Pittsburgh Irish Festival welcoming 33 music acts
Irish music is as old as songs from the first millennium and as new as the latest album by Gaelic Storm.
But for many people in the Pittsburgh area, it goes back 20 years. That is when the first Pittsburgh Irish Festival took place, and executive director Nan Krushinski always has had a goal of blending the old with the new.
"We were really out to find a way to display the culture of Ireland," she says. "We felt strongly Pittsburgh would support us, and here we are."
The festival will open Friday and run through the weekend at the Riverplex complex in West Homestead, offering its usual rich supply of Irish culture. While the festival always has been aimed in the same direction, it has grown steadily, she says. There were about 12 bands the first year and there will be 33 this year. When the festival moved from the South Side to Riverplex in 2007, it was able to add curragh racing on the Monongahela and demonstrations of Gaelic football.
Over the years, Krushinski has found assembling the event more challenging as the number of performers has increased. She usually starts planning in October and tries to have it lined up by March, but admits there is "tweaking" that is done right up to opening day.
This year's festival will feature Celtic rockers such as Gaelic Storm, who have become regulars, along with Scythian and Screaming Orphans. But performers of traditional Irish music see the long history of Irish song as being at the heart of the celebration.
David Kincaid, who performs Irish songs from the American Civil War, sees that as a simple truth. He says songs have been passed down through the centuries in Ireland, the lyrics changing to express new realities. But always, song is the way the truth is told.
"The national symbol is a harp, for God's sake," he adds with a laugh.
Guitarist John Doyle agrees.
"If you don't go back and have a look at history, we won't learn anything," he says. His new album has one song on it that is 800 years old but fits in well with new material that sometimes deals with historic issues.
Kincaid, who also performs with the West Coast-based group the Brandos, has been singing Civil War music since 1987, when he discovered the history of his great-grandfather, who was from Pittsburgh and fought in the conflict.
He says the best part of Civil War songs is their intense passion that "people really get into." The Irish soldiers, sometimes in famed Irish brigades, often were either trying to prove themselves or "simply needed to eat," he says.
Doyle, a native of Ireland who now lives in Asheville, N.C., discovered that on his own. In fact, he has written a song, "Feagh Go Bealagh," which is about the battle of Fredericksburg in which Irish troops from the Union and Confederate armies clashed "simply because of the cities where they landed."
The title, the motto of one the Irish brigades, means "Stand Aside!"
He will be performing with accordionist John Williams and fiddler Duncan Wickel. He and Williams were part of the group Solas, which has performed at the festival.
He says the basic themes of traditional Irish song -- love, bravery, conflict -- are at the core of human existence and so can survive centuries.
Although Celtic rock is quite a bit different from what he does, he has nothing against it, he says.
"The idea is to take good music, care about it, sing it well and do it right," he says
Pittsburgh Irish Festival schedule of events
4 p.m.: The Weathered Road (Emerald Amphitheatre); Na Gaels (Celtic Spirit Tent Stage); BBI (Claddagh Pub)
5 p.m.: BBI (Claddagh)
5:15 p.m.: Homeland (Celtic Spirit)
5:30 p.m.: Screaming Orphans (Emerald)
6 p.m.: Michael Murphy unplugged (Celtic Spirit)
6:15 p.m.: Homeland (Celtic Spirit)
6:45 p.m.: Scythian (Emerald)
7 p.m.: Terry Griffith (Claddagh)
