The Michigan Irish Music Festival observes its 20th anniversary this year, and what better way to celebrate than by hosting more bands than ever in the history of the event?
The festival returns to Heritage Landing in downtown Muskegon Sept. 12-15 and features Irish and Celtic music on seven covered stages. The festival kicks off Thursday, Sept. 12 with its Pub Preview Party featuring food, beverages and three bands in the pub tent only. The full festival begins on Friday.
In addition, to live music, the Celtic Kitchen and beverage stations serve authentic Irish food and beverages. The Tea Room has non-alcoholic choices and treats in a relaxed atmosphere. Other activities include the Irish Market and Irish Store, children’s activities, a cultural center and a session tent. Saturday, FEIS, an Irish dance competition, and the Highland Games are held. Sunday, a Catholic mass at 9 a.m. will be followed by a traditional Irish breakfast. Celtic Canines, where patrons meet and learn about Irish dog breeds, also is Sunday.
This year’s festival, expected to draw 40,000 patrons, is expected to have a record 26 bands. Here’s a sneak peek at 10 of the bands on tap:
After two decades and more than 2,000 live shows, this multi-national Celtic band returns to the festival for the first time in five years. Gaelic Storm attributes their continued success to a diversified fan base from several musical genres: country, bluegrass, Celtic and rock.
Gaelic Storm, which has gained a reputation as a genre-bending Irish rock band, has topped the Billboard World Chart six times, appearing at mainstream music festivals and headlining the largest Irish Festivals across the country.
The band’s most recent release, “Decade-Best of The High Kings,” garnered rave reviews, and their recently completed U.S. tour sold out many of its venues. High Kings’ unique contemporary style and arrangement to songs of yesteryear are sure to delight.
The singer and songwriter from Dublin was named the 2018 winner of the
Best Irish Folk Act at the Irish Post Music Awards. Her music has a broad creative scope, but is largely influenced by her own roots in folk and traditional Irish music.
ONE FOR THE FOXES
This exciting and dynamic transatlantic trio presents a rousing blend of Irish and American folk music. They offer both traditional and newly composed music, presented in an energetic and engaging manner.
The multi-award winning quartet from Ireland blends the best of traditional Irish music with bluegrass and Americana in a new genre, which has been branded as “I-Grass” — Irish influenced Bluegrass.
Doolin’ currently is one of the most innovative bands of the Irish music scene. Formed in Toulouse in 2005, the band comprises six accomplished and eclectic musicians. French in origin this sextet brings a fresh approach to Irish music. Doolin’ combines instrumentals, vocals and original compositions in a resolutely modern style. The arrangements at times taking their inspiration from pop-rock, folk, jazz, funk and even rap.
Pigeon Kings draws from Celtic and rock influences, but they’re not Celtic Rock. There are traditional elements, but they’re not a traditional band. With elements of Americana and Bluegrass, they have a sound and persona all their own. Pigeon Kings offers a high energy stage show backed by unique compositions, honest lyrics and experienced showmanship.
THE DROWSY LADS
Jack Baker of the Irish American News named The Drowsy Lads the “Best Irish American Band of 2018.” The Lads, out of Columbus, Ohio, have won over both casual music lovers and those steeped in hardcore traditional Irish music. They’re fond of creating their own spirited arrangements and offer occasional original compositions (even mixing in Bluegrass and Classical), but that never gets in the way of their obsession with the pure old Irish tunes, songs, wit and friendship that has defined Irish music for centuries.
After winning New Group of the Year (Chicago Irish American News) and Best New Group (Live Ireland Music Awards) in 2016, Connla has been quickly making an impact on the folk/traditional scene. More recently, Connla won Album of the Year for 2019 at both the ALSR Celtic Music Awards and the Livvies Awards. Songlines magazine named Connla their “must-see act” for their UK tour and proclaimed “a band this young shouldn’t be this good.”
The five young musicians that make up The Conifers met while studying traditional music at the University of Limerick. They have since developed a lasting friendship, which is evident in their music. In 2018, The Conifers, whose music is energetic and lively with a wholesome sound, won first place in the prestigious Michigan Irish Music Initiative competition in Dundalk.
Advance tickets and passes for this year’s Michigan Irish Music Festival are available online (patrons save $5 per ticket online vs. the gate price). The festival offers an Early-In Free promotion on Friday only from 5 to 6 p.m., sponsored by Family Financial Credit Union. Other major sponsors of the festival include G&L, Van’s Car Wash and Budweiser. The Delta Hotels by Marriot and Shoreline Inn are host hotels for the festival.
One of the most popular ways is volunteering with the Michigan Irish Music Festival.
