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The Older the Fiddle the Sweeter the Tune

In its 4th year, the Annapolis Irish Festival draws an ever-larger crowd seeking Celtic music and heritage

Tap and dance along with 12 Celtic bands and five schools of Irish dance at the Annapolis Irish Festival. The music starts on Friday, July 11, at 4pm on three stages and continues through Saturday night.
    Festival organizer Eddie McGowan loves “the whole community feel of the festival. It is not just a beer-drinking festival. It is a family event with all ages coming out. The Irish heritage in Annapolis is strong.”
    The festival features national touring bands at the heart of the Celtic music phenomenon and draws fans from around the United States and beyond, as far away as Ireland.
    In its fourth year, the festival keeps growing. A third stage was added this year, and the goal — raising $100,000 for local non-profits — surpassed. Benefitting this year are Hospice of the Chesapeake, Chesapeake Bay Trust and Anne Arundel Medical Center.
    The draw of Celtic music is heritage defined in sound. Celtic music has evolved from seven western coastal European countries or regions whose Iron Age ancestry has resisted obliteration by conquerors. Ireland and Scotland are the most well-known. In the British Isles, Wales, the Isle of Man and Cornwall retain some of their Celtic identity. Celtic roots in Europe endure in Brittany in France, Galicia in Spain and the North Region of Portugal. American country, bluegrass and folk music all descend from immigrant music brought to American by Celtic Irish, Scots and Welsh.
    “Celtic music is like an Irish jam session,” according to Maggie Sansone, Chesapeake Country’s major Celtic music producer. People come together to make something spontaneously by ear, but not without rules. She includes etiquette in her Celtic jam classes, teaching students about the modes and tempos that define Celtic music.
    Celtic instruments like bagpipes and bodhrans combine with instruments that know no nationality: fiddles, guitars, banjos, flutes, drums and — in Sansone’s case — the hammered dulcimer.
    Each Celtic band interprets the tradition in its own way, with its own sound. At the Festival, you’ll sample a dozen.
    Coming from Ireland are the Screaming Orphans, a female pop/rock group. Other groups have Irish roots. Dublin 5 lead singer Ray Murphy hails from Dublin’s District 5. Jim Phelan, founding member and banjo player of The ShamRouges, was born in County Laois, Ireland. Both formed their groups in the States.
    Albannach, the Festival’s Scottish band, includes a bagpipe.
    There are also American Celtic bands. From the Mid-Atlantic region comes Scythian, a Gypsy-infused American Celtic band. Carbon Leaf is an alternative-country-Celtic-folk band. Fighting Jamesons and Kilimain Saints are Irish rock bands.
    The Gothard Sisters, from the Pacific Coast, started as Irish dancers, winning championship titles, then adding violins, a guitar, a bodhran and voice.
    The Moxie String, from the Midwest, feature a fiddler, an electric cellist and a drummer and call their style bluegrass, Celtic, Canadian, rock, jazz and old time-infused. They have music education degrees and make it a mission to introduce students to new musical genres.
    Celtic rock band Gaelic Storm started in a Santa Monica pub and achieved fame after their appearance and song in Titanic and continues to appear on Top 10 Billboard World Charts.
    Working-class Jack Dawson and upper-crust Rose danced below decks to Gaelic Storm’s “An Irish Party in Third Class.”
    Dancing’s part of every Irish party. At the Festival, five local Irish dancing schools wear their ghillies to show you the steps.
    The Loyal Order of Ancient Hibernians’ dancers are a recreational Irish Dance club out of Annapolis. Teenlin Irish Dance Company comes from Columbia. Broester School of Irish Dance is based in the Baltimore area, with centers in New York, New Jersey and Delaware. The Maple Academy of Irish Dance is a prominent school in the metro area, offering classes in Vienna, Bethesda and Annapolis. Culkin School of Irish Dance started in Bethesda and has expanded to five locations with 350 students in Maryland.
    You’ll find the dancing on a fourth stage in Little Leprechaun Land, as well as local Belfast-born singer-comedian Seamus Kennedy. As the name suggests, Little Leprechaun Land is where kids find all sorts of fun.
    The festival also includes Irish fare, exhibits of Celtic dance and culture and shops selling Celtic crafts.

F 4-11pm; Sa 11am-11pm. Kids visit the free Little Leprechaun Land (Sa 11am-4pm), where they’ll meet animal ambassadors and play games. Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, Crownsville. $20; under 12 free: 410-980-7971; www.annapolisirishfestival.com.