Arriving on site first thing in the morning is an entirely unique experience. Before the crowds arrive, before the blessed chaos begins, there is nothing but the robins picking about the grass and the smell of the faire. It has been years since I have been on this side of the gate, and I have missed it terribly. Somewhere across the Up’s & Downs, I could hear a guitar being strummed. Near the pirate ship, there was the blast of a bagpipe just getting warmed up. Everywhere there were people in kilts putting the grounds in order and the undercurrent of excitement ran almost as deep as the Wash after a rainstorm!
OPEN THE GATES
As the people clamored in, they were eager for the music and beer to flow. We were greeted by the sound of the 42nd Royal Highlanders of Lafayette, Indiana. The proud, commanding presence of their pipes and drums set the tone for the day and called for us to explore their Celtic heritage in all its manifestations. Many arrived in the colors of their ancestry, baring the tartan patterns most familiar to them. Others have created their own, displaying a modern interpretation which embraces multicultural pride.
My attention was quickly drawn to the multi-color wheel making rapid “click click clicks” as it spun. The first step for those participating in the Shamrock Shenanigans game. All you had to do to participate was purchase a ticket and try your luck! At each spot throughout the festival, you could play a game of sheep toss or practice your NERF skills to win tickets to be redeemed later for a prize. But this wasn’t just something to keep the kiddos busy. A portion of each ticket for Shamrock Shenanigans went to the Have A Heart To Save A Heart Foundation, which assists families with the financial difficulties surrounding a child with a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD). It was a good opportunity to help those in need, and it was nice to see how many people signed up for the games. The first child to play won a free ticket to Brimestone Haunt! Good luck buddy!
POOR MAN’S GAMBIT
As I rounded the corner, I got to enjoy one of the newer acts this year. The honeyed tone of Poor Man’s Gambit pulled me in effortlessly. I have a love for Irish music (which should come as no surprise) and this was a warm mixture of traditional Irish melodies combined with an American folk music tilt.
FATHER, SON & FRIENDS
Poor Man’s Gambit were followed by an old favorite, Father, Son & Friends, who are currently celebrating their 30th year together! I’ve always found them an easy group to get into. The bouncing rhythm of their tunes reminds me of the bluegrass that was commonplace in my home state of Texas. They hit the Ohio Renaissance Festival every year, and it just wouldn’t be faire without hearing the Mingulay Boat Song.
LUNCH AT THE 1572 ROADHOUSE BAR-B-Q
What should snag me next but that rich smoky smell of meat and sauces drifting over the festival grounds. How can your belly resist? How can you tug yourself away when your mouth starts to water and as you think of those rich sauces dripping down onto your chin as you floss your teeth with the strands of meat? You can’t. So why try?
ORF has some of the most spectacular food options, but there is a reason the 1572 Bar-B-Q remains such a popular spot. I think the portions are very filling, which is a big benefit when you’re trying to keep going the whole day long! Plus, it’s right next to the 3 Fools Pub, so you can get a drink to wash down all that sauce. Personally, I’d recommend trying the Caramel Apple, which is apple cider with a healthy dose of mead and a generous splash of butterscotch schnapps. If you think it’s good cold, wait till Fall when you can get it served hot with cinnamon!
Just shove it all in your mouth, or strap a younger band member over your chest.A member of the 42nd Royal Highlanders explains how they keep their shirts so white while eating bar-b-q.
THE SCHOOL OF HARD CIDER
The next event was well worth it. I never pass up the opportunity for hard cider, and since Woodchuck was doing a tasting there was only one place I could end up. Kevin, Woodchuck’s representative, made the experience a fun one, taking us through the quality and taste of each selection. I’m not much for dry alcohol, but I have to admit the Pearsecco made for a fine, light beverage. My personal favorite will always be their flagship Amber, but the new Sangria was just darling! I’ve always found raspberry to be a difficult taste to capture without it becoming too sweet and manufactured. But with this, I badly want to get a can and make a little mix with some fresh fruit for a hot summer evening. Which is why I found the summery, tart taste of the Woodchuck Sangria to be so friendly.
The original was my favorite, followed very closely by the Sangria. – I like dry wine, so the Pearsecco was an easy favorite.Sharon and Roy
FINDING YOUR HERITAGE
As we wandered the vendors before our next event, I heard my wife gasp as she started to point. A few years ago, her grandfather passed away leaving behind a hole in her family. Well, maybe he is keeping an eye on her, because what should we see but the Stewart family crest! A wonderful group of people manning the Stewart family clan booth stood there, waiting to answer her questions as she talked about her grandfather, where he taught, and the placard bearing the family crest which he kept prominently displayed in the hallway outside her childhood room in their home. It’s easy to forget sometimes how much heritage is forgotten over the years, and it’s nice to come back to it and see something of your family that you maybe never knew about. We are thinking about signing up to the clan newsletter so we can do a bit of digging and see where the Stewarts came from.