About the Fest
The Michigan Irish Music Festival was started in Muskegon in 2000. They are a 100% volunteer operated, nonprofit organization that holds their primary event annually over the second weekend in September. The festival is held at Heritage Landing, which is also part of Downtown Muskegon, and includes four days of entertainment on six different stages, 23 market vendors, 13 food vendors, Highland Games presentations, Celtic Canines, an extensive Wee Ones’ area, and much more.
Giving back to the community is a big part of MIMF’s mission – and has been since its inception. Festival President and Sponsorship Director, Chris Zahrt, says: “Helping to provide food for local food pantries in Muskegon County is something we’re committed to. Feeding people has deep Irish ties, stemming back to the Great Famine. This is just another way we can put Irish culture in the forefront of people’s minds, and help our local community at the same time.
“Part of our mission states that we enhance the community through philanthropy,” Zahrt added. “Our Nonprofit Partners include the Boy Scouts, Muskegon Catholic Central Schools, USS LST 393, Reeths Puffer High School Techies, Rotary Club’s ‘Interact High School Club,’ Howmet Theater, and the Junior Lumberjacks.”
In 2017 alone, the festival gave $13,000 back to Muskegon Kids’ Food Basket (another one of our favorite charities), and $18,524 to Loaves and Fishes (a local food pantry). In addition, MIMF also collected non-perishable food items at the festival, and was able to give Loaves and Fishes 4,620 pounds of food to stock their pantries. Between KFB, the food pantries, and other nonprofit partners, MIMF was able to give back to our community with charitable donations totaling $49,803.
Since 2000, the festival has seen growth every year. In the last year alone, the festival’s attendance has grown by 19%, hitting a record number of 35,072 attendees in 2017. Not only does this help the food pantries (through what the festival is able to give back), it also fills up the two hotels in Downtown Muskegon during a weekend in September that is not traditionally a tourism season, helping bolster Muskegon’s tourism economy as well.
It’s not just their patrons that travel far and wide to come to the festival! They have volunteers come from all over the country to lend their time and talents, including people from Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Texas, and Massachusetts. 1,253 volunteers work over the weekend, compiling of 7,917 hours in just 4 days!
How LongerDays Helps
LongerDays doesn’t just partner with MIMF to volunteer at the festival, we also provide virtual business services for the festival year-round. About 95% of the graphics created for the festival are done by LongerDays (including billboards, programs, sponsorship presentations, and more). We answer their phone line, handle all ticket order fulfillment and distribution, and help with many other office tasks that are tough for the festival to handle, since they don’t have a brick-and-mortar office.
The four-day festival returns September 13-16th to Heritage Landing in downtown Muskegon. Over 20 bands will perform on seven stages. A complete stage schedule will be posted in August.
The Michigan Irish Music Festival will kick off the 2018 festival with a Pub Preview Party again on Thursday night. The Pub Party will give patrons a preview of the weekend with food, beverage, and three bands in the pub tent only. Admission is $5 (cash only Thursday). The full festival opens Friday, featuring seven stages and an extensive selection of food, beverages (domestic beer, Irish whiskey, Irish cider, and local craft beer), shopping, and cultural/dance offerings.
Slide – Writing, recording, and performing for the past 16 years, the Irish Times calls Slide “traditional musicians with attitude,” and credits them with “bringing drawing room grandeur and high spirits together” with diverse songs that range from soulful and sorrowful to contagiously energetic.
Scythian – This high-energy folk music group began over 12 years ago as a bunch of college buddies playing Celtic music in the streets and has grown to be a headliner on the US Celtic Festival Circuit. To date, Scythian has played over 1,300 shows across the United States, Europe, Canada, and as far away as Australia.
The Elders – The Elders were founded in 1998 by six individuals with a passion for music rooted in Americana and Celtic folk rock. From the beginning, their ability to bring together the art of storytelling, with elements both musically progressive and rooted in tradition, has won them a broad international fan base.
Moya Brennan feat. Crannua Collective – Moya Brennan, the voice of Clannad and elder sister to Enya, is known as the “First Lady of Irish Music.” She’ll be performing with Crannua Collective, a group of top Irish artists rooted in tradition but injected with fresh and contemporary ideas.
Kittel & Co feat. John Doyle – Previously of the Grammy-winning Turtle Island Quartet, Jeremy Kittel blazes through a Bach violin partita as easily as a Scottish reel, bringing the same intense focus and precision to both. Kittel and Co. features mandolin phenom Josh Pinkham and special guest John Doyle on guitar.
Cúig – Hailing from Ireland, this band is tearing up the rule book with their bold approach to native musical tradition. Featuring a range of self-compositions, traditional Irish, Scottish, and world music with fiery, rock-infused accompaniment, this five-piece band is sure to bring audiences to their feet.
