What to See, Hear, and Do at Celtic Connections

by Kerry Dexter / Jan 16, 2017 /
Kerry Dexter's picture

Scotland in winter is known for short days and cold weather. That's all the more reason to come inside and be warmed by the sharing of music. Through eighteen days in mid January to early February, that's what going on in Glasgow, at Celtic Connections.

What to See, Hear, and Do at Celtic Connections

This year, more than two thousand musicians will take part in more than three hundred events at Celtic Connections, which they'll share with thousands of happy listeners. Many musicians and many listeners come from Scotland and other Celtic lands, but others travel from all over the world for this event. This year the festival offers a spotlight to musics of Brazil and recognition to the 150th year of Canada in Glasgow, for example, and in the past, participants have come from places as varied and far away as India, Mongolia, New Zealand, Spain, Norway, and many of the countries of Africa. What they all hold in common is respect for and connection with sharing heritage and tradition through music.

Among the highlights of this year's Celtic Connections, which takes place in venues across the city center from 19 January to 5 February:

Folk singer and songwriter Laura Marling will open the festival, sharing orchestrations of her songs done by Kate Saint John and performed at this event by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Special guests, as this writing undisclosed, are expected to share the stage as well.

There's always a Gaelic language strand at the festival. This year, the Gaels le Cheile concert will see Gaelic musicians from Ireland and Scotland sharing the bill - only fitting for an event whose name means Gaels together. Tiree Songbook is the name of another event where Gaelic will be heard, as renowned singer, composer, and broadcast presenter Mary Ann Kennedy is musical director for exploration of the sounds of this Hebridean island.

Scottish Gaelic and Irish will no doubt be heard on another evening, which will also feature Americana music and fiery fiddling. Top American folk and country songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter shares an evening with award-winning Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and festival favorite band Altan, from Donegal in Ireland.

De Temps Antan and Le Vent du Nord will bring the sounds of Quebec to the mix. Vishten will add the music of the francophone culture of Prince Edward Island, as they perform a daytime concert as part of the festival's education program for school children, as well as in evening gig. Martha Wainwright, Quinn Bachand, and David Francey are among other Canadians who will share their music. 

The Unusual Suspects, a Scottish folk orchestra helmed by Corrina Hewat and David Milligan, have brought down the house in previous appearances at Celtic Connections, and in their Cape Breton edition have done so across the waters at the Celtic Colours Festival -- no doubt they will do the same at this year's highly anticipated concert.

There's a great deal more: Brit folk icons Fairport Convention, Grammy winning fiddler Mark O'Connor's return to bluegrass with his family band, and songs to help with grief and healing from superstar Olivia Newton-John's latest project, in which she collaborates with Beth Neilsen Chapman and Amy Sky, are all on the program this year. So, too, are festival favorites Cherish the Ladies. Heidi Talbot, who spent several years as lead singer with Cherish, will offer a solo concert featuring her newly released album Here We Go 1,2,3.

Robyn Stapleton will be launching her new album of the songs of Robert Burns at a concert during the festival. She will also teach several workshops in the festival's always popular workshops schedule. These classes include come and try selections, for those who've always wanted to give an instrument a go but haven't had the chance to do so. There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes, too, including a weekend of master classes with world renowned fiddle and cello duo Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. Plenty of singing classes are available, as well, and dance and percussion classes, and classes children and parents can enjoy together.

There's more. As the concerts wind down in the evening, the late night festival club, with performances from festival headliners -- always unannounced -- are the center of much good fellowship. Want to play or sing yourself? There are after hours instrumental and song sessions where you are welcome to do just that. In the daytime, you might take in an art exhibit or join a walk or a talk connected with festival events.

One of the fine things about Celtic Connections is that despite the number of events and  the number of people involved, it retains an atmosphere of welcome, of sharing, and of truly enjoying music. That comes full circle in the closing days of the festival with theTransatlantic Sessions concerts, when musical directors Jerry Douglas from the United States and Aly Bain from Scotland lead a range of guest musicians in sharing music that connects across time and across borders.

Won't be making it to Glasgow, or need to catch up on event you could not attend? BBC, BBC Alba, RTE, and TG4 will be on hand taping events for later programs. Celtic Music Radio from Glasgow Caledonian University will broadcast a number of events live, including the open stage afternoon concerts, and will also have interviews with festival artists. You can listen online http://www.celticmusicradio.net/programmes/




Kerry Dexter is Music Editor at Wandering Educators. You may reach Kerry at music at wanderingeducators dot com.

You may find more of Kerry's work in National Geographic Traveler, Strings, Perceptive Travel, Journey to Scotland, Irish Fireside, and other places, as well as at her own site Music Road