GAIF 2017: Three Days of Music, Culture and Sun!

UTICA (Aug 5, 2017)

The 2017 Great American Irish Festival gave its attendees just what they have come to expect – the absolute best in Irish and Celtic culture, music, dancing and fun – plus something no one could have predicted: a full weekend without rain. It all added up to another unqualified success for the festival that has grown to be the pre-eminent Irish festival on the east coast. (I conducted an informal poll – while they did miss The Elders, no one seemed to miss the rain.)

From July 28-30, the Herkimer County Fairgrounds came alive with the sights, sounds and smells of the annual Great American Irish Festival. Kicking things off with a Happy Hour performance was the Capital Region’s favorite sons, Hair of the Dog, marking their return to the festival after a one-year hiatus. And from that point on, it was a race to catch every act on four stages, sample tasty foods (and beverages), practice some retail therapy, witness awesome feats of strength and stamina in the first-ever Heavy Games, and so much more.

While fans gave the usual GAIF favorites – Eileen Ivers, Enter the Haggis, Barleyjuice, Glengarry Bhoys, to name a few – the expected raucous receptions, some of the new bands also made an impression on fans who had never had a chance to see them before.

FullSet, six young unbelievably talented singers and musicians from Ireland who have earned multiple “best band” and “band to watch” awards, came in with high expectations, and they did not disappoint, with three incredible sets over the weekend. Also coming up strong was The Colin Farrell Band, featuring fiddler Colin Farrell of Elders and Lunasa fame, stepping out front to head up an all-star trad outfit (and an after-hours impromptu session at a Utica bar!).

Next Generation Leahy is Doug Leahy (of the acclaimed Leahy family) and his family, carrying on the storied Leahy musical legacy. Their Friday night set featured the incredible and wide-ranging playing, singing and dancing talents of Doug, his wife Jennifer and several of their kids, delivering the high-energy, infectious Celtic-based music that audiences world-wide have long associated with the Leahy heritage.

Another band of siblings, The Screaming Orphans, filled the big tent in all three of their sets. Showcasing the skilled musicianship and dulcet harmonies the four Diver sisters from Donegal, the Screaming Orphans were quickly adopted by the attending throng.   Finally, the American Rogues, with their high-energy mix of Celtic rock, rock roots, patriotic, military and classical music, gave rousing performances to the loud and appreciative crowd.

Saturday morning saw the 10th running of the Ranger Run 5K, the first-ever Highland Heavy Games, the annual EUSPBA Pipeband Competition, the Massed Pipe March, and another round of great music throughout the grounds. The Cultural Building was alive with lectures, performances and displays, including a packed house of attendees to Craobh Dugan’s presentation of “The Irish and the Erie.”

As the cars and people arrive en masse for the Irish Mass, Sunday — again with no threat of rain – saw more outstanding performances, with Barleyjuice and FullSet playing outstanding sets to end the weekend on a high note.

And next year? Mark the dates July 27-29 on your calendar. While you’re at it, annotate it with “No rain.”

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