Celts of all ages and backgrounds will go south this weekend for the Sarasota Celtic Music Festival. Recently we spoke with the event’s co-organizer Michael Ward about what attendees can expect to experience.

What are your roots?
I was born and raised in Kentucky – 60% Scot, 25% Irish, 10% Scandinavian.

When and why did you get involved with the festival?
We started a New World Celts Chapter here in May 2016 and wanted to start our own local event after attending many other festivals and Highland Games throughout the Southeast U.S. Our executive board said ‘why not’? – so we did it! Hopefully it will carry on for many years to come.

What are your roles and responsibilities there? 
I am the President of the Sarasota chapter of New World Celts. My role in the festival and organization involves fundraising.

What are the challenges involved? 
There are many; organization of the festival process, funding, booking bands, accommodating many other activities, and more. We want to make it a total Celtic experience, with music, vendors, Celtic food etc.

What are the rewards?
I love that sense of accomplishment when everything runs as smoothly as possible. And, also, it is beyond rewarding to host an event that preserves and promotes our Celtic heritage and way of life – both currently and from hundreds of years ago.

Why is it an important event for the community? 
Sarasota has many Celtic groups that do various things in the community, including monthly events such as kilt nights, whisky tastings, etc. This festival is the culmination of our events that we have throughout the year, and we bring in national music acts that perform alongside our local Celtic music acts as well – adding a flavor of other things that compliment the event for our attendees. We like to have fun and want the community to enjoy what our group has to offer on a larger scale.

Who traditionally attends the Festival? 
We see lots of Highland games attendees, Celtic music fans, families, Ren-Faire fans, and generally anyone who might be intrigued by the Celts.

What can they expect this year?
This year we have more periphery events, including a Highland Games demo, a Kid Zone, a 5k Braveheart Kilt Run, a Viking landing with boats, a ‘Give Pint (of blood) Get a Pint (of ice cream)’ event, the Sandy Paws Dog Parade. We are also featuring three national Celtic bands, and five regional and local groups. There are also two new craft beers made by a local brewery, The Naughty Monk; Regimental Red (500 yr old recipe), and Naughty Night Out Stout (2500 yr old recipe). We will have a premier Whisky tasting event as well. So lots of stuff for everyone!

How has the event evolved since last year?
We have had a lot more folks that want to get involved and participate, including vendors, musicians and volunteers from the community. We think we have the best venue in the region, with easy access to hotel and camping sites.

Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?  
I hope to be involved each year until they tell me to go away and man the whisky tent all day!

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there? 
I am member of both the Caledonian Club of West Florida and the local St. Andrews Society, and I participate in their events each year.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
As with any locale we can all do better. We have been approached to host and promote other Celtic events that are not currently on the radar here in our area. It is exciting, but our group will only tackle items that we know we can only provide our best efforts and creativity. We have an outstanding membership; we have grown from 5 original officers to 80+ members in 1 year. Our growth can be attributed to making Celtic events fun and informative in nature. Our mission statement is to promote our Celtic Heritage in the new world. We hope to be a difference maker in promotion of all things Celtic.

How can that be improved?  
By getting more people involved, and assisting them in discovering their Celtic roots and helping them to learn more about the Celtic world, and by encouraging them to get involved on a larger scale by joining local Celtic groups and taking leadership roles.