Festivals Go Online: 2 Celtic Music Fests To Explore

The streets and businesses around Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in Glasgow’s city centre and West End in Scotlans will be rather quieter than usual this January.

Gathering for concerts and workshops is not a great idea just now, and in some areas it is prohibited, in order to help keep us all safe.


The artists and behind the scenes professionals of the Boston Celtic Music Festival and the Celtic Connections Festival have been working for months to find ways to share music during what would be festival times. Turns out, they both have a lot to offer.

BCM Fest, as the Cambridge event is known for short. began in a conversation between Shannon Heaton who plays Irish music on the flute, and Laura Cortese, whose background is in the fiddle music of Scotland. Both Irish and Scottish music have strong communities of musicians and listeners in the Boston area and across New England. It was rare for paths of these communities to cross in performance or in sessions, though.

“We began talking about ways to bring the Irish and Scottish communities together to share music,” Heaton recalls. “We thought, what if we have a big party? What if we have a big weekend? What if we have — a festival?”

Matt & shannon Heaton musicians bcm festival

Since the first BCMFest happened in 2004, there have been changes, as well as things which have remained the same. Putting the fest online for its sixteenth year is of course a change, but the spirit of community and the love of sharing music are major aspects of what has supported that major transition.

In the winter of 2021, The Boston Celtic Music Festival will take place from the 14th through the 18th of January. As ever, there will be performances from up and coming musicians in New England as well as long time participants, internationally touring artists who call New England home as well as those better known close to home.

Matt and Shannon Heaton, Joey Abarta, Hanneke Cassel and Yann Falquet, Katie McNally and Neil Pearlman, Scottish Fish, Jenna Moynihan, and the Atlantic Folk Trio are among those who will appear.

Jenna Monynihan fiddle bcm festival

There will be five hours of music during the day on the festival Saturday, workshops during the day on Sunday and Monday, and concerts each evening. The concerts are on a sliding scale of donation, while the workshops, which include renown Irish singer Karan Casey on social justice and music, top duo Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas fiddle and cello collaboration and invention, and more, have fixed ticket prices. Schedules, details, and ticketing may be found at the Boston Celtic Music festival website.

Across the water in Glasgow, artists and presenters have been filming and organizing performances to offer online from 15 January through 2 February. Digital first is certainly a first in the festival’s history — it began in 1994 — and all’s been done in compliance with Scotland’s strict health regulations.

Celtic Connection Festival 2021 St Luke's

The first round of artist line ups has been announced; detailed schedules and additional information will evolve in the coming days. All access passes are on sale, and individual performance tickets will be available as well. Keep up with news about all this at the Celtic Connections website.

Many events have been filmed already, and it was possible to do so in a number of well known and well loved Glasgow music venues, among them City Halls, the Royal Concert Hall, Kelvingrove, and Saint Luke’s. Beezer Studios, whose professional really know what they are doing when it comes to filming music, are working on the events, and if you are where you can view the BBC you may be able to view some of the shows on BBC Alba.

cc festival Siobhan Miller city halls

Among the artists whose performances you may expect to enjoy are festival favourites Cherish the Ladies, Orkney based band Fara, fiddler and composer Duncan Chisholm, who brought his Highland music to the first Celtic Connections, the four women who are RANTFiddles, the Quebecois sound of De Temps Antan, the ever creative traditional band Breabach, Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, the fiddle guitar and voice duo Hannah Fisher and Soren Maclean from Mull, the always inventive and well loved singer Eddi Reader, and Karen Matheson, known for her work as lead singer with the band Capercaillie, who will be bringing songs from her forthcoming solo album to the festival.

Celtic Connections is delivered by the charity Glasgow Life and is funded by Glasgow City Council, Creative Scotland and The Scottish Government Festivals EXPO Fund. Organisers and artists hope the festival’s digital-first program will appeal to the wide international audience they traditionally see attending the festival in person.
The quality of music and the quality of creativity on offer is top notch. the quality of heart is an vital part of things too.

james grant ccfestival 2021 by gaeli berri

Again and again, what I heard from people at every level for both these festivals was “We’re just so happy to be able to bring music to people.” Despite the challenges, the uncertainties financial and otherwise, and indeed the crazy times the music industry and the world has been in this last while, and is experiencing still, that connection between artist and audience is what keeps things going.

Photograph of Matt and Shannon Heaton courtesy of the artists; photograph of Jenna Moynihan by Kerry Dexter; photographs of Celtic Connections artists by Gaelle Beri

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