Celebrating 25 Years of Scotland’s Celtic Connections
“Celtic Connections has been a wonderful ride upon whose route is proven the old adage of music being the universal language. This journey not only satisfies a need we troubadours have for musical companionship, but also shows the world how much we all truly have in common.” — Jerry Douglas
Once again we are fortunate to have a kindred spirit in Scotland whose love of roots music runs deep to report on an Americana music festival that pre-dates AmericanaFest. It is also arguably the most global of roots festivals. Here, now in her own words is:
Celtic Connections – arguably the UK’s best music festival – has just celebrated 25 years with its biggest festival yet. Over 18 days the festival welcomed 130,000 attendees and over 2,300 artists, performing at more than 350 concerts and 28 venues. The festival has come a long way since 1994, when there was only one venue. Jerry Douglas has been there from its beginnings and, in his words, has “seen the festival grow to become one of the world’s premier destinations for musicians and fans of every possible genre.”
Here’s what you need to know about Celtic Connections:
1. The Music is Global
This year the musicians came from over 30 countries to perform at the festival. With so many performances, it’s simply impossible to see everything, and every visitor will have a unique experience. This year’s highlights were too many to list, but include: Mandolin Orange’s perfect sound in the awesome surroundings of an original Charles Rennie Mackintosh church, and their perfect encore of ‘Waltz about Whisky:”
Listening to Larry Campbell’s melodic mandolin and hearing that his grandparents were from Glasgow; the return of I’m With Her – the group that Aoife O’Donovan, Sara Watkins, and Sarah Jarosz originally debuted in Glasgow; the glorious double bill of Beth Orton and Blue Rose Code, playing to a packed audience of 800; my first experiences of seeing Sierra Hull live (wow! Just wow!); Colter Wall and Tyler Childers; and our home-grown Rab Noakes, surely the best dressed gentleman of Celtic Connections.
2. The Transatlantic Collaborations
Celtic Connections is famed for its collaborations across the Atlantic. Hosts Jerry Douglas, Aly Bain, and Phil Cunningham surpass themselves every year with Transatlantic Sessions, facilitating unique collaborations across the Atlantic. This year Shawn Camp, the Secret Sisters, and Julie Fowlis joined the lineup, creating the unique sparks that the festival is famous for. Another must-see in a similar vein is Roaming Roots Revue – a regular transatlantic collaboration that this year produced a glorious tribute to Tom Petty. Hosted by the brilliant Roddy Hart, highlights included Sierra Hull, Willy Vlautin, Joel Plaskett, Picktish Trail, Rab Noakes, and Lera Lynn, each contributing their own interpretation of Petty’s music and ending with a collaborative encore of “Free Fallin’.”
3. The Weather
This year’s festival started with deep snow, which provided a beautiful backdrop to the warm venues and joyous music, and somehow created a community feel, even in the largest auditoriums (possibly helped along by the whisky!). The timing of Celtic Connections is just right, bringing light into the darkest days of winter. However, the Scottish weather changes rapidly, and we experienced rain, hail, sleet, and even some stunning blue skies across the 18 days.
4. Glasgow … and Our Own Americana Radio Programme
The city’s motto is “People Make Glasgow,” and the friendliness during Celtic Connections is palpable. The audiences are attentive (at times completely still and quiet, even in large venues), but there is Ceilidh dancing and whisky aplenty when the concerts end. The venues grow each year and they are varied – from purpose-built classical auditoriums to converted churches, intimate pubs, and even a huge 13,000-capacity arena. Glasgow also has its own radio station, Celtic Music Radio, that covered the festival throughout. Mike Ritchie on Sunday, which was recently voted best UK radio show by Americana UK, has podcasts of interviews and music from Celtic Connections.
5. It’s Exhausting!
I love that the festival has broken all records regarding size this year. It’s amazing and unique. But it needs to be treated like a marathon – it requires lots of training (involving attending many smaller festivals throughout the year), sturdy footwear (for running between the 28 venues, especially when carrying camera gear), and plenty of fuel (mainly whisky and beer) to ensure sufficient stamina for the full 18 days!
Now, take your time and scroll through Carol’s photos of the festival. Taken from many angles, they offer not only artists known to most of us, but, as always, Carol introduces us to many who deserve wider recognition.