Maine Celtic Celebration brings music, Highland Games, cheese roll, community pride to Belfast

Bob McCormick of Blue Hill performs a reel dance to the Celtic fusion music of the Sprag Session during the 2012 Maine Celtic Celebration in Belfast.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Bob McCormick of Blue Hill performs a reel dance to the Celtic fusion music of the Sprag Session during the 2012 Maine Celtic Celebration in Belfast. Buy Photo
Posted July 17, 2014, at 3:37 p.m.
Last modified July 17, 2014, at 8:06 p.m.
Dan Greeley of Belfast was the first to grab the wheel of cheese during an adult race in the sixth annual National Cheese Roll Championship in 2012.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Dan Greeley of Belfast was the first to grab the wheel of cheese during an adult race in the sixth annual National Cheese Roll Championship in 2012. Buy Photo

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BELFAST, Maine — When Chris Brinn, music coordinator of the Maine Celtic Celebration, was asked about his favorite memory from last year’s outdoor music festival on the waterfront in Belfast, what came to mind wasn’t the toe-tapping music or the raucous New World Cheese Roll Championship.

Instead, it’s what happened just after a violent rainsquall tore down the Passagassawakeag River and slammed into the main stage, with the wind and rain blowing over the scaffolding and threatening to collapse a tent full of spectators.

“It was kind of rough,” Brinn said Thursday of the sudden microburst. “It felt like 80 miles per hour.”

Instead of screaming chaos from the folks inside the collapsing tent, he recalled, there was a sense of solidarity.

“A whole pile of people stood up and grabbed something to keep the tent from falling over,” he said. “For a minute or two, everybody was holding the tent, and it was great. There was a strong feeling of community.”

The cast of organizers, all volunteers, hope for better weather for the eighth annual festival, but that sense of community is something the Maine Celtic Celebration has in abundance — as well as plenty of music and the ever-popular Highland Games.

“If people have any kind of affinity for Celtic culture, it’s a nice day out for a family,” Brinn said. “There’s all kinds of stuff to do.”

Musical highlights this year will include Fodhla, a trio of top East Coast Irish musicians; Coig, a five-person Cape Breton music and dance group; as well as Cillian Vallely and Ryan McGiver, who play pipes and guitar.

There are 19 different musical acts altogether and an expanded variety of non-musical activities, which will include the Celtic dog breeds show and parade, a kilt competition, gig rowing, the Highland Heavy Games and the Kilted Canter 5K road race and walk — “Where the pleats meet the streets.”

There also will be the new Manx three-legged uphill race, where competitors will tie their legs together and try their best to lurch up the hill on Belfast Common. On Saturday night, as always, the skies will be illuminated by fireworks.

“We’re also trying to promote more of an educational component or public involvement,” Brinn said. “There will be workshops for musicians, a lecture on genealogy. We’re trying to encompass all aspects of Celtic culture.”

He said many festival start-ups don’t last past five years. Now that the Maine Celtic Celebration has passed the “seven-year itch” phase, he said, it is really finding its strengths. This year, as with past summers, organizers will ask attendees for a suggested donation of $10, but they won’t be strong-arming attendees for money. They’re hoping for lots of people to come out and show their Celtic colors in Belfast.

Bigger numbers will help organizers recover financially from last year’s Saturday evening washout, and it will mean more people can share in the fun.

“Whenever you see a good band, you see them enjoying it as much as you’re enjoying it,” Brinn said.

The Maine Celtic Celebration will begin at 6 p.m. Friday, July 18, with three musical groups on Belfast Common. Events will continue through Sunday, July 20. For more information and the schedule of events, visit www.mainecelticcelebration.com.

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