AFTER A brief absence from the local scene, the popular local Irish festival Tara Feis returns, rebooted and renamed as Celtic Ceol Feis.
Intended as a family-friendly, culturally authentic precursor to the more rowdy and commercialized St. Patrick’s Day celebrations themselves, the festival enjoyed a quarter-century of success in Savannah before falling victim to city funding cuts and reorganization.
Now, hosted by the Savannah Waterfront Association, Celtic Ceol Feis happens this Saturday at Emmet Park, on Bay Street.
Headlining the Irish music offerings this year are Padraig Allen and the McLean Avenue Band from New York City.
We asked Allen how the band goes about settling on a mix of old and new in their set list.
“That’s one of the mysteries of the world!” he laughs. “Collectively, as the group grows together we try to put our own stamp on everything we do. A lot of songs in our set list are older tunes, some are by newer artists, and some are songs we’ve written. It will vary from town to town.”
Allen says when the band plays down South, “We like to incorporate more American/folk songs, adding a bit of Irishness into it. We’ve found that gives the audience a feeling of familiarity with the music. At the end of the day, it’s about entertaining both the audience — and ourselves!”
Fiddle is the lead instrument, along with accordion, guitars, and bodhran (traditional Irish drum). But the Mclean Avenue Band has a big beat as well.
“We also have a drummer with a full kit, which a lot of more traditional Irish groups don’t have. We think it gives a real big band sound that people respond to,” Allen says.
While Savannah has the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the U.S., it hasn’t always been a center for Irish music on that day, for a variety of reasons.
“In a lot of cases, Irish bands will play the same venue each St. Patrick’s Day, so they’re used to a format. And some bands are at the end of their March tour and will want to stay closer to home,” Allen says.
“But Savannah is as good a market as anywhere, I think.”
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland itself are generally more understated, and emphasize the solemn nature of the religious day.
“In Ireland, every small town and village will have their own parade. The local community will celebrate together, rather than people rushing into a big city for a larger celebration,” Allen says.