IrishFest Atlanta was launched November 2013 to promote the culture of Ireland through the country’s traditional music, song, dance, and language. The vision of IrishFest Atlanta’s original founders was to create a weekend of cultural performances, lectures, and workshops in a festive environment appealing to community members of all ages and varying familiarity of all things Irish.
During 2016 the festival featured Liz Carroll, John Doyle, The Pride of New York and The Yanks. Festival goers were thrilled with the many concerts but were also able to participate in workshops and sessions lead by every featured artist! Shannon Dunne was on hand again this year to lead Sean-Nós and Set dance classes as well as perform with the bands.
IrishFest Atlanta was thrilled to welcome Billy McComiskey, he has been to every one of the festivals thus far. Billy was awarded the 2016 National Heritage Fellowship award. The Fellowship is a lifetime honor presented by the National Endowment for the Arts recognizing a lifetime of excellence in a traditional art form. When asked about IrishFest Atlanta Billy says:
“When I travel to Atlanta I feel like I'm coming home. I love that when you look closely at Atlanta's Irish Traditional Music Scene, you find a core of key people... all deeply rooted in the Culture. This core group is doing what their parents and grandparents did before them. They're saving, cultivating and sharing this beautiful Art Form. Atlanta is becoming a nesting place for Irish Traditional Music.... a town where Artists want to perform...or simply have a tune. It's like Home. And IrishFest Atlanta is as good as it gets.”
Three World Champions honored at IrishFest Atlanta. Joanie Madden surprised festival goers by recognizing 3 recently named World Champions of Irish Music during the Pride of New York concert Saturday evening. Atlanta’s own first World Champion, Patrick Finley was invited to play a set with Pride of New York. Patrick was named Under 18 World Champion for Fiddle in Ennis, 2016. Kieran Flanagan of New York, who also took a first for Under 18 Accompaniment, joined the stage. Margaret Kepler of Philadelphia, Under 12 Fiddle Slow Air world champ was also on hand to take a bow!
Workshops taught by World renowned artists important to IrishFest Atlanta success. Music, dance, and language workshops are a cornerstone of the festival model. Featured artists are selected based on their desire and availability to teach as well as participate in sessions throughout the weekend. Approximately 20 workshops are offered that range from beginner to advanced levels. The variety of musical instruments taught are as diverse as the artists with: fiddle, flute, harp, accordion, bodhran, pipes, guitar, and more. There are workshops that appeal to those who want to learn “how to play for dancers” or to “accompany a singer”. Dance workshops include Sean-Nós, set dance, ceili and step dance…for all ages. And of course, there is an Irish Language class. There is something for everyone no matter the generation or level of ability!
Local Artist have been critical to the growth of IrishFest. Atlanta has grown with the support of many of the local teachers, musicians and dance teachers who have “volunteered” their craft in the early years to help the festival get started. Katherine Irwin Thomas, Director of the Atlanta Irish Music School, organizes her students to perform across the weekend. The award winning Atlanta Junior Ceili Band as well as the youngest of her students prepare months in advance for dancers. And many festival goers come out to support names such as Kathleen Donohoe, Jim Flanagan, and The Irish Brothers who have been with the festival from the beginning. John Maschinot, Tim Hogan and Mary Ujda continue to teach workshops during the weekend while Arís, the local Irish Theatre company present their craft as well. IrishFest Atlanta is extremely grateful to have the loyal support of its local Irish talent!
The “IrishFest Marketplace” features free entertainment. New to the festival this year, was free programming to appeal to those less familiar with all things Irish! The Irish Market is a space that allows vendors to sell their crafts while festival attendees enjoy musical and dance performances as well as listen to lectures, view Irish films, learn about Irish photography and much more. This was a big hit and festival organizers plan for this to be a part of future festivals. This venue also gives some of Atlanta’s younger talent an opportunity to preform while “new groups” can test their appeal and hone their repertoire.
Cultural programming offers something for all ages. IrishFest youth programs are growing in popularity. Face painting, storytelling, and a Young Artist Search competition fill the afternoon for the younger crowd. And while Mom & Dad participate in a workshop this year Celtic Kids Camp was the perfect event to allow the whole family to participate. An Irish instrument Petting Zoo was organized by ITA Youth Chair Claire Shirey (and local musician and teacher) to entice newcomers to the Atlanta music scene.
Special Events offer a “festival” atmosphere for all. The festival continues to add special events and was proud to host Atlanta’s Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Clan na nGael and the Irish Network for the annual athletic awards. Shane Stevens, Atlanta’s Irish Consul General, was on hand to make the awards. Continuing the mission to involve all Irish organizations in Atlanta, the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta hosted their first Afternoon Tea with the Irish Consul General. And of course, for many, the Irish Whiskey tasting put a nice warm feel to the festival.
The magic happens with a dedicated group of volunteers and loyal and generous sponsors. IrishFest Atlanta has an amazing group of volunteers. They take time out of very busy lives to come together to plan the festival and grow it each year. And it is well known that they have a great time doing so!