Niagara Gazette

September 12, 2013

Niagara Celtic Festival's not your average event

By Thom Jennings ngedit@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Crowds that amount to 10 times the local population of around 1,200 will descend upon the town to visit Olcott Beach for the annual Niagara Celtic Festival this weekend. The 13th annual festival celebrates the music, art, food, and dress of the Celtic people.

On a clear day, the Toronto skyline appears to lord over the serene and scenic beach and one can only imagine the hustle and bustle of the major city across the lake and how it stands in stark contrast to the relative tranquility of the small hamlet.

Over the course of the festival weekend, Olcott Beach will buzz like major city, albeit on a smaller scale.

It is unlike any festival or event you will attend. In spite of what is clearly a mass influx of people, the large grounds make moving about easy, and the events make staying in one-place just as easy.

Last year was the first time I attended the festival. In spite of my best intentions, life always seemed to get in the way on festival weekend.

I had been told by festival organizers “you have to experience this thing,” and at first the thing that excited me most was the massive music lineup. I have always had a deep appreciation for Celtic music, and own albums by The Saw Doctors, The Chieftains and Celtic Women.

The transformation of the grounds into a festival is nothing short of miraculous. It’s not the type of event that you can rush through in a couple of hours, instead you find yourself drawn to things both grand and sublime.

The Clans, more than 30 of them, litter the grounds, each emanating tremendous pride that surely would make their ancestors proud. They provide authenticity and aesthetic appeal. They exhibit a pride in their cultural heritage that is infectious.

You really appreciate the massiveness of the event when you witness the opening ceremonies. The parade features colorful costume peppered with beating drums and blaring bagpipes and sets the stage for a special weekend.

As expected, I spent a great deal of my time checking out the music performers, but still found time to watch the Highland Games, a sporting event like no other that features a “caber toss,” which is essentially the throwing of a massive log the size of a telephone poll.

There is no part of the grounds that is not utilized. During a casual stroll from one end of the festival grounds to the other you will see small children playing games, husbands and wives browsing through the vendors wares, and displays of historic artifacts.

My favorite moment of the weekend was Saturday nights Ceilidh celebration. Even the name, pronounced “Kay-Lee” is unique, in simplest terms it means a gathering, that does not capture the festive nature of the event. It puts the “festive” in festival.

Each year the festival continues to grow, this year should be no exception. If you have been there before you will likely attend this year, if you have not, it is an experience you will never forget.

Visitors can purchase a two-day pass for $20. Tickets for Saturday are $15 and Sunday tickets are $10. Children 12 and under are free. Tickets may be purchased online at www.niagara celtic.com. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Wrist bands allow visitors to leave the grounds and return to the festivities. Parking is free.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.