A skirl of bagpipes kicks off a torch light parade up Buchanan Street in Glasgow city center. The torch bearers are headed to the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall, where the first concert of the first night of the Celtic Connections Festival will take place. This year, Pulse of the World is the theme, with tabla master Zakir Hussain collaborating with musicians from Scotland, Ireland, and India to create a signature opening for one of Europe’s — and the world’s — premier winter festivals.
The festival runs for eighteen days from mid to late January, with more than three hundred musicians taking part in concerts, talks, workshops, late night sessions, and concerts for school children. Though it is a large, well attended festival — and a major contributor to the economy of Glasgow — Celtic Connections has a relaxed, almost family feeling among the artists on stage and the audiences who come to share in their music.
This year, those artists will include Nova Scotia based singer Old Man Luedecke, folk big band The Unusual Suspects, American fiddle player Bonnie Rideout, Irish traditional band Teada, Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis (who just won album of the year at the Scots Trad Music Awards), American banjo player and composer Alison Brown, and innovative fiddle and cello duo Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. There will also be collaborations of all sorts, including guitarist John Doyle with a selection of scheduled and as yet unscheduled musical friends, a tribute to Bob Dylan and one to Sir Walter Scott, and as is a festival tradition, Transatlantic Sessions, which will see musicians from both sides of the Atlantic swapping songs and tunes in a setting which may be a concert hall but quickly starts feeling like a back porch.
For intrepid learners, both beginners and more advanced, there will be weekend workshops in fiddle, mandolin, harmony singing, and other subjects, and well as talks and radio interviews with festival musicians and organizers. Presenters from other festivals across the world come in for a weekend to check out acts they might want to book for their events, which always creates additional buzz and excitement. There are open stage competitions for up and coming acts, and late night sessions for both singers and players, as well as a lot of after hours craic and informal music.
In the midst of all this, and because of all of it, the festival maintains a welcoming feeling, as musicians and listeners alike gather to play, listen, talk about, and enjoy music from all corners of the Celtic world, in one the world’s great music cities.
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