Due to the large number of Celtic and Highland festivals that were postponed – or outright cancelled – as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, two American couples opted to create an event hosted completely over the internet.
Celtic Festival Online (CFO) is spearheaded by Chris and Colleen Conway of Ogham Art and Billy and Nichole Healy of Healy Glass Artistry. The Conways are based in Connecticut, while the Healys make their home in Pennsylvania.
“We are not only the founders of Celtic Festival Online: we are artists ourselves and rely on Irish and Celtic Festivals to promote our products and reach our audiences,” Nichole shares via email. “We knew there was an entire industry of people who count on festivals and events for their livelihoods. The people affected include merchandise vendors, artists, storytellers, musicians and bands, and small entrepreneurs. Our intention was to build a platform that could build and lift up all of us together, to attract the audiences that we would not be seeing in person over the spring and summer months, and to perhaps draw an entirely new audience to the joys of Celtic life.”
CFO aims to mimic the experience of in-person Celtic festival by sharing live musical performances on Facebook, promoting Celtic-inspired artisans on their online marketplace and more. The festival is active on other social media platforms as well, including Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Over the summer, CFO hosted more than 27 concert livestreams from all over the United States and even some from Ireland. Nichole says this sort of venture is particularly important during a time when many people are feeling disconnected.
“Our motto at Celtic Festival Online is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats. We believe that coming together as a culture and supporting one another is of utmost importance,” she continues. “We have been fortunate to have some big names in Irish music and culture come to our site, provide specialty programming, and promote our platform. Many of our audience members have found us online through advertisements, or they came to our page from an invitation from one of their favorite bands or artists and they stayed as fans for the ongoing music and cultural link that Celtic Festival Online has brought directly into their homes.”
The core of CFO’s fanbase is music-lovers, some of whom have Celtic roots while others do not. However, Nichole points out that Celtic goods and merchandise in general have a large following as well.
“We find that consumers are really looking for special items and the people who follow Celtic traditions appreciate hand-made and artisanal products. Competing with large box- store retailers will always be a challenge, but we find that if we can get our message to the right audience, that they will want to support local, small, hand-made and specialty Celtic items.”
As the festival is completely run by volunteers – many of whom have other businesses to attend to – the Conways and the Healys face the challenge of keeping their latest venture financially afloat. Individuals can contribute to the cost of maintaining the platform by donating via PayPal on CFO’s website, or by shopping its online marketplace.
“We rely on the patronage of our viewers to give support to both the bands and the artists we feature so that we can continue bringing top talent directly to our viewers at home,” shares Nichole. “While we continually ask that our audience supports our featured musicians and artists directly, Celtic Festival Online also needs support to be able to continue our outreach and special programming,”
Fortunately, the hard work is worth it in the end.
“The rewards have been many – mainly the friendships and connections that we have made with others who are equally as passionate as we are about our Celtic heritage. The reward of welcoming some of the top talent in the industry to our platform, and seeing world-famous artists and musicians support our cause is truly remarkable.”
Nichole notes that even when live festivals and performances are safe again, the Conways and the Healys plan to keep CFO running and relevant. “We have found that many of our audience members have never attended a live Celtic festival or event, so we are definitely seeing a new group of people who may prefer this type of engagement over going to a live festival. We are certainly open to what the future brings.”