BELFAST, Maine — Will this be the final weekend to chase the cheese down Belfast Common, to toss the caber in Steamboat Landing Park and to join thousands of music fans listening to the sounds of the fiddle and bodhran (drum) while sailboats dot the harbor far below?
Maybe, according to organizers of the Maine Celtic Celebration, which is marking its 10th — and possibly last — year this weekend.
“The status is unknown,” Claudia Luchetti, who is one of a half-dozen or so die-hard supporters who have worked to bring the popular festival to life every July. “We’ll make a decision when the celebration is over. I have cautious optimism at this moment. A trickle of people have come forward to help, and that has given us more hope.”
This winter, the board of directors of the Celtic festival announced that several of the organizers need to slow down or even retire from the time-consuming task of putting on the largest summer event in the city. Efforts to find more long-term volunteers to take over music coordination, vendors, volunteers and infrastructure had not been successful, and thus the current board members decided to let the 2016 event be the last they would organize.
In addition to the absence of solid new volunteers to help organize, Luchetti said that help is needed financially in order to make sure the festival can keep happening. It costs about $40,000 to put on the Maine Celtic Celebration, with that sum primarily paying for quality musicians and the infrastructure. The festival is free, although organizers ask attendees for a suggested donation of $10 per person “or whatever is appropriate according to their circumstances,” Luchetti said. In the early days of the festival, organizers received a startup grant from the Maine Community Foundation, but it has been hard to find grants to fund the subsequent years.
Last summer, it rained heavily during one of the days and that took a toll on fundraising, Luchetti said. It also has been challenging to secure business support or sponsorships for the event, which brings in thousands of people over the weekend.
“It has to be a community-supported event,” she said.
The new volunteers who have stepped forward in the last six months are a good sign that the Maine Celtic Celebration will continue, Luchetti said, adding that she hopes it can.
“I think it’s brought a pride in the heritage of Belfast,” she said. “I think it’s brought a more educational, family-oriented and accessible festival to the city. There’s lots of things to do and a high caliber of music, and even dogs are invited.”
This year’s music offerings include Bohola, which features accordion virtuoso Jimmy Keane and which the Irish Herald called Irish music’s “newest supergroup.” Local favorites Castlebay and the Galley Rats also are returning to perform on the Belfast waterfront.
The popular New World Cheese Roll Championships will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17, and the Highland Heavy Games will take place all day on Sunday.
“I think it’s a great event,” Luchetti said of the celebration. “It has something for everyone. And if the community wants the event to continue, please come. That’s how they can demonstrate their interest.”