Of Saints and Wonders

Dayton Celtic Festival Dayton Celtic Festival
Dayton Celtic Festival Dayton Celtic Festival

Of Saints and Wonders

Unite Irish of Dayton Presents Dayton Celtic Festival.

-By J.T. Ryder

The mythopoetic imagery of the Emerald Isle causes a stirring in some, a sense of longing, a yearning to hear the strident fiddle match against the keening wail of the uilleann pipes calling over the misty mountains and across the Giant’s Causeway. The time of
despair and Diaspora has passed and the harp’s weeping strain has given way to merriment. The time is now as the United Irish of Dayton presents a respite for the weary this weekend: the ninth annual Dayton Celtic Festival at
RiverScape MetroPark.

“We do try to keep a balance in our Irish/Celtic entertainment which appeals to all ages,” said Bill Russell, festival
organizer and artistic director. “This is one of the great elements of our festival; the appeal to all ages – bringing together generations to share in our Irish/Celtic music, dance and culture. We try to
balance the acts presented at any particular time so our attendees can leave one stage and find at one of our other stages something exactly to their
liking. We also review each and every attendee survey form after the festival to help us shape next year’s entertainment in keeping with the desires of
the community.”

One of the more intriguing groups to take the stage this weekend is the band known as Scythian, whose unique blend of Celtic melodies are overlaid with Ukrainian and Middle Eastern rhythms. Danylo Fedoryka,
one of the founding members who also
provides vocals, accordion and rhythm guitar, addressed the group’s marriage of beats
and melodies.

“My brother and I kind of started the band and our parents both emigrated from the Ukraine during World War II. It was just sort of a progression. We started playing mostly Celtic music, but then we had this music that we grew up with and we wanted to start playing some of our heritage and so we kind of came up with this mix.”

Fedoryka also explained that the Middle Eastern rhythms were a contribution from their drummer, whose father is from Jordan. The incorporation of these diverse influences somehow seems to seamlessly enhance the Celtic flavor.

“I really think that Celtic music lends itself really well to Middle Eastern drums. They have the same rhythms. So do African beats, like 6/8 time…the Irish jigs are in the same rhythm as the African tribal beats.”

He went on to address some of the history that may suggest why such cross-pollination works so well. “They actually say that in Ireland, the Egyptian monks came over and things like the Celtic cross and other symbols are actually Coptic, which is Egyptian. The bagpipes also originated elsewhere, in the Middle East, so it seems somewhere, way, way back, those cultures emigrated from wherever they were and influenced the Irish culture and tradition. It’s kind of cool to play the Ukrainian music with the Celtic music because there is almost a natural fit”

2010 marks the third year of Scythian’s involvement with the Dayton Celtic Festival. Fedoryka particularly praised the quality of the bands acquired by festival organizers.

“Bill Russell has done a great job bringing in bands that are cutting edge,” he said. “He brought in Slide for a couple of years and, in my mind, they are the best traditional band on the circuit.”

Another amazing Irish group scheduled to perform is the ever-popular Gaelic Storm. The group is probably one of the most recognizable Irish bands simply due to their appearance in the blockbuster film Titanic. Gaelic Storm played “John Ryan’s Polka” in the scene commonly known as “An Irish Party In Third Class.” The band has played at several Dayton Celtic Festivals, and guitarist Steve
Twigger reflected on how the group’s relationship with the festival
has developed.

“Dayton has always been family to us,” he said. “We met Bill Russell many, many years ago. I remember (when) his daughters were (young) and dancing out in the crowd and we brought them up on stage. We were there at the very first Celtic Festival and here we are again. We always try to make the music completely
accessible and seamless with the audience, and I really think that it’s come
to fruition.”

Since Dayton can be considered a “special friend” of Gaelic Storm, it’s a plus that Daytonians will have the first shot at purchasing the group’s new CD, Cabbage, days before it is to go on sale nationally. Cabbage supplies a rather different approach since the band takes elements from the rock, bluegrass, Jamaican, African and Middle Eastern styles of music and rhythms. Twigger addressed whether borrowing from other types of music maintained the essence of Celtic music.

