Down in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania lies the town of Bethlehem, once the home of Bethlehem Steel, one of the largest steel mills in the world where furnaces blazed for 140 years helping to build America before it ground to a halt in 1995.
Once a symbol of industrial America, it drew lots of Irish and Scotch Irish laborers to the region who settled in the area and helped form a base for a solid Celtic Renaissance once the area turned to culture to help provide a creative alternative to rust-belt obsolescence.
So out of that vacuum arose the Celtic Cultural Alliance, a non-profit organization that sought to preserve Celtic culture and heritage through education, musical performances and competitions in athletics, piping and dancing.
Every year at the end of September is the Celtic Classic Festival, which is celebrating 25 years on September 28-30 in downtown Bethlehem.
The festival, which has drawn up to 250,000 people in the past to the three day event where admission is free, takes place mainly along Monocacy Park and Monocacy Creek in a hollow below the town center.
Seeing as it is only about an hour and half drive from Manhattan, it makes for a scenic excursion from the Big Apple and a chance to see a well-curated music festival with a lot of variety and focus on the customs of the Irish and the Scotch forebears and contemporary practitioners.
You can see Highland games, fiddle and pipe band competitions alongside of four stages devoted to presenting a rich array of international, national and regional artists in the Celtic genre.
There are plenty of vendors of all types, including over 25 food stalls to please every palate and whim at the outdoor festival that will help energize you to take in all the musical talent.
Like other outdoor festivals, tents are erected and chairs and tables installed underneath creating a pub-like or open air atmosphere. But there is also a historic ice house utilized as a unique performance space that offers the best concert setting to hear bands on the outskirts of the park along the Lehigh Canal.
Featured this year in the entertainment lineup along the trad bent are GIRSA, Bua, Burning Bridget Cleary, Shannon and Matt Heaton, Cassie and Maggie MacDonald (two sisters from Halifax, Nova Scotia), Jameson Sisters, Timlin and Kane and Runa giving you plenty of chunes and songs. Celtic rockers have a bevy of bands to enjoy with Barley Juice, Blackwater, Emish, Glengarry Bhoys and Scythian leading the pack, and for comedy there is Pennsylvania favorite Seamus Kennedy with songs and stories.
The Celtic Classic hours are Friday from 5-11 p.m., Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-11 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Visit www.celticfest.org
One caveat to note is that parking in town is very limited and satellite parking lots are just outside the town center and serviced by shuttle buses.
This Saturday, September 22, is the 17th annual CCE Irish Folk Festival in Fairfax, Virginia at the Sherwood Community Center at Van Dyck Park from noon-7 p.m., and also at the Auld Shebeen Irish Pub in Fairfax (noon-5 p.m.).
The entertainment is mostly local music and dance folks from the D.C. area, including Brendan Mulvihill and the Old Bay Ceili Band, but also includes Donegal musicians Peter Campbell and Caoimhin MacAoidh. For more info visit ccepotomac.org
Finally another sad farewell to a local New York musician, Linda Mason Hood, 66, who in recent years has been an important member of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra.
Felled by a fatal heart attack on last Thursday, September 13, she passed away on the one-year anniversary of her Irish flute mentor Mike Rafferty. On Wednesday, September 19, her life will be celebrated with a musical wake starting at 7 p.m. at Menno House (314 East 19th Street, New York)
with musician friends encouraged to share some tunes in her memory.
On Saturday, September 22 there will be a viewing at 3:30 p.m. followed by a memorial service at 5 p.m. at the Friends Meetinghouse (15 Rutherford Place). Condolences to her husband Dan and son Michael.