Saltwater Celtic Music Festival

The Saltwater Celtic Music Festival takes place today and tomorrow at beautiful Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick, Maine. Event founder and director Randy Labbe gives us the details on this year’s line-up.

What is your own ethnicity / heritage?
Mostly French (half Quebecois and half Acadian) and some Irish. But, I scan the terrain, looking at all the cousins and I wonder…can anybody ever really be certain?

When and why did you get involved with this event?
I’ve been in the music industry all of my adult life, primarily producing roots and blues records as well as founding and consulting to music festivals. I started gravitating towards Celtic music. Though I’ve been a fan of The Pogues and other Celtic rock since the 80’s I didn’t really dig into traditional Celtic music and folk music until about 12 or 15 years ago. The Cape Breton scene was a real eye-opener for me and I discovered some beautiful music but I also developed a taste for the folk music of artists like the Tannahill Weavers, Dubliners, Dublin City Ramblers and The Wolfe Tones. Anyway, I was coming out of a five year career move into a music/technology start-up that had really taken me away from music for the first time in my life and I was itching to get back. I decided to fire up a music festival built on the music I love. Saltwater was born and I haven’t looked back yet!

What are the challenges of being involved?
It’s a lot of fun all year but it can become extremely consuming the weeks and days leading up to it. I’m not enjoying that part as much as I used to.

What are the rewards?
My wife and I had three children, all grown now, with good memories of going to Dad’s festivals. They all have an interest in it, love music, and come up for the weekend to help. One son runs the coordination of the event, one son brings the stage and production expertise, and our daughter is a great music consultant and runs the front gate. One can very easily say that I’ve been blessed.

Why is it an important event for the community there?
I’m not sure Saltwater is so important yet but we’re sure having fun. But, really, I guess what’s important to me is that we’re on the coast of Maine, the Western Ocean to those who made the trip, and that’s important to me. We’re celebrating this music in one of the immigrant destinations. Secondly, going back to your first question about my ethnic heritage, it’s easy to see how deep the Celtic routes run in Maine and the population of the Northeast US. Many don’t even realize or think about it but that doesn’t really matter either because we have this music and these traditions in us whether we realize it or not; I really believe that’s why the music sounds so damn good to us!

What can attendees expect this year?
Celtic music fans should expect Saltwater 2013 to be the best one yet. We have performers coming from Scotland, Ireland, the province of Quebec, even Los Angeles, and each one was hand-picked to help us present the deepest, most compelling Celtic music experience we possible could. The music is going to be phenomenal and the audience can expect that each day is going to close with energy! Saltwater 2013 also has a fabulous Art Tent co-hosted by Portland’s own Michael Shaughnessy and 2013 Artist-in-Residence, Judy O’Donnell, and A Lit tent co-hosted by Paula de Fougerolles and Saltwater MC, Kevin O’Hara. They can also expect great food and all the benefits of the most beautiful park in Maine, Thomas Point Beach! Our programming reach is wide and we are admittedly  a bit lighter than we would like to be with traditional music this year and we’re flying without a Cape Breton rep. That will swing back next year I’m sure as Colin Grant, Miss Crowley and Sprag Session made quite a splash at Saltwater 2012!

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
There are only a few organizations and if we’re not related we’re certainly friends. Some of these organizations are the Maine Irish Heritage Center,  the Maine Highland Games, Skye Theatre, the Acadia Trad School, the Maine Celtic Celebration, and little pockets of activity all over the state, little traditional music gatherings everywhere. It’s a great little scene and growing.

Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
Your magazine sure helps and we’re doing our little part but I think I’m personally less concerned with preserving and more concerned with living; interpreting elements of our common and distinct cultures within a contemporary context, the framework that we live in from day to day.

What can we be doing better?
I don’t know, I’m pretty happy with the way things are going now. There’s certainly more to  life than music but for someone like me, a music man who loves just about all Celtic music, including its branches that reach deep into contemporary pop music, right now is a pretty good time to be alive.

What does the future look like for the event?
I haven’t looked back yet and the future for Saltwater is looking very good.  We’re  small but we’re growing. I can really feel the energy this year. In fact, I can hear the pipes and drums in the distance. I’m predicting a great weekend for Saltwater.