The Milwaukee Irish Fest

storyThe biggest and best Irish festival in North America takes place this weekend in Milwaukee, WI. Recently we spoke with event president Linda Klibowitz about what attendees can expect over the coming days.

What are your roots?
I am proud of my Irish, Scottish, German and Swedish heritage. My father’s family is from County Cork, Ireland.

When and why did you get involved with the Festival?
My parents, Don and Carol Clark, were at the very first planning meetings back in 1981 organized by our founder, Ed Ward. They were asked to run the Information and Raffle booth and my mother called me shortly thereafter and asked me to help out. Now, 36 years later, she and I are still the coordinators for two Information and Raffle booths.

What are your roles and responsibilities there?
As Co-Coordinator of the Information and Raffle booths, I have the opportunity to talk with many of our guests at the festival. This is my favorite role! Since I joined the board 5 years ago, I’ve been Treasurer, Vice President and have the honor of serving as President this year.  uring the week before the festival, I am down on the grounds helping set up and representing the organization at several media interviews.  And of course, enjoying the wonderful music, culture and sporting events throughout the 4-day festival.

Why is it an important event for the community?
Milwaukee Irish Fest is the largest ethnic festival on the 75-acre Henry Maier Festival Grounds with an economic impact of more than $21,000,000 each year providing jobs and patronage to local businesses in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Who traditionally attends the Festival?
Everyone is Irish for the weekend at Milwaukee Irish Fest! We really pride ourselves on being a family oriented festival, with a large children’s area that features arts and crafts, a Children’s Tea Room, story time and stages with attractions for all ages. We also offer several ticket packages, discounts and gate promotions to help make admission affordable for everyone. Plus, kids ages 12 and under always receive free admission.

What can they expect this year?
Milwaukee Irish Fest is always filled with music, culture, history and fun and 2016 is definitely no exception. This year, the festival features both local and international Celtic music, amazing food and spirits like the new Irish Mule or the Reuben Puff, sporting events including Gaelic football matches, the largest gathering