A year ago, Celtic music promoters Greg McGrath and Marcille Wallis took a chance that bagpipes and penny whistles might actually lure an audience to a venue where banjos and fiddles have reigned for decades. Though the first Celtic Family Jamboree at the Sertoma Youth Ranch was hastily organized, things went surprisingly well, said McGrath, who along with Wallis, his wife, operates Celtic Heritage Productions in Port Charlotte.
"We weren't sure what to expect about that area other than we knew they've been having a Scottish heritage celebration for many years in Dunedin and that there are some Celtic music clubs in the area that have worked hard to promote the traditional sound," McGrath said. "But the turnout was great, considering we didn't have much time to promote it."
Hoping to repeat that success, the festival will mark its return this weekend, this time as a two-day event featuring seven music and dance acts, plus workshops in traditional Celtic dance, drumming and dulcimer.
McGrath, whose company also produces the Caloosahatchee Celtic Festival, the Peace River Celtic Festival and the Western North Carolina Highlands Celtic Festival, likens Celtic music to other minority genres such as bluegrass, blues, Cajun, old-time and Dixieland, which give a distinctive nod to keeping things traditional. However, unlike those genres, Celtic music aficionados have shown a more welcoming attitude to new approaches and modern musical influences.
"Celtic music as we know it is very broad these days in that it has allowed quite a lot of different styles of music like hard rock, punk rock and even hip-hop to creep in," McGrath said. "Not every purist likes it. But overall, I think that trend has spread the music to a whole new crowd."
Indeed, McGrath said that rock-based Celtic such as Flogging Molly, the Real McKenzies and the Dropkick Murphys, which have a decidedly younger fan base, have spurred listeners to want to learn more about the roots of Gaelic tradition, similar to how 1960s rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Cream led fans to rediscover blues greats such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.
"It's a good thing to see that happen," McGrath said. "You don't really have to dump tradition just because you have an amplifier. It's just a different way of approaching the music."
McGrath said this weekend's Celtic Family Jamboree runs the gamut of Celtic style, ranging from performances by traditional artists such as Florida-based West of Galway, Irish tunesmith Brendan Nolan and Marcille Wallis and Friends to beat-friendly contemporary groups, including Rathkeltair and Albannach.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.