Four Winter Music Festivals to Celebrate

mairead ni mhaonaigh ireland fiddle

by Kerry Dexter

Winter festivals have their own special charm. Gathering together when dark comes early, the weather’s cold, when you may see the sparkle of winter stars in a dark sky or the drift of snowflakes on your way brings a sense of celebration and community that’s quite different from that found in summer celebrations.

Looking for a winter festival to enjoy? Here are four I’d recommend -and as a bonus, the first two of these festivals make parts of their events available online, in case braving winter travel isn’t in the cards for you this season.

The Boston Celtic Music Festival is an artist run, artist founded winter festival which brings together the Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton music communities of Boston and New England. This year, opening night on 10 January will see a concert by rising stars at historic Club Passim and the always lively and fun Boston Urban Ceilidh, where musicians teach and egg on dancers of all levels of experience. DayFest on Saturday features programs of interest to children or children and parents together in the morning, and in the afternoon jam sessions, intimate concerts, and workshops on dance and music take place. There’s a finale on Saturday evening in the sanctuary of First Parish. This year it’ll focus on the dance traditions od Celtic Boston, with dancers backed by all star ensembles of the area’s best Celtic musicians. There might be parades through Harvard Square as people move between events at the festival, too. Festival co founder Shannon Heaton tells the story of how this family and artist friendly festival began.

BCMFest, as it’s known for short, is focused around Harvard Square in Cambridge and takes place over a two day span. Celtic Connections in Glasgow, Scotland, by contrast, runs for eighteen days beginning in mid January and includes hundreds of artists playing venues from concert halls to theaters to pubs to restored churches all across the city’s center. With all that, though, the events maintain a welcoming and community feeling as both the Celtic and connections side of things are celebrated through music. This year, connections with Australia and India will be especially noted, and as ever there will be artists from across the traditions of Scotland, Ireland, England, Canada, the United States, and other areas of the world. On 16 January this year, an opening night concert will find award winning classical violinist Nicola Benedetti, who grew up in nearby Ayrshire, joining up with Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and American singer and songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman and many fellow musicians. As the days of Celtic Connections unfold, iconic band Del Amitri, whose music ruled airwaves in Scotland in the 1980s will have a reunion, there will be a multi music multi genre celebration of Burns Night, rising star Lorne MacDougall will premiere new music on the bagpipes, Cherish the Ladies
will celebrate the traditions of the west of Ireland and the Irish diaspora, and Capercaillie will share old and new traditions in the music of Scotland as they mark thirty years since they began as a band of high school friends. Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas will perform, as well as lend their talents to the workshop strand, teaching fiddle and cello. Elizabeth McGovern, known for her acting talents as Lady Cora on the television series Downton Abbey, will appear as part of Sadie and the Hotheads, a group whose mix of music includes jazz and folk. There will be late night sessions, the House of Song, and the Festival Club to keep things going after the headline concerts close down in the evening. Not making it Glasgow? Check out BBC Scotland and the University of Strathclyde’s Celtic Music Radio for coverage on line.

Temple Bar, in the heart of Dublin in Ireland, is a part of the city filled with history. These days, it is very often a place also filled with tourists, hen and stage parties, and folk who’ve had a bit much to drink in the nearby pubs. At the end of January, though, as the Temple Bar Trad Fest takes over venues and streets with celebrations of music, Temple Bar is . a place to celebrate the history and the vibrant present of traditional music. What began as a weekend event now extends over five days Eleanor McEvoy, Frances Black, and Paul Brady are among the top Irish artists who will be on hand. Altan, from Donegal, will present a concert honoring founding member Frankie Kennedy as the twentieth year since his passing is marked. Carlos Nunez will bring the Celtic sounds of Asturias to the mix, and the will be workshops, talks and master classes — many of them free. Details on joining this winter festival in Dublin at

Music, film, writing, and dance are all part of Seven Days of Opening Nights, which lights up stage at Florida State University and elsewhere in Tallahassee from late January through mid February. Classical violinist Itzhak Perlman will be there as will classical ensemble Eighth Blackbird. There will be Latin jazz from Poncho Sanchez, film maker Geoffrey Gilmore will offer his always anticipated presentation of films you haven’t seen, the Urban Bush Women dance ensemble will bring their high energy, and there will be songs and stories from country Grammy winner Kathy Mattea. That’s just a taste of what’s in store at this winter festival of the arts.

Photograph of musician Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh of Altan is by Kerry Dexter, and is copyrighted, Thank you for respecting this.

Kerry Dexter is one of five writers who contribute to Perceptive Travel’s blog. You’ll most often find her writing about travels in Europe and North America in stories that connect to music, history, and the arts, including such things as Cape Breton in music and Ireland: a journey in winter

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  1. Liz Lewis Reply