marcille Wallis, president of Celtic Heritage Productions and McGrath's widow. "What makes it popular is its uniqueness and the camp itself. It is such a beautiful place for folks to come together and make lasting friendships. Even the artists are accessible."
Entertainment will be on two stages and will include Albannach, Rathkeltair, Brendan Nolan, the West of Galway Duo, Marcille Wallis and Friends, Bing Futch, and Oddbins.
Saturday will include a variety of workshops: fiddle, pennywhistle, bodhrán drum and mountain dulcimer.
A popular part of the weekend will be the Highland Athletics Demo, which will be open to men and women this year.
"The games started hundreds of years ago in Scotland as a way to find the strongest men," Wallis said. "But this year's games will have a handicap, and the winner just might be a woman."
The games are similar to strongman sports, Wallis said, and will require strength and finesse. For example, one of the competitive events will be the caber toss, a long, tapered pole similar to a telephone pole.
"There's a lot of trash-talking among the men, good-natured of course," she said with a laugh.
The Celtic Family Jamboree is a family-friendly event, with plenty of activities for children. A number of Celtic vendors will be on hand. Dogs on leashes are welcome.
For Wallis, coming to the annual jamborees is somewhat bittersweet.
Not only is it a way to carry on her late husband's legacy, but it also reminds her of her youth.
Wallis lived in Brooksville for a year as a child, and spent many summers at her grandparents' place on Croom Road. Her grandfather, Jack Funderburk, was the music minister at First Baptist Church before he died in 1968.
"I spent the first 14 years of my life here," she said. "So this is like coming home."