Published Date Written by Timothy GillisBRUNSWICK — The Saltwater Celtic Music Festival rolls into Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick this weekend, July 14-15. The second year sees an expansion of the festival, with more than forty musicians from fourteen bands and solo acts hitting the stage over the two days.
Satellite events are taking place at Byrnes Irish Pubs in Bath and Brunswick before, during, and after the festival each day all weekend as well. Nineteen events at eighteen different venues during this past week helped get people in the Celtic spirit, and event organizers say the build-up will be worth it.
Randy Labbe started the festival last year, and it is very much a family affair. His son, Marc, is festival coordinator, another son, David, who owns Encore Mobile Stage Rentals, provides the stage, and his daughter, Tricia, is involved in creative planning throughout the year.
Labbe took some time out for a quick electronic interview this week to talk about a life in music.
Q: How did you get the idea for the Saltwater Festival?
A: I've been lucky, fortunate to have a music career that has afforded the luxury of following my passions at any given time. Although my career is based in roots and blues music, I've been gravitating towards Celtic music for a good fifteen years or more. When I found myself with some time on my hands about a year and a half ago, it seemed perfectly natural to start up the Saltwater Celtic Music Festival.
Q: What's your background in music? What's your Celtic background?
A; I had a blues and roots booking and management firm for about fifteen years and also consulted to festivals during that time. That morphed into producing records and a long stint with Telarc International, now part of Concord, and later, Rykodisc, now part of Warner. But, I've always produced a minimum of one live show per year. I just can't stay away from the energy of live music and the focus that is required to create a little village for a few days only to dismantle it and see it off down the road. I'm in awe of that entire process. I love it. I also love going deep into a genre, and that's what I'm enjoying now, going as deep as I can into Celtic music, including all of its various branches and offshoots. There's something very appealing about this music, and I don't care if it's a traditional Irish or Scottish tune played well on a cello or some good Celtic rock or punk. There's a river of feeling running through this music, not unlike the feelings found at the core of blues-based music. The themes of love and loss, aspiration and suffering are played out quite well musically and in verse within the rich Celtic traditions.
Q: Any returning favorites at this year's Festival?
A: Booking an artist for an engagement at the same festival in two consecutive years is something that I have never personally done. I don't know if I ever repeated an artist after three or four years. But, in this case, there's a group of young ladies from Donegal that met with such approval and enthusiasm last year that we just had to bring them back. The Screaming Orphans are something else. You won't soon forget these Donegal gals. Other highlights run throughout the roster — Carbon Leaf; Sprag Session w/ Chrissy Crowley is an incredible showcase of young talent from Cape Breton; the elder statesmen of Celtic and irish rock in America, Black 47, one of the best bands you will ever see anywhwere; and, of course, Maine favorites, Enter The Haggis with a great new record under their belts — "White Lake." There's lots of great Celtic music and musicians in Maine, and that's very exciting.
Q: What is the Frost Gully Session Tent?
A: Kevin McElroy, owner of Frost Gully Violins in Freeport, called last year and asked if he could support the festival with a session tent. It was a natural - a hit at last year's Saltwater - because it provides a quiet space away from the main stage for musicians to meet, mingle, and play. Naturally, I took Kevin up on his offer and said "We'll call it the Frost Gully Violins Session Tent." He didn't object, and there you have it.
Q: What can you tell us about the new activities?
A: The Saltwater Art Tent (hosted by artist-in-residence Michael Shaughnessy) is a bit of a mystery. Michael indicated the other day that he might need a hose. He'll have some hay with him, may do some screen printing while he's there, and something about floating objects in the tidal Thomas Bay. Michael isn't coming to Saltwater because of anything specific that he does; he's been invited to serve as our first artist-in-residence specifically because he loves Celtic music - but we don't know what he's going to do.
The other new addition is the Saltwater Lit Tent (co-hosted by writer-in-residence Jana Laiz and emcee Kevin O'Hara, author of "Last of the Donkey Pilgrims") O'Hara is a dear friend of Saltwater and a wonderful man. He has been known to joke about positioning his tent inside the pub tent and calling it "the get lit tent," but he's surely joking. Jana Laiz is a wonderful writer, and Celtic music fan, that is currently serving as writer in residence at Arrowhead, Herman Melville's old homestead in Massachusetts. With O'Hara serving as emcee, we invited Jana to be Saltwater's first writer-in-residence. Not wanting to insult the face of Saltwater (O'Hara), we made it a co-hosted Lit tent. All that means is that the Saltwater Lit Tent is a place you should visit if you enjoy being around wonderful people and feel the need for a little stimulating conversation. These two can provide that.
n.b. Artists will be available for meet and greet following their performances, next to the festival booth. Numerous food and beverage vendors will be serving throughout the weekend, and Thomas Point Beach has a playground for children and a sand beach. Saltwater's Celtic Merchant Mart will return, and many Celtic-themed song and dance workshops will be offered. The Saltwater Pub Tent will be back, open for business during festival hours, and serving those over 21. Musicians are encouraged to bring instruments and to participate in the Frost Gully Session Tent. Thomas Point Beach has a "carry-in, carry-out" policy.