The Celtic Festival as a Cultural Experience - An inside Look at the Tide that has Lifted Celtic Music

A sign of the resurgence of Celtic Identity in North America is the Celtic Festival. A phenomenon best shown by the annual increases in attendance figures and the number of festivals established within the past 20 years.

A major force in the growth of Celtic Festivals in North America is Celtic Heritage Productions, a firm that organizes dozens of Festivals and concerts primarily in Florida and North Carolina. The festivals provide an opportunity for Celtic bands to gain experience and build a fan base, making them an invaluable resource for aspiring Celtic bands. The firm's Mission Statement is:

Celtic Heritage Productions strives to educate individuals and groups about the heritage, history, culture and tradition of the Celtic lands through the medium of music, providing entertaining productions with broad appeal to a wide range of audiences.

Estimates vary on the number of American’s claiming descent from immigrants to North America from the modern Celtic Nations. More elusive still is identifying the number of American’s descended from Celtic immigrants who enjoy a “Celtic Identity”.  An analysis of the American 2010 Census data proffered in an August 2013 article in “Business Insider” estimates the number of descendants of Celtic immigrants to North America to be in the vicinity of 50 million, comprised primarily of Irish, Scottish and Welsh in that order and inclusive of 5 million Americans who claim Scots-Irish ancestry.  Manx, Cornish and Breton identity is more difficult to measure as it has generally been subsumed within the census data into either English or French categories.

It is problematic to gauge how many festival goers attend because they are expressing their Celtic identity versus just showing up for a good show.  If we assume 50% we are talking about a significant number of people that can be viewed as allies in the Pan Celtic movement and in the struggle to preserve the language and culture of the modern Celtic Nations.

Interview with Marcille Wallis

We spoke to Marcille Wallis, President of Celtic Heritage Productions (CHP), to gain her perspective from observing Celtic festivals since 2000 when CHP began operations.

Wallis has witnessed the growth in the popularity of Celtic music and the bands that are contributing to the surge in attendance and the awakening of Celtic identity.

1. Can you share your thoughts on the popularity of Celtic Festivals?

Music has universal appeal. A Highland Games or Irish festival may have limited appeal to one who is not Scottish or Irish; perhaps it's even a bit intimidating to attend a cultural event for one who is not familiar with the culture! But if the music appeals to you and draws you in, you may be inspired to seek other similar listening experiences, or to find out more about the culture behind the music. Celtic rock has helped to ignite the popularity of the Celtic Festival as a cultural experience.

2. Contrast the role of traditional Celtic music and Celtic Rock in the Festival venue.

Traditional Celtic music, particularly the instrumental jigs and reels or old ballads, can sometimes need a little bit of context, a little bit of prior knowledge/experience, to be truly appreciated. In that way, it is similar to "classical" music or to old American folk songs, which are sometimes perceived as being somewhat elitist as to their appeal. However, for most of us, rock was/is a part of our youth -- we immediately understand and connect to it on some level. If a Celtic rock band has attracted listeners to a festival which also features more traditional Celtic performers, the listeners will often discover the more traditional performers. The tide created by Celtic rock bands -- and also by commercial productions like Celtic Woman or Celtic Thunder -- has lifted all forms of Celtic music.

3. You work with bands such as Albannach and Rathkeltair.  What impact do bands like this have on attendance at Celtic Festivals?


The influence of bands like Rathkeltair and Albannach on the growth in attendance at Celtic Festivals is significant. The percussive music of Albannach is highly approachable, even for those who do not have a drop of Celtic blood, or who do not identify with their Celtic background. Percussion is universal to all musical cultures -- it is in fact the oldest form of music. Though they're fiercely proud of their Scottish heritage, Albannach is essentially a tribal band whose music transcends cultural labels.

Rathkeltair's transcendant appeal is in their storytelling. Whether they're singing a "protest" song based on an actual historical event (Pound A Week Rise) or telling a boy-meets-girl tale that ends in tragedy (Vincent Black Lightning), Rathkeltair's listeners can identify the stories as being universally human. We all know that one person who thinks the world revolves around them (Pretty Too); we all remember that scary town character that our mothers told us to beware of (Durty Wullie).

Thus bands like Albannach and Rathkeltair are great ambassadors for Scottish and Celtic music generally. They touch people because they, and their music, are approachable. They connect with listeners in performance, and they are also accessible to fans who want to talk more in depth about the music or about Celtic culture.

4. You perform with Marcille Wallis & Friends.  Can you tell us about your group and your pans for 2016?

My group (Marcille Wallis & Friends) has performed primarily in Florida, and a bit in North Carolina, in very recent years. However, we've decided that we want to take our show a little further on up the road in 2016 -- we've actually set our sights on Maine, and are working toward a small tour in Maine during the month of July. Everyone in the band is in great musical demand and has a number of side projects, so it's going to be a challenge, but a very rewarding challenge. We're also talking about the possibility of a new recording project. We're not just band-mates but good friends as well, so the creative ideas flow along with the laughter and the camaraderie.

Upcoming Events sponsored by Celtic Heritage Productions

13th Annual Caloosahatchee Celtic Festival

13th Annual Caloosahatchee Celtic Festival

Coordinated by Celtic Heritage productions the 13th Annual Caloosahatchee Celtic Festival will be held in Fort Meyers, Florida January 22 - 23, 2016.  Entertainment includes Celtic festival stalwarts Albannach and Rathkeltair.  The line-up also offers up rising stars The Screaming Orphans, four sisters from Donegal who enjoy an international following. The Screaming Orphans have been invited to perform in May of this year in Washington at the Kennedy Centre’s “IRELAND 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts & Culture”, a major festival highlighting Irish culture and its relationship to America. Along with the The Screaming Orphans performing in Caloosahatchee are Marcille Wallis & Friends, West of Galway and the Kellyn Celtic Arts Dance Company.  The Kellyn Dance Company offers classes in Irish Step Dance, Highland Scottish Dance and Celtic Social Dancing.

13th Annual Caloosahatchee Celtic Festival
•    When: January 22-23, 2016
•    Where: Fort Meyers, Florida
•    Website:

4th Annual Celtic Family Jamboree


The 4th Annual Celtic Family Jamboree, coordinated by Celtic heritage productions, will be held February 2 – 5, 2016 in Brooksfield, Florida. What sets this festival apart is the emphasis on education. This festival is akin to a big family picnic with camping and revelry around the fire. Workshops are held in Fiddle Playing, the Irish Pennywhistle and Irish dance.  Entertainment includes Albannach, Rathkeltair, Brendan Nolan, West of Galway, Marcille Wallis and friends and Oddbins.  

4th Annual Celtic Family Jamboree
•    When: February 5 - 6, 2016
•    Where: The Rustic Sertoma Youth Ranch, Brooksville, Fla
•    Website: