Celebrating some of the brightest Celtic musicians, performers, artists and poets on offer, the normally quiet bayside town of Portarlington comes alive this June for three days with the annual National Celtic Festival.
As the premier Celtic event in Australia now in its 15th year, festival director Una McAlinden says the event is growing each year with the aim to strengthen the culture in Australia during the quiet winter season, with the cold weather actually complimenting the Celtic theme of the festival.
“We are trying to sustain and build culture and stay connected to the core of where the culture is coming from, and doing that in sort of contemporary context. The diversity of Celtic arts is really broad and across our program we are featuring a range of the arts to do this,” she says.
Showcasing some of the world’s most culturally rich performers and introducing fresh up and coming acts, international headliners include Welsh five-piece Calan, Irish/US combo Kevin Crawford, Patrick Doocey and Colin Farrell, and Scottish singer-songwriter Paul McKenna. Representing the Australian Celtic circuit include folk storytelling icon Eric Bogle and much loved all-Australian ensemble The Bushwackers, among many other high-class acts.
“This year’s program is pretty diverse. We try to break a lot of bands into the Australian market in winter time so we’ve broken some big bands in the folk music scene,” she says. “We bring a lot of surprise acts basically. Callan are the only Welsh band – I have never seen a young Welsh band ever in Australia before. There’s not much on offer for a lot of these cultures so we try and break them into new markets and we support them doing that.”
Along with the focus in music and helping international bands break in to Australian waters, the festival delves deep into the culture to include countless dance, theatre, comedy, literature readings, collaborative sessions and instrumental workshops for festival-goers at a range of venues throughout the town.
“We are looking at the music we are offering, but also a theatre program, a spoken word program, comedy, arts markets, dance – we are looking all across the arts and in the last few years it’s turned into more of an arts focused festival as a whole which is exciting – so the fact that we are a winter event in this region is something unique, if not mad.”
In a festival designed for everyone and anyone and ran mostly by volunteers, the program includes a walking tour ‘Trail of Celtic Tales’ featuring story telling of enchanted Celtic legends for children, presented alongside many concerts and participatory workshops geared toward young and old alike, along with the range of competitions in true Celtic style and an array of traditional ceremonies and sessions uniting festival goers and locals.
“There’s definitely something for everyone. There’s the wild, sort of fun and contemporary let your hair down stuff, and then there’s the more serious aspect of culture as well. You can take it as a cultural experience, a learning experience or a wild weekend.”
With any good festival also comes the markets which features stalls selling an array of goods and crafts profiling local designers and a variety of local produce and beverages plus of course the infamous Guinness.
A highlight of the event though, comes with displays including Celtic martial arts and the resident Vikings who settle in for the weekend to present traditional Vikings practices of wrestling, animal hide curing and iron mongering, which McAlinden likens to a little Viking village. “They always get a bit of interest. There’s a couple of Viking groups who are connected to Celtic heritage so what we do is we invite them to be part of the event and they set up camp and we’ll show their old traditions of making tools and playing games and making fires. You never know what they’re going to do.”
From young blood to veteran artists, bagpipes to bodhrans, there’s something for everyone at this Celtic affair.
For everything you need to know about the festival, visit the website.
Written by Talia Rinaldo
When & Where: Various venues, Portarlington – June 9 – 12