It was about this time last year that I began packing for what would be one of my favorite adventures. For years, my friends, The Elders, had talked about their hometown Irish Festival, The Kansas City Irish Festival, and what a spectacular event it was each year. It was high time I checked this out!
Like most of my adventures, it was planned out way in advance, which I highly recommend for two reasons; first because the hotels often sell out quickly, and secondly because we wanted to get a good deal on airfare. Not certain where they stand at this point being this weekend, but hey..give them a try if you're heading that way!! They may still be able to squeeze you in. Arriving at the airport, our friends who had flown in from Boston had prearranged a ride to the hotel, however there is Uber and rental cars available as well if you need a ride around town. Arriving downtown to our hotel, The Sheraton, it was simply spectacular and within walking distance to everything for the weekend. The area downtown known as Crown Center Square, was the stage (literally several of them) for this festival and had been blocked off in anticipation of the three day event. (See the map below for this years set up to find your way around). The hustle and bustle of getting everything ready sent an energy into the air, and hugs and introductions were made as we greeted our friends both old and new arriving at the same time.
The hospitality of the Committee was top notch. Coming from our own festival(s), we were greeted with open arms and the quality of care they took to make certain we had everything we needed, was above and beyond...all while doing what they had to do to pull off their own event. They were outstanding, and I can't thank them enough. I would personally like to thank them as well for the carte blanche they gave me for photography all weekend. The photos here are all because they allowed me the same credentials as their own photographers. It was truly appreciated and I hope you enjoy these captured moments I'll cherish forever!
One of the first things I noticed was how well it was set up. Although stages were back to back in some areas, they didn't compete with each other. Four main stages and 10 areas in all, each and every one was packed each day and evening with fans celebrating a variety of Celtic sounds and featured events. Similar to ours, there was a traditional stage (Miller Lite Stage) and main stage (Boulevard Stage) for acts as well as a more intimate setting throughout the grounds at others (i.e. Magners Park Stage, Whiskey area, Comedy Stage, KC Cultural Center Stage, etc).
Scattered throughout the grounds you'll find food vendors, children's activities, whiskey tasting, shops and local artisans and vendors featuring their arts and wares. It was so well set up, easily accessible, a great variety of items, and so well run all weekend long.
The lineup last year featured many of my favorites such as The Elders in their final performance at the festival, We Banjo 3, The High Kings, Eileen Ivers, Gaelic Storm, The Young Dubliners, Red Hot Chili Pipers, Kian Bryne, and The Colin Farrell Band. I also collected a new favorite as I was introduced to Doolin'.
The whole weekend was filled with wonderful musical memories. With it being the final show for The Elders, it was a family reunion on stage both nights they played. Everyone loves The Elders, both fans and peers. The talent that joined them up on that stage was not only musical magic, they were a family wishing them a fond farewell.
So many great moments I would like to highlight for you. The first moment worth mentioning was when local musician, Kian Byrne, was joined by friend and one of the most animated fiddle players I've ever seen, Shane Borth from Quixotic. Check him out below. Dancing around the crowd and standing on chairs as he fiddled, I was mesmerized by this musician. Talk about involving the crowd. Everyone was on their feet by the end of this tune! One of my favorite moments!
Another favorite moment was when Doolin' joined We Banjo 3 in a rap that blew my socks off. It was the coolest, and have to say the first time I had ever seen a Celtic rap composition. Well done, Wilfried Besse, well done.
Then there was the moment that the newly married couple joined We Banjo 3 on stage to be serenaded for their first dance. What an epic moment and memory for that couple! Hope they are able to celebrate their anniversary this year at the festival as well!!
I also loved when the local school choir joined The High Kings for an amazing accompaniment. They were so very talented and was a perfect moment with the lads.
I finally saw first hand the love Kansas City gave The Elders. As they played their last festival in Kansas City, they made certain they went out with a bang. There were both happy and bittersweet moments where they recognized friends from afar and near and thank them for their support and love they'd shown over the years. Dancers joined in, fellow musicians, local bagpipers, and in a sea of people that went on as far as the eye could see, they raised "A Parting Glass", and shared a special moment of love that left not one dry eye in the city. It was a moment they will not soon forget, and one I shall never forget.
It was absolutely one amazing weekend of fun, friends, and music. And just when you thought the evening was over each night, and you headed back to your hotel, the sessions began. If you've never been at a session, it's an improvisation of music as musicians come and go and join in randomly. It's something you must experience at least once, and the perfect accompaniment and ending to each day of amazing music. It's the musical brandy to top off your night.
And then the weekend was over. On Monday morning I awoke and went outside to find where the stages and vendors were only hours before, was now local traffic making its way to and from businesses as though it all was a dream. This sealed my opinion of this festival. They had their ducks in order, they knew how to put on a festival, they treated their staff and guests and musicians like royalty, and they totally made me a fan.
So if you are on the fence about heading out there this weekend, I hope this helps make up your mind. Although our Elders aren't there, and We Banjo 3 won't be back until March (go get your tickets now), they have invited my friends, Enter the Haggis back along with The Moxie Strings. And returning once again are fan favorites Gaelic Storm, The Red Hot Chili Pipers, High Kings, Kian Byrne, Colin Farrell Band, and Doolin'. We also have Pigeon Kings who I have never had the pleasure to see, but am very curious about!! So let me know your thoughts on them below.
As a music journalist, I have the opportunity to go and cover many, many shows, and festivals and I must say, this is one for the books. You will not find a more professional team that pays attention to the smallest details. This is definitely one of my favorite festivals, and although I can't be there in person this year I am definitely there in spirit and urge you to be there in body!! See the schedule below, you won't be sorry!! And tell everyone the gals from The Great American Irish Festival said hi!
Till next year!!