History of the Festival
Since the late 1980’s, Annie O’Dea Hestbeck’s Wednesday night radio program, Celtic Cadence, has been among the first-mentioned favorites of KVMR listeners. Fueled by the popularity of Annie’s program, our Celtic concerts and fundraising events have always received similar acclaim. After the success of KVMR’s 1992 Acoustic Music Festival, talk turned to the possibility of another festival, one that would build on the huge success of our Celtic music audience.
Several years of dreaming and planning came to fruition in 1996 with the debut of KVMR’s first Celtic Festival & Marketplace. Produced largely as an experiment, our first Celtic Festival was held in the Nevada County Fairgrounds amphitheatre, using the stages from the recently-concluded run of the Foothill Theatre Company’s Shakespeare Festival. Our goal that year was to simply pull off the event and, hopefully, break even financially. We would need to sell over 1,500 tickets to do so.
Originally conceived as a one-day event, KVMR’s first Celtic Festival & Marketplace featured fewer than a dozen vendors, a couple of workshops and one makeshift side stage. The talent, however, was first-class, right from the start. Headliners included Alasdair Fraser and Skyedance and the Old Blind Dogs, under the leadership of Ian Benzie.
When we opened the gates, unexpected costumed festival-goers spilled into the amphitheatre. By noon, we had run out of printed tickets and by 3:00 p.m. we had admitted almost 3,000 people. We had so underestimated the response that our food vendors soon ran out of goods and had to close shop. KVMR broadcaster, Eric Rice, quickly placed an order for a dozen wagon-wheel pizzas and began to sell pizza-by-the-slice to a hungry crowd.
By the time Skydance took the stage, it was standing room only. Our first Celtic Festival wrapped as a dream beyond all expectations!
An Annual Event
Our Second Annual Celtic Festival, still a one-day event, brought KVMR onto the main festival green with increased vendors. Our fourth festival, in 2000, introduced a Friday night line-up before the full-Saturday festivities.
2001: From the Ashes
In 2001, just days before the opening of KVMR’s Fifth Annual Celtic Festival & Marketplace, the world was stunned by the events of September 11th. Domestic and international air travel came to a virtual stand-still. In the 48 hours leading up to gate time, all of our headliners cancelled their performances. At the Fairgrounds, all of the festival infrastructure was in place and most of our talent wasn’t going to come. KVMR faced the unthinkable dilemma: Do we cancel the festival?
Then, magical things began to happen. Kevin Burke, who lives in Oregon, would be able to come down and headline our Friday night. On Friday morning, we received word of the cancellation of our Saturday headliner. Within hours, Alasdair Fraser, unable to fly back east to make his scheduled appearance, stepped in as our Saturday night headliner. By the time we opened the gate Friday night, Alasdair had rallied a groundswell of local and regional support including Paul Kamm & Eleanore MacDonald, Peter Wilson, and a spontaneous ensemble of musicians who joined Alasdair on stage Saturday night.
A community, hungry to heal from the events of that traumatic week, poured through the gates in record numbers as KVMR’s 2001 Festival became the place to remember and weep and look forward and celebrate. Our Fifth Annual Festival was the largest to date.
From Then to Now
In 2003, KVMR hosted our first two-day festival featuring an expanded marketplace, now up to more than 50 vendors. What had begun as a relatively simple gathering had now grown to include Scottish games, sheepdog trials, birds of prey exhibitions, fire-breathing dragons, jam sessions, five stages of entertainment and a crowd of nearly 7,000.
Planning for the festival runs all year. Production of the event is largely a team effort with some twenty-five people managing different “lines” (such as security, hospitality, children’s area, stages, and so on). Each year, more than 350 people volunteer to staff every aspect of the festival.
Our 10th Anniversary Celtic Festival set attendance and fundraising records. Near-perfect weather and great organization contributed to the success. Guests who were surveyed during the event rated their experience more positive than ever. In fact, about the only thing folks wanted was another festival day.
Browse through this website to learn more about this magical event. Check back often for updates
At the heart of it all, though, and from the very beginning, has been the music. Click here for some of the amazing talents to have graced the Main Stage at KVMR’s Celtic Festival & Marketplace.