IRISH STEP DANCING
All day the sky had been threatening to break loose. Then, as if called down by the thundering of Irish step-dancers, it began to pour right around the time the Celtic Academy of Irish Dance really started to hit it hard! I had to take a step back from the stage to be sure those high kicks went above my head. And if I suffered a little rain down the back of my shirt, it was worth the price of admission. From the shyest little girl who’d just begun her lessons to those who were dancing in the womb and haven’t stopped yet, the level of dedication displayed has always amazed me. You feel the pounding in your chest whenever they dance together, and you can’t help but clap to the beat. Each school of dance has its own unique style, and I think it’s wonderful to see that displayed on stage.
OFF-KILTER IS OFF THE RAILS!
After about a fifteen or twenty minute squall, the weather cleared up into some lovely, cool weather that matched the atmosphere of the Scottish highlands. The Wash was babbling away, the fields smelled like wet grass, and steam was rising up to coil around my boots. I headed back over to the main stage just in time to catch Off-Kilter raising a ruckus. Full of smiles and eager to entertain, it was fun to get in among the crowd and stand stomping your feet, even if (like me), you have absolutely no sense of rhythm. There is a quality to Celtic music that makes me yearn to move, and Off-Kilter had a classic-rock momentum that kept me going for a good sprint until I finally had to grab a drink before my feet fell off! I managed to grab a slice of Celtic Pizza (baked potato pizza with bacon and garlic), before the final show of the night.
ALBANNACH CONQUERS THE STORM
When the sun set behind the trees and the drizzling rain heralded the coming of another storm, Albannach took the stage. If you’ve never been to an Albannach concert, it is not an experience to be missed. Hailing from Scotland, everything from their music to their signature tartan screams pride in their homeland. This wasn’t just about stomping my feet but letting myself be swept up in the maelstrom of their tribal drums. I’ve often mixed Albannach with Wardruna on my playlist because they both put me in a very specific mindset. Their music makes people feel brazen and full of joy, which is why they keep coming back every year to Celtic Fest Ohio!
Believe it or not, that was only Saturday!
I showed up on Sunday with a determination not to run myself ragged like I did the night before… and still manage to fail on that part! There was just too much to enjoy and I’ve never had much self-control when it comes to festival oriented events. Despite a tornado warning and a “mild” flooding issue the night before, the volunteers and vendors were out bright and early, getting things set up for the final day of the festival. Never underestimate the determination of the faire folk.
With a caramel pecan roll in hand, I made my way over to the Aleing Knight Pub to catch Jameson’s Folly. I’m a sucker for Irish folk music, and it gets stuck in your brain till you start humming it on the way home. I’ve gotten to know all the members of this group at one time or another during ORF, and it’s always a welcome sight when they play together. As the sun broke through the clouds, people worked their way up to the benches and relaxed with the first beer of the day in hand.
BORDER COLLIES DART THROUGH THE CROWD
You’ve never seen anything until you’ve seen a couple of border collies ducking under benches and between audience members as they peruse a flock of ducks that are bound and determined not to be herded into a cage! Watching the group work together was a wonderful experience, especially as you begin to see the difference between the more season dogs versus the younger ones. The amount of training that goes into this is phenomenal, and it makes you wonder how long it truly takes for one of these dogs to be fully trained to compete. I know I can’t imagine my dachshund having that kind of dedication!
CU & CRAIC IRISH WOLFHOUNDS
Before heading off for the final event, I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t make it to the Gentle Giants Tent and take the opportunity to pet some of the shaggy Irish wolfhounds. These massive creatures have just about the sweetest temperament you could ask for, and are far more laid back than the energetic border collies! Eager for attention and treats, they were happy to be fussed over and relax in the comfort of their lounge area. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be trapped between the Irish Wolfhounds of the Cu & Craic Club.
BROTHERS DRAKE MEADERY
Before I headed out for the day I decided to do one more lap in case I missed something good, and I am very glad I did. I ran into the 3 Fools Pub once more and spied a bottle that said “PB&J Mead.” I stopped dead in my tracks. There was no turning back. I had to try it. I had a bit of a chat with the barman, discussing the new flavors Brothers Drake Meadery was bringing out and I have to admit, the PB&J was a surprising treat! The sweet, fruity taste came through with a dark nutty flavor that reminds me of roasted peanuts. As I rolled the brew around my tongue, I found a buttery, bread-like flavor that completed the promised combination. That was a very unique taste, but when I sampled their new Battle Axe brew, I was sold! There is something about the cranberry/juniper/vanilla blend that puts me in a very winter solstice kind of mood. I am taking a bottle home with me, but I might hang onto it as I have plans to visit Sun Henge in December and this would be the perfect thing to toast the sunrise with.
THE FESTIVAL COMES TO A CLOSE
As I hoof my way up the dirt road behind the festival, I can hear the sounds fading slowly behind me. With sore feet and mud-caked boots, a bag of kettle corn under one arm and wine bottles in the other, I felt a sense of satisfaction even as the sweat started pouring down my face. With the Ohio Renaissance Festival only a few short months away, it won’t be that long before I am here every weekend. But until then, I’ll have to sate my appetite with the other events coming up!