Irish 2000 Festival

Last weekend a friend of mine and I went to the Irish 2000 Festival in Altamont, NY. The festival has been held annually since 1997 (although its location has changed since then), but I had never heard of it until a few weeks ago. I came across the festival website by accident, and probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance had the name of a certain band not caught my eye. That name was Lunasa, and they are my absolute favorite Celtic band ever!!! When I saw that they would be playing at the Irish 2000 Festival, that was it, I knew I had to go.

The Irish 2000 Festival was held on both Friday and Saturday, but my friend and I decided to go on Saturday only (the music went from 5pm-11:15pm on Friday and most of the bands who played that night also played again on Saturday). There were four stages set up for the festival: the Contemporary Music Stage, the Traditional Music Stage, the Pub Stage, and the Grove Stage. The music being played on the Pub Stage didn’t hold much interest for me, and the events on the Grove Stage were geared more toward children, like storytelling, magic shows, and Irish Step Dancing exhibitions. I wound up dividing my time between the Contemporary and Traditional stages, both of which were under tents. There were chairs set up under the tents, with space between the stage and the first row of chairs for people to either sit on the grass or stand.

I didn’t like any of the bands I saw who were playing on the Contemporary Stage. One in particular, Mac Talla Mor, struck a sore point with me. The members of Mac Talla Mor are wannabe rock stars, and the whole Celtic Rock scene is really fake… I can appreciate the fact that “Celtic Rock” bands are keeping a part of their culture and heritage alive, but that said, it is upsetting to me to see traditional music being watered down. I find it sad that people don’t know what real Celtic music is anymore, and even sadder that they think bands like Mac Talla Mor are the real deal. Mac Talla Mor had a strobe light going for the drummer’s solo, okay? The crowd thought he was great and roared while he played, but I was not impressed, just disgusted. My friend, whose brother is a professional drummer, yelled in my ear, “My brother could drum circles around this guy!” The band then proceded to play a strange salsa rhythm tune. Now, I know the Celts had a lot of influences, and history shows that they traveled to places you wouldn’t neccesarily have expected them to, but the song that Mac Talla Mor started playing was absurd! I felt that using the bagpipes to play such fake, touristy, even laughable music, was disrepectful on Mac Talla Mor’s part. Yes, I feel that strongly. When the crowd started a conga line, that was it for me, I had to get up and leave. Luckily I found refuge in the Traditional tent, in the form of a band called Cara…

Cara played gorgeously rollicking spit-fire tunes, and they were a really tight band. High energy rhythm guitar spurred the flute and the fiddle onward, while bodhran kept the music grounded, and accordion rounded out the mix. Anything that moves me emotionally or makes me want to move physically is good in my book, and Cara’s music did both. The difference between the Contemporary Stage and the Traditional Stage was night and day… Or young and old I should say, since the Contemporary Stage drew a younger audience, and there were only about fifteen people in the traditional tent besides my friend and myself who were under the age of 55. After Cara’s set, I decided to get something to eat. As I wandered amongst the food vendors, I heard in the distance what sounded like “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” by the Ramones. I thought to myself, “No way. A Ramones song? At an Irish festival?” Upon further investigation, I discovered that it was indeed “Hey Ho, Let’s Go,” as sung by The Killdares. I decided to get a hamburger. The vendor selling the burgers was far away from the Contemporary Stage.

At three o’clock, I made my way back to the Traditional tent and took a seat on the lawn. I didn’t move from that spot for four hours, because the next three bands to take the stage were Beoga, Celtic Spring, and Lunasa.

Beoga was pretty good. The group was formed in 2002 by Seán Óg Graham, Damian McKee, Eamon Murray, and Liam Bradley. In 2005, they added Niamh Dunne to the band, on fiddle and vocals. She sang a few songs on Saturday, such as “Strange Things Happening Everyday” and the swing song “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.” Neither of the two songs mentioned fit in with the rest of the tunes that Beoga played though (many of which were hornpipes, jigs, or reels), and I felt that they interrupted the flow of Beoga’s performance. I would have enjoyed the band’s set more had they stuck to instrumentals. Next was Celtic Spring.
The band was actually on the first season of the TV show “America’s Got Talent,” and made it to the finals. The eight members of Celtic Spring are also the eight members of the Wood family: six siblings (Elizabeth, Deirdre, Sean, Patrick, Maire, and Aidan) who play fiddle and step dance, their mom on keyboard, and their dad on percussion. As terrible as it sounds, I have to wonder if the Wood parents really only have six children. What if they had another child, but he or she didn’t want to step dance or learn fiddle? Maybe they really have seven kids, but one gets locked in a cupboard for not wanting to join the “family business”… Anyway, the tune Celtic Spring opened with started out slowly, before gradually picking up speed and gaining momentum. The Wood family are definitely talented, and you can tell they work hard at what they do. The littlest Wood, eight year old Aidan, stayed offstage for most of his family’s performance. When he did come out, he brought the house down with his dancing, and also played an impressive fiddle solo. For their finale, Celtic Spring performed part of the routine that helped get them to the finals on “America’s Got Talent.”

Celtic Spring dancing
Eight year old Aidan Wood playing a reel
Celtic Spring’s finale

Finally, after hours of anticipation on my behalf, Lunasa took the stage. As the band set up and performed a soundcheck, I still couldn’t believe that it was Lunasa I was seeing, not more than 8 feet in front of me! I have loved the band’s music for over six years, ever since someone happened to give me a CD of theirs, entitled Otherworld . When you put a band on as high a pedestal as I did Lunasa, you run the risk of being dissapointed. I wasn’t. Their set was everything I had hoped and more. As a matter of fact, I was afraid I would become the first documented case of a person with broken cheekbones, I was grinning so hard the whole time… The videos I took of Lunasa don’t do the band justice, but I’ll leave the links all the same.

Miller of Drohan
Sean Smyth playing fiddle
Lunasa’s finale

Gaelic Storm went on after Lunasa. By the time they started playing, things had gotten rather claustrophic in the Traditional tent… People seemed to come from every corner of the festival grounds, crowding in, and trying to worm their way to the front. I know the music had to project outside so the people who weren’t under the tent could hear too, but it was way too loud! I actually had to leave my spot right in front of the stage because I feared major irreversible hearing damage. Even when I sat on the grass outside, I could still feel the vibrations from the drums… Gaelic Storm’s music wasn’t what I was expecting from them, and I was a little dissapointed. Was it loud? Yes. Was it up-tempo? Yes. Was it festive? No, it wasn’t. I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed Gaelic Storm’s set more had I been drinking, but as my friend pointed out, everything sounds better when you’re drinking…

Gaelic Storm’s opening tune, part 1 of 2
Gaelic Storm’s opening tune, part 2 of 2
A Gaelic Storm sing along

Hair of the Dog closed the festival on Saturday night, but my friend and I were both so disinterested by the time Gaelic Storm’s set was halfway through that we decided to just head home. Besides, Hair of the Dog is a local band. I’ve seen them before, and will have the opportunity to do so again. Although I didn’t enjoy the first and last bands that I saw at the Irish 2000 Festival, getting to hear the ones in between (especially Lunasa) most definitely made going worth it.


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