Celtic festivals celebrate changing seasons

The music and culture of the Celtic Isles will be on full display this weekend as Reno and Grass Valley celebrate the ancient cultures. At Bartley Ranch in South Reno, festivalgoers at the 26th annual Reno Celtic Celebration will revel in common traditions of music, competition, dancing and all things part of a well-lived life because, as they say, “We’ve all got a little Irish in us.”


26th Annual Reno Celtic Celebration
Oct. 1-2 | Bartley Ranch Regional Park | Reno, Nev.
$15 day | $25 weekend

20th Annual KVMR Celtic Festival
Sept. 30-Oct 2. | Nevada County Fairgrounds | Grass Valley
$50 day | $85 weekend with camping

The celebration features a Parade of the Clans, historical reenactments, a piping competition and musical entertainment by Cíana, One-Eyed Reilly, Whiskey and Stitches, The Sierra Highlander Pipe Band and The 3/17 Band. For the uninitiated, that last group is a tip o’ the hat to the traditional date of Saint Patrick’s Day. And, just like on the Irish patron saint’s holiday, the whiskey and beer is sure to be flowing, kilts and flags will be flying, and the culture of the ancients will be alive and well.

Sacramento-based Whiskey and Stitches (this is something that happens, people) describe themselves as Irish-flavored rock ‘n’ roll. One-Eyed Reilly is another Celtic-Americana group from the capital city that brings a slew of original material and at least one red-bearded man playing on a fiddle.

“We like take it back to the music the came across with the immigrants on the boats, but we also play some new tunes written in the traditional style.” – Joe Bly

Cíana is a traditional Irish band from Reno that features fiddle, flute, tin whistle, accordion, guitar and even bombarde, a double-reeded oboe-like instrument from the Celtic-influenced Brittany region of northern France. Their name is derived from an Irish word roughly meaning both distance and time.

“It’s sort like ‘A long time ago in galaxy far, far away,’ ” says multi-instrumentalist Joe Bly. “We’re not that old, but we’re not that new. We like take it back to the music the came across with the immigrants on the boats, but we also play some new tunes written in the traditional style, and Breton music, as well. Brittany is one of the Celtic nations that a lot of people don’t know a lot about. They have their own language and this awesome music that sounds trancey and medieval at the same time. If you can go away whistling one of our tunes, we are happy.”

Should they wisely choose to attend, people can expect a day full of Celtic tradition from all sorts of different nations set in a beautiful location.


“If you’re along the Eastern Sierra, we are a great hometown festival that is intimate,” says Bly. “Attendees can meet all the performers throughout the day. We’ll be playing under our pop-up tent and we always have lots of people come by and play with us. It’s a real laid-back, pleasant way to spend a weekend.”

At the same time, another much larger gathering will be happening on the Nevada County Fairgrounds with the 20th edition of the KVMR Celtic Festival. This is a fundraiser for the Grass Valley community radio station, whose dial number in the Tahoe-Truckee area is 105.1 FM, and the sounds of the festival will be broadcast live.

This special event is headlined by world-class Celtic music from the likes of Alasdair Fraser, Natalie Haas, The Elders, Wake the Dead and many more. Festivalgoers can also enjoy traditional Ceilidh dancing, a medieval Royal Tournament and Gathering of the Tribes, educational workshops and impromptu jam sessions in the campground throughout the weekend.

KVMR Festival founder Annie O’Dea Hestbeck hosts the Celtic Cadence every Wednesday night from 8 to 10 p.m. to the delight of listeners around the world

“Music speaks a thousand languages,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you came from, it’s seeded into our roots. There’s a sweetness and sadness to Celtic music that touches people in their heart, a way of lamenting that just reaches people through the emotions of the soul. It’s a bountiful beauty of goodness. It’s in your soul and your blood. I think the sounds speak for themselves.”

Both festivals are held in the tradition of regional gatherings that Celts have historically participated in for centuries to mark the change of seasons and celebrate all that’s good in life.

“It’s never been more vibrant than it is today,” says Hestbeck. “Young people are coming and playing tunes with the old folks. We come together and we sing and we dance. We’ve created a lovely gathering of so many different people, it’s almost like we are coming together for family reunion. You don’t have to explain it. It just reaches you in your spirit. Everyone can get together and enjoy the culture of the ancient lands.”

For more information, visit renoceltic.org or kvmrcelticfestival.org.