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We get the best (bands) of all worlds (Part 3)

Ask the organizer of any festival if things ever get crazy in the planning or producing their event. But you might want to be more than an arms’ length away when you ask!

Yes, things get hectic. But organizers of festivals like the Peoria Irish Fest have friends in the business. Namely, the Association of Irish and Celtic Festivals group. It was founded nearly 20 years ago, by Ed Ward of the Milwaukee Irish Fest.

How many Irish / Celtic festivals can there be? Here’s a list of at least 120 annual Irish / Celtic Festivals in the US alone! Canada? There are dozens listed here. And that’s just for starters.

So what impact could there be if some of us started working together rather than independently?

It’s wonderful! At our annual conference, we share best practices … success stories of things that went right, and nightmares caused by less-than-perfect ideas. We trade contact information to help each other throughout the year. Speakers addressing behind-the-scenes functions such as performer hospitality or corporate fundraising round out the days.

But the best part happens after the sun goes down. A showcase of artists play for us – up-and-comers, players from former groups but now on their own, or talented locals – they perform their hearts out, vying to be hired for the next festival season. All ages and all nationalities are on display. We never know what we’re going to hear!

A few examples from this year are:

Doolin – A family band from France with virtuosos on several instruments.

Steel City Rovers – A Canadian quintet with great stage presence.

Blarney Castle – A group from Kalamazoo, Michigan that impressed beyond their years.

Colin Farrell Band – A multi-national trio with a solid sound.

Searching for talent is a never-ending process. But, with the help of friends in AICF, we work hard to bring a fresh mix of sounds to the Peoria Irish Fest every year.

We get the best (bands) of all worlds (Part 2)

The Peoria Irish Fest is fortunate to fall in the calendar between two of the largest US Irish festivals. The Milwaukee Irish Fest is always on the third weekend in August, and the Kansas City Irish Fest is always on Labor Day weekend. These huge festivals draw more than 100,000 people and have performers on dozens of stages.

If you haven’t been – go! They are incredible experiences! Attending these events is how our organizers “discovered” many acts. Talking to the entertainment committees from other Celtic fests is also a great resource. It’s best for us to be on the lookout for a band that is “on the rise,” and looking for maximum exposure. That’s what brought groups like Slide, and Socks in the Frying Pan to Peoria.

With Peoria bookended by large festivals, the acts performing in either … or both … cities look to us for performances before / after / in between. But we have competition; other Midwest cities host Celtic festivals on the same weekend as us.  Among them: Dubuque, Iowa, holds its Irish Hooley, Madison, Wisconsin, has its Mad Gael Music Fest, and the Will County Celtic Fest takes place in Joliet, Illinois. Again, good times in each location.

Each festival gets its share of the bands. This year, for example, newcomer Cuig, old friends Goitse and Milwaukee’s Whiskey of the Damned will come to Peoria after playing in Milwaukee. It’s a pattern that has been occurring for many years.

Convenient calendaring is also how we can land the “big name” bands from time to time. When Gaelic Storm played in Peoria in 2011, or the Red Hot Chili Pipers in 2010 and 2013, or We Banjo 3 in 2015– these were the result of Peoria being “on the way” from one gig to another. Those were real “WOW!” moments, weren’t they?

Will these bands ever return to Peoria? Let’s just say that we approach every festival season with the attitude of “Never say never.” We try our darnedest to book bands that we know you want to hear … and we see where the chips fall. While we are frequently in talks with the “big bands” from previous years, some just get too expensive for our budget.  But we have always had good luck in booking bands that put on a good show and return for another year.

Next time … there’s still yet another source of bands for Peoria Irish Fest.

We get the best (bands) of all worlds (Part 1)

Ever wonder how bands are selected to perform at the Peoria Irish Fest? Chances are, there is more to it than you would have thought possible.

Well, OK. The first part is easy. Local bands have developed public interest in Irish music for many years, and we believe we have a duty to support them. So, local favorites are the first to get in. They’re like old friends knocking on your front door. You just know you’re in for a good time!

Turas has played Kelleher’s on St. Patrick’s Day since, like, forever. The Roundstone Buskers are regulars at the Fox Pub. Duffy’s Revenge, the Bogside Zukes and the Four Leaf Rovers and others play frequently around Peoria and will be on our stages again.

If you’re a fan of these local favorites, be sure to check out our discounted tickets, which are only available on our website. Support your favorite local artists by getting all of your friends who also enjoy them to turn out for their next Peoria Irish Fest performance.

Next time … how do big name bands get to Peoria?

Changing the Name; Keeping the Fun

If you have to explain a joke … was it funny in the first place?

Maybe. To the right audience. But the moment you have to explain it, you realize it probably wasn’t the right choice for this person or audience.

That was the dilemma facing the Erin Feis organizers for years. The name was perfect for an Irish festival. “Erin” is a poetic name for Ireland, and “feis” – pronounced fesh – is Irish for a traditional Gaelic arts and cultural festival.

But nobody knew what it meant.

“And that includes many of our longtime patrons and vendors,” said John Martin, co-chair of Erin Feis. Most Irish knew what mainstream Irish sayings mean, like Erin Go Bragh (Ireland Forever) or Cead Mile Failte (One Hundred Thousand Welcomes). “But most would pronounce our name Erin Fish or Erin Fice and rarely know what it truly meant. And for those who are NOT Irish, the name was completely lost on them.”

To get a handle on the situation, the event organizers turned to the Marketing Department of nearby Illinois State University. Taken on as a class project, Erin Feis received valuable marketing research, and the students gained real-life practice in future careers.

The results were as bad as Martin’s team expected. Of those interviewed, only 8% had ever heard of Erin Feis, or could identify it as the name of an Irish festival. Yet 58% of the subjects said they were interested in attending, once the event’s nature was explained to them. “So, we knew there was an appetite for our event, if we could get our message out and understood,” said Martin.

In the three years since the marketing study, the name of the festival has been in transition. Last year, the tagline “Peoria’s Irish Festival” debuted, to help define the event. This year, the festival’s official name has been changed to the Peoria Irish Festival, with Erin Feis retained as a tagline in support of the new name.

“The Erin Feis name has 37 years of goodwill among our longtime friends and guests. We’d be foolish to just throw that away,” said Martin.

The event organizers are planning to expand their use of social media this year. With the name immediately communicating where and what the festival is, they are hoping for greater recognition in local communities – if not farther afield – and, hopefully, increased attendance.

“We are not changing what our festival is all about,” explained Martin. “It will still be three great days of upbeat music, delicious food and drink, with a wide variety of shopping and cultural experiences. The only new part is our name … and the more immediate connection we hope it makes.”

Written by Eric Hoadley, Marketing Chair