|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
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
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 http://www.tommysands.com/index.htm
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
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 www.youngdubs.com
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 http://www.irishfair.com
or call 952-474-4711.