Celtic Connections Festival preview
Eighteen days, fifteen hundred artists, three hundred scheduled events, many spur of the moment collaborations, new friendships formed and old ones renewed, thousands of happy concert goers, plus wind, rain, sleet, snow, and every now and then, sunshine -- that’s Celtic Connections.
Despite its size -- and perhaps in part because of Scotland’s winter weather -- this massive festival, which takes place in fourteen venues across Glasgow, retains real connection and intimacy among artist and audiences,. That holds true whether they are in the formal arena of the main auditorium at the Royal Glasgow Concert hall, the sometimes trad meets mosh pit style of The Old Fruit Market, or the listening room atmosphere of Saint Andrew’s on the Square or the upstairs room at the Universal Club.
The festival, which has grown to be Europe’s premier winter music gathering, is going into its sixteenth year, and its third year of major sponsorship by Scottish Power. The Scottish Power Pipe Band is expected to kick things off with the skirl of highland pipes as they lead a torch lit procession from Saint George’s Square up Buchanan Street to the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall on the evening of 15 January.
The opening concert, later that same evening, will celebrate connections between Scotland and Cape Breton, in Atlantic Canada. During the festival, musicians from Senegal, Mali, Quebec, West Virginia, Tennessee, Asturias, Portugal, Catalonia, France, Kildare, New York, Quebec, Cape Breton, Clare, Derry, Donegal, Sligo, and many points between will share their music, along with the artists of Scotland, hailing from Shetland to the Borders.
2009 is the Year of Scottish Homecoming, a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. To mark this, there will be a twelve hour Burns song marathon, a Jamaican Burns Night, and a special concert featuring Eddi rRader singing Burns songs. On Burns Night itself, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra will perform the world premiere of The Homecoming Scotland Suite – a series of eight brand new commissions by leading contemporary composers working in the fields of traditional and orchestral music.
You have to think Burns himself would have liked the range of music across other days of the festival. Youssou N. Dour from Senegal, known as a man who blends and bridge genres, will give a one off concert. Innovative American bluegrassers Tim O’Brien and Crooked Still team up for a gig. Inverness based fiddler Duncan Chisholm brings the sounds of the highlands to a concert at Saint Andrews on the Square. while sweet voiced cara Dillon from Dungiven in Northern Ireland brings her ballads of loss and hope to the main concert hall. Julie Fowlis, who was recently named Scotland’s first ambassador for Gaelic and is always a big draw at the festival, will be on hand, as will the high energy bands Lau, Lunasa, and Genticorum, hailing from Scotland, Ireland, and Quebec respectively. Bela Fleck will trace the roots of the banjo back to Africa while the band Fribo investigates the Scandinavian-Scottish connection and award winning singer and songwriter Emily Smith focuses on music that reflects the people and places of her native Dumfriesshire in southwestern Scotland,
There will also be pipe band competitions, open stages, workshops on things from singing ballads to improving on the fiddle, and the after hours festival club, where craic and conversation is as important as the music -- though there’s space for the music too, especially in the quieter house of song area hosted by Doris Rougvie.
If you won’t be in Glasgow or you are not able to stay for the full eighteen days, BBC Radio2, BBC Scotland, MG Alba, RTE Radio and television, and Radio naGaeltachta are among those who offer live and taped coverage of the festival, and sometimes tape concerts and interviews for later broadcast over the air and through the internet. As plans unfold, more details about this may be found at the festival’s web site, which is also where you may study schedules, learn more about the artists, book concert tickets, and find maps to the venues.
Kerry Dexter is the Music Editor for Wandering Educators.
Kerry's credits include VH1, CMT, the folk music magazine Dirty Linen, Strings, and The Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas. She also writes about the arts and creative practice at Music Road .