The East Pointers – With a captivating balance between their traditional Canadian Celtic roots, authentic instrumental tunes, and catchy radio-ready songs, The East Pointers reach out with open arms to a wide range of listeners, inviting them to discover a new love of folk music.
POGEY – POGEY’s unique take on traditional music at Irish Festivals across the US leaves audiences jumping from their seats, dancing, and singing to their original and instrumental arrangements. Their show combines guitars, fiddle, mandolin, bodhran, and four-part vocal harmonies to produce a trademark sound.
Blackthorn – Tradition combines with Ireland’s best contemporary songs for a musical experience that captures the history of Ireland. Each member of the band plays multiple instruments, complementing the lead vocals of Belfast native Richard McMullan and the band’s tight blend of five-part harmony.
Seamus Kennedy – A fan favorite of the Michigan Irish Music Festival, Seamus’ trademark is his ongoing interaction with the audiences. Fast-paced humor is very much a part of what Seamus does, whether he’s telling a series of rapid-fire jokes or launching into a lyrical parody.
Chicago Irish Music All Stars – Chicago has been the premier center of Irish music in the United States for two hundred years, fortified by new Irish musicians over the years. Irish traditional musicians Pat Broaders, Pauline Conneely, Jimmy Keane, and Laurence Nugent are proud to be part of that great Chicago legacy.
Aoife Scott – Fragile and ethereal one minute and strong and vibrant the next, Dublin Folk singer-songwriter Aoife Scott has become a force to be reckoned with on the Irish folk and traditional scene. Aoife is steadily rising to the top of the traditional and folk music scene, performing across the US and overseas.
Switchback – Unusual, honest, and heartfelt, Switchback is the award-winning duo of Brian FitzGerald and Martin McCormack. Playing an exciting mix of mandolin, guitar, and bass, Switchback draws on traditional Celtic music and original Americana songs that reflect their Irish heritage and Midwestern roots.
One for the Foxes – One for the Foxes is a new and exciting collaboration between Joanna Hyde, Tadhg Ó Meachair, and Dave Curley. This trio delivers a pulsating reimagining of the Celtic and Folk genres. One for the Foxes weaves their newly composed songs and instrumentals with traditional Irish and American music.
The Moxie Strings – The Moxie Strings is the electrifying combination of fiddler Diana Ladio and electric cellist Alison Lynn. Their ear-catching originals and dance-worthy traditional tunes have made The Moxie Strings one of Michigan’s most promising and well-loved instrumental acts.
The Founding – The Founding is a Progressive Celtic band from Kalamazoo, Michigan. With their timeless and energetic approach to songwriting – and powerful live performances – they strive to constantly push the boundaries of the Irish and Scottish music traditions.
Stone Clover – Stone Clover’s original approach to songwriting is a melding of pub-style tunes mixed with aspects of rock, punk, gypsy, folk, and Americana. They affectionately call this style of their own “Paddy Slag,” as it clearly comes from Irish tradition but has so many other influences as well.
The Conifers – This year’s MIMI winner is The Conifers, a five-piece band hailing from the University of Limerick. The Michigan Irish Music Initiative (MIMI) brings together aspiring musicians associated with colleges or organizations who focus on Irish traditional music. The musical acts perform in a high level competition in Ireland. This year, the competition took place at the Spirit Store in Dundalk Co. Louth, Ireland. Ten bands performed, and the top three were awarded prizes. The Conifers will receive all expenses paid trip to the US and will play at MIMF this fall.
Brother Crowe – Hailing from Detroit, Brother Crowe has hammered through over 100 shows in a year, sometimes playing three gigs in a day. The band, led by brothers Derek (vocals/harmonica/bodhran) and Paul (guitars/banjo/vocals), hones in on country/indie-folk roots that still possess a traditional Celtic sound.
CrossBow – This West Michigan-native band can be heard at Irish and Scottish music festivals across the Midwest. Apparent from the moment they hit the stage, these high-energy musicians naturally feed off of one another, creating a dynamic, wholly unique performance that shouldn’t be missed.
Kennedy’s Kitchen – Kennedy’s Kitchen has been making Irish music since 1998, playing everything from backyard parties and weddings to pubs, concert halls, and national festivals. Their music is rooted in traditional Irish jigs, reels, hornpipes, stories, and songs – adding their compositions along the way.
Conklin Ceili Band – Formed in 1997 after a weekend of jamming, chatting, and laughing, the Conklin Ceili Band has established itself as one of West Michigan’s most beloved purveyors of Celtic and Irish-American music with two studio albums under its belt.