SUMMER 2010 / VOL. 10 ISSUE 2
Minnesota Irish Fair to Feature Great Big Sea, Sands and Young Dubliners

By Andrew Gregg

The Minnesota Irish Fair held each year on Harriet Island Regional Park in downtown St. Paul is the largest free Irish celebration in the upper Midwest. The event amassed over 100,000 visitors last year, according to the fair's website, and will run from 3 p.m., Friday, Aug. 13, until 8 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 15. The fair is held each year by a nonprofit organization named The Irish Fair of Minnesota, Inc. and is maintained by a board of directors which represent a wide variety of interests from the metro Irish community. 

The fair is organized and run by 30 permanent volunteer staff members and will include over 250 volunteers during the festival itself. There is truly something for everyone as the fair caters to a wide array of interests including Irish dance, pipers, bands retailers, a genealogy booth, a 5k-run and even a Best Legs in a Kilt competition. The musical headliners for the fair include Great Big Sea, Tommy Sands and the Young Dubliners among others. 

Sarah Van Sickle, the fair’s executive director, said "We intend to keep the fair free to the general public, while offering top entertainment and a quality experience in a family-friendly atmosphere."

She added that the event is expanding the fair's offerings to keep it fresh, with a piping contest, Irish stick fighting and cooking demos, as well as providing better services such as free shuttles and recycling efforts. 

"We have a new upgraded hospitality experience called ‘Wayzata Friends of the Fair,’ "Van Sickle pointed out. "Tickets are $100 for a day pass or $250 for a weekend pass and include access to upscale food, beverages and a place to view the entertainment. Ahern's Irish Pub is our presenting sponsor this year and Cara Irish Pubs is back again as the main stage sponsor," she said.

The big draw will be the entertainment, of course. Great Big Sea got its start in St Johns, Newfoundland. Sean McCann and Bob Hallett got together to play Newfoundland style folk music. In 1993 they met Alan Doyle and started the band Great Big Sea with the plan to create a new approach to Newfoundland folk music. They produced their first recording Great Big Sea that same year. 

Their second album Up came out in the fall of 1995, and by January 1997 it had gone platinum. The Canadian band caught the eye of America and was signed to Sire by Seymour stein. Play, the band's third recording, also went platinum and the band produced several more. In 2002, Kris MacFarlane joined the group as did bass player Murray Foster the following year.

The 10th and latest album Safe Upon the Shore, which was released just this last July, covers many different aspects of the band's influences and addresses the challenges of maintaining a home life alongside life on the road. In addition to the prolific production of albums, several of the band members maintain side projects. Hallett writes, McCann produces solo recordings and Doyle does acting and soundtrack work. Doyle said "There's a lot of creativity in this band, too much for an album every two years. We all have lots of other ideas, ambitions, and paths we want to travel..." For samples of the band's music and more information, visit their website at

Tommy Sands, another headliner for the fair, is a well-known peace activist, singer and songwriter from County Down in Ireland. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, Moscow's Olympic Stadium and many other places around the globe. 

His music seeks to cross the boundaries of cultural differences and bring peace to conflicted areas, including his homeland. He tours with Fionan and Moya Sands, his son and daughter, who play a variety of instruments that include the fiddle, bodhran (an Irish drum traditionally covered with goat hide), tin whistle, mandolin and banjo. The three take on educational programs and performances at, folk clubs, schools and performing arts centers. Their music includes both traditional and contemporary pieces that whisk your mind away to the Emerald Isle while making, often sharp, social commentary. 

In 2005, Sands' book The Songman was published in the UK and has since made its way to the US market. The book recounts Sands' life including the civil rights movement, a life-changing moment from the Good Friday Agreement talks, and meetings with Pete Seeger, who is quoted on Sands' website as saying, "Tommy Sands has achieved that difficult but wonderful balance between knowing and loving the traditions of his home and being concerned with the future of the whole world." 

Some of the educational programs include lectures, assemblies and peace concerts for middle and high school students, as well as workshop performances at the university level where his musical talents promote peace and acceptance for others. 

Sands was even awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from University of Nevada for his outstanding peacemaking efforts. More information about Tommy Sands and his music and mission of peace is available online at

The Young Dubliners is a high-energy Irish rock band that gets its kicks mixing in blues, ballads and new spins on traditional music that has influenced them personally. In the late 80s Kieth Roberts and Paul O'Toole met in LA during a time when Roberts was composing Irish ballads. The two tossed around the idea of starting a band composed of Irish-transplants like themselves and American rock musicians. The band was born and they took their name from fans who dubbed them The Young Dubliners or just The Dubs. 

They released their first extended play Rocky Road in 1994. The Dubs produced three other albums by the year 2000, with several shifts in the band's lineup bringing them up to seven members. By that time O'Toole had left the group. Their album Red, produced that year, brought the band international recognition. 

Their fifth album Absolutely came out in 2002 and the band has maintained the same membership since that time. It currently includes Keith Roberts (vocals, guitar), Brendan Holmes (bass, vocalist also from Dublin), Bob Boulding (guitar, vocals), Chas Waltz (violin, keyboard, harp, mandolin and vocals) and Dave Ingraham (drums, percussion). 

Afterward, the band was stricken as Roberts underwent throat surgery. "My surgery made us all aware of how close we came to losing it all," Roberts related. "Our determination to succeed is even stronger than before." 

The band's next recording With All Due Respect, The Irish Sessions was designed to introduce the audience to the writers and poets that influenced the Young Dubliners themselves. This was their first album with 429 Records. Their second album with 429, and their most recent recording, Saints and Sinners came out in 2009. The band is joined in this album by Uillean pipe and penny-whistle master Eric Rigler, who is known for his work on The Titanic and Braveheart soundtracks.

The Dubs currently perform an average of 180 to 250 shows per year, having toured with other bands like Great Big Sea, Collective Soul and many others. The Dubs have played to the crowd at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and have been known to have 'jig pits' (similar to mosh pits at a rock concert) at many of their performances. To find out more about the Young Dubliners and their other albums check out 

Nothing quite goes with music like dancing, and the Minnesota Irish Fair has plenty of it. Dancers from the best dancing schools in the St. Paul area will be performing The Mississippi Riverdance on Friday night at the Dance Tent. Several other dance exhibitions will take course over the course of the weekend. Irish social dancing will be held at the Crossroads Tent including lessons on traditionally based Irish folk dances like the Ceili and Set Dancing. Promoters of the event challenge guests to "Dance like nobody is watching."

Among other events being held at the fair are the Run With Celts in Kilts and the Best Legs in a Kilt competition. Both a 5k and 1k-run are available with the 5k taking place on a certified race course that begins and ends at Harriet Island on the festival grounds. The 1k-family run will take place around the grounds. Both races are scheduled for Saturday, August 14th. The Best Legs in a Kilt competition consists of four separate categories including Best Pub Owner, Best Musician/Dancer and Best Bartender legs in a kilt, with the fourth category open to the general public.

For a full list of organizations and activities at the Irish Fair of Minnesota, as well as directions and additional information, go to the fair's website or call 952-474-4711.


© Irish American Post
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Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 273-8132
Fax: (414) 273-8196

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