City Halls, where the people of Glasgow have been gathering for music and debate since 1882. The main stage at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The intimate setting of The Art Club, where the hand of groundbreaking nineteenth century artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh can be found. Òran Mór, church turned bustling bistro and performance venue. The rock Club O2 ABC, and few blocks away, the somewhat quieter setting of the the theatre at The Mitchell Library. All these venues, and more across Glasgow city center, will find artists from the Celtic Connections Festival taking to their stages from 17 January through 3 February.

The Celtic and the connections will both be in evidence. Old Crow Medicine Show with cross the Atlantic to bring their high energy Americana style to the festival, and US group The Mavericks, whose music includes country, blues, jazz, Latino, and rock, plan a reunion at Celtic Connections. Salif Keita will come from Africa to offer blend of his native griot traditions with jazz, Latin and Islamic influences. Top US based songwriters Mary Chapin Carpenter and Darrell Scott will also be on hand, while Kate Rusby, one of the UK’s top folk performers and songwriters, will bring her songs and her well known Yorkshire wit, along with no doubt some surprising guests, to a concert at the main stage of the Royal Concert hall, where she will celebrate her twentieth anniversary as a performer

Celtic Connections itself is marking twenty years of lighting up Glasgow city’s winter with music. The opening concert at the Royal Concert Hall on 17 January will take note of that aspect of things, with many performers who have been with the festival across the years taking part. Highland fiddle player and composer Duncan Chisholm, who was among the first to take the stage at Celtic Connections twenty years ago, will be there both to join in the opening concert and later in the festival to offer a concert of his latest work. Piper Carlos Nuñez, another longtime festival favorite, brings the music of Celtic Spain to the events, and Joanie Madden, whose lively work with Cherish the Ladies has lightened festival stages across the years will be bringing her flute and whistle playing to another of her projects, a group which features the sound of Irish America and which is known as the Pride of New York. Master fiddler Alasdair Fraser, long a part of the festival as both performer and teacher, will return, joining with cellist Natalie Haas as they explore the bright and dark sounds of the small and big fiddle in concert, and as they offer instruction to those who would learn from these musical masters as well.

Education is at the heart of the festival as much as is music al performance. Artists visit schools, and school children are brought in for concerts designed especially for them, given by rising artists, tradition bearers from Scotland, and those from far flung parts of the musical world. There are chances for anyone who comes to the festival to learn as well, with come and try sessions for those who’ve yet to touch a fiddle, say. or a bodhran. There are workshops for musicians of varied levels of skill, too, from improving beginners to those who seek master classes such as Fraser and Haas offer. There are singing workshops also, including those focusing on harmony singing tips and and others on songs from varied traditions.

It is a lively time which keeps concert halls, clubs, and other performances spaces across Glasgow City center humming through three weeks’ time. Though Celtic Connections is one of Europe’s if not the world’s premier winter festivals, it holds a feeling of welcome and intimacy and true sharing of music. Nowhere is this more evident than in the late night sessions, the House of Song, and the Festival Club. After the main events of an evening have wound down, it is at these places you may find — and join in — the sharing of music and conversation far into the wee hours, with strangers, friends, and perhaps several of those artist you’ve just enjoyed in concert.

You may find out more about the festival schedule, tickets and the like at the Celtic Connections Festival web site.

Want to join in but won’t be making it to Glasgow? The BBC (here’s a look back at coverage from 2012) offers radio coverage world wide, and television coverage which is, because of license requirements, mainly available in the UK. Celtic Music Radio, based at the University of Strathclyde, often features interviews with performers and live broadcasts of events. RTE and TG4, Ireland’s English and Irish language broadcasters, offer television and radio coverage during the festival and often highlight programs afterwards, as well.

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Kerry Dexter is one of six writers who contribute to Perceptive Travel’s blog. You will often find her writing about places, events, and people connected with music, history, and the arts in Europe and North America. You may find more of Kerry's work at her site Music Road as well as in Wandering Educators, National Geographic Traveler, Ireland and the Americas, and other places online and in print.

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