7:15 p.m.: Bell School of Irish Dance (Celtic Spirit)
7:45 p.m.: Burke Conroy School of Irish Dance (Emerald)
8 p.m.: Hooley and Liz Shovlin -- Ceili Instruction (Claddagh)
8:15 p.m.: Red Hand Paddy (Celtic Spirit)
8:30 p.m.: Glegarry Boys (Emerald)
9:30 p.m.: Michael Murphy and the Shannon River Band (Celtic Spirit)
10 p.m.: Gaelic Storm (Emerald)
11:30 a.m.: Children's Irish Dance Matinee (Celtic Spirit); Dennis Doyle, harpist (Claddagh); Celtic Symbol Drawing (Hedge School)
Noon: Irish Dog Workshop
12:30 p.m.: Homeland (Emerald); Matthew Craig (Celtic Spirit); Intro to the Ceili (Claddagh); Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore -- Songs of Emigration (Hedge School)
1 p.m.: The Cattle Raid of Cooley -- storytelling (Hedge School)
1:30 p.m.: Mike Gallagher (Celtic Spirit); David Kincaid (Claddagh); Beginning Gaelic (Hedge School)
1:45 p.m.: Makem and Spain Brothers (Emerald)
2 p.m.: Irish Music Legends (Hedge School)
2:30 p.m.: Dennis Doyle, harpist (Claddagh); Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore -- Songs of Emigration (Hedge School)
2:45 p.m.: John Doyle Trio (Celtic Spirit)
3 p.m.: Gaelic Storm (Emerald); The Cattle Raid of Cooley, storytelling (Hedge School)
3:30 p.m.: Mark Guiser (Claddagh); Irish Brigade with David Kincaid (Hedge School)
4 p.m.: Matthew Craig and the Kerry Tipper Band (Celtic Spirit); Uilleann Pipes Workshop (Hedge School)
4:30 p.m.: Scythian (Emerald); Homeland Unplugged (Claddagh); Irish Guitar with John Doyle (Hedge School)
5 p.m.: Tracing Your Irish Roots (Hedge School)
5:15 p.m.: Screaming Orphans (Celtic Spirit)
530 p.m.: Shovlin Academy of Irish Dance (Emerald); David Kincaid, the Irish Volunteer (Claddagh); History of Irish Songs (Hedge School)
6 p.m.: Curragh Racing (Hedge School)
6:15 p.m.: John Doyle Trio (Emerald)
6:30 p.m.: Guaranteed Irish (Celtic Spirit); Dennis Doyle, harpist (Claddagh); Gaelic Football Revealed (Hedge School)
7 p.m.: Irish Ghost Stories (Hedge School)
7:30 p.m.: Makem and Spain Brothers (Emerald); Beyond the Pale: Ballads of the Supernatural (Hedge School)
7:45 p.m.: Homeland (Celtic Spirit)
8 p.m.: Hooley and Liz Shovlin -- Ceili instruction (Claddagh); Intro to Hurling (Hedge School)
8:45 p.m.: Scythian (Emerald)
9 p.m.: Screaming Orphans (Celtic Spirit)
10 p.m.: Gaelic Storm (Emerald)
10 a.m.: Gaelic Mass (Celtic Spirit)
11:30 a.m.: Patrick Regan, bagpiper (Celtic Spirit)
11:45 a.m.: Dennis Doyle, harpist (Claddagh)
Noon: Celtic Symbol Drawing (Hedge School)
12:15 p.m.: Pittsburgh Irish Reelers (Emerald)
12:30 p.m.: Cahal Dunne (Celtic Spirit); Beginning Irish Language (Hedge School)
1 p.m.: Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh (Emerald); Pittsburgh Police Emerald Society Pipes & Drums (Claddagh); Tracing Your Irish Roots (Hedge School)
1:30 p.m.: Pittsburgh Ceili Club (Emerald); Beyond the Pale: Ballads of the Supernatural (Hedge School)
1:45 p.m.: David Kincaid, the Irish Volunteer (Claddagh)
2 p.m.: Bell School of Irish Dance (Emerald); John Doyle Trio (Celtic Spirit); Lady Gregory and Coole House (Hedge School)
2:30 p.m.: History of the Harp (Hedge School)
2:45 p.m.: Burke Conroy School of Irish Dance (Emerald)
3 p.m.: History of Irish-American Songs (Hedge School)
3:15 p.m.: Piobaire (Claddagh)
3:30 p.m.: Shovlin Academy of Irish Dance (Emerald); Makem and Spain Brothers (Celtic Spirit); Irish Music Legends (Hedge School)
4 p.m.: Curragh Racing (Hedge School)
4:45 p.m.: Callan (Claddagh)
5 p.m.: Homeland (Celtic Spirit)
Program subject to change
When: 4 p.m.-midnight Friday; 11 a.m.-midnight Saturday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $12; $8 for students and seniors, $5 for military active or retired, and public safety officers
Where: Riverplex, West Homestead
Details: 412- 422-1113 or pghirishfest.org
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