“Yes, in fact, we were just in Spain. We played Galicia, in the northwest of Spain, at a huge festival with like 30,000 people. Of course, there they had some of the usual suspects from Ireland and England, but the local Gaelic and Celtic music there is huge. They love the (uilleann) pipes, but it is a very different sound than what we are used to and especially to what Americans term to be Celtic music. There is almost a Middle Eastern influence throughout Galician music. On tour, we’ll pass through France and listen to the music of Brittany, the Breton music. So, all in all, even within the subsection of Gaelic music, there are different sounds. You don’t have to step out of the genre to hear completely
different sounds.”

Another aspect of the Dayton Celtic Festival that will surely appeal to multiple generations is the cultural exhibits and displays, which will encompass dancers, a harp maker, musical instrument demonstrations and storytelling. Julie O’Keefe-McGhee, a noted storyteller who will appear Saturday and Sunday, brought forth the different aspects of Irish lore. She particularly explained, historically, the differences and definitions of what a storyteller is.

“A seanchaí is the storyteller. I would call it ‘the people’s storyteller.’ There was a big difference between a seanchaí and a bard or a poet. Becoming a bard was quite an intensive, lengthy preparation of about 12 years and it was all an oral tradition. You had to memorize all of the old legends and myths, and you were tested by your peers before you were granted the title of bard or poet. They took a poet as not only one who composed, but they would also compose them on the old legends. But with a seanchaí, there had to be someone in the
village or community that had heard the stories and maybe had an intrinsic talent for sharing. Around the fireside, when the nights would be long, that was their entertainment…music
and storytelling.”

O’Keefe-McGhee was also quick to reit-erate what she felt was the most important purpose of storytelling.

“When you tell stories, you connect with your audience. It’s something a movie can’t do because the teller and the audience have a definite connection. I taught school for many years and storytelling is intrinsic to teaching. Kids come alive.” In reference to the importance of storytelling, O’Keefe-McGhee said, “You’ll find how some of the stories evolve. I started resurrecting stories because I felt that I needed to reconnect with my Irish heritage. My family was always very proud of it. I think the best stories are your own life. People need to be aware of their background and heritage. If you forget that, you’ve forgotten a lot
of yourself.”

Even though the schedule for this year’s festival is stellar, next year’s celebratory incarnation promises to be even better. Russell and his fellow organizers are busily preparing the slate.

“Next year is our 10th anniversary and we started looking at themes and added features to celebrate this milestone last year,” he said. “We have many ideas in mind and will also look to our attendees’ comments this year to help us shape the best 10th anniversary celebration possible for the community. We definitely want our 10th anniversary theme or themes to reflect the ties and contributions the Irish and broader Celtic traditions and culture have had on the Greater Dayton community and this part of the country.”

With any festival of this size, the logistics can be tedious and the scheduling and promotion of the event can turn into quite an arduous task.
Russell wished to acknowledge those working behind the scenes, and also give a heartfelt thank-you to those who have attended the festival in the past as well as those who will attend this year.

“Our entire committee is all volunteers and contributes countless hours throughout the year to this growing event. We have been able to sustain and grow our festival each and every year because of the community support and their efforts to return each year and take us up on the offer to bring more family and more friends with them – they are our best
marketing tool.”

The 2010 Dayton Celtic Festival will be held Friday, July 30 from 6 to 11 p.m., Saturday, July 31
from 12 to 11 p.m. and Sunday, August 1 from
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at RiverScape MetroPark,
111 E. Monument Ave. Admission is free. In addition, a 5K run/walk will be held Saturday at 4 p.m. and a Gaelic Mass and Celtic breakfast will be held
Sunday at 10 a.m. For a complete schedule of events, and list of performers, call (937) 372-9788 or visit online at www.UnitedIrishOfDayton.org

Contributed photos

Reach DCP freelance writer J.T. Ryder at contactus@daytoncitypaper.com

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