The View From Here on Festivals

The economic benefits are plain to see, and they helped spark the upcoming Banjo Burke Festival (www.joebanjoburke.org) on Columbus Day weekend and later in October at Halloween, the Northeast Piping Tionol (www.eastcoastpipers.com) also in East Durham.

Out in Milwaukee over the weekend of August 16-19, as I reported last week, some showers dampened the Henry W. Maier Festival Park (truly the finest facility for this purpose that I have experienced) on the critical Saturday and Sunday closing days.

In spite of that nearly 100,000 people turned up over the four days to sample an amazing group of musicians and acts that make this the leading Irish festival in the world on many fronts.

While beer sales do make up an important component of their annual profit, most people are impressed with the lack of excessive or rowdy behavior especially given its ready availability in this city where beer made Milwaukee famous.

What makes this festival stand out after 27 years is an intense commitment to reflect the changing relationship with Ireland, America and its Celtic cousins like Scotland and Cape Breton, while holding onto an appreciation for the cultural past, present and future.

Granted 80 acres of state of the art fixed festival facilities gives them quite a head start, but it is the creative forces behind the festival along with its unrivalled volunteer corps of 4,000 workers that will always keep them ahead of the pack and entertainers vying to come here to perform.

Inviting in Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies for a special reunion in their 20th year as a road act seems an easy thing to do, but few festivals can match that with similar programming options that allow the cast to swell and truly reflect the amount of talent out there on the trad scene.

Even a fine duo like Liz Carroll and John Doyle can reach behind stage and call on the likes of John McCusker, Alan Kelly (who were part of Eddi Reader's Band) or Jackie Moran (of Gan Bua) to have a few tunes making for even more memorable music.

Rising young bands like the David Munnelly Band pound out driving music, with equally impressive vocals from their new singer Shauna Mullen from Donegal or the multi-talented Beoga's fresh sounds sparked by one of the finest young singers you will hear anywhere in Niamh Dunne from the famed Dunne family in Limerick.

Reaching out for the future while respecting the past is a hallmark of the Milwaukee Irish Fest, and that is just a tip of the entertainment selections featured this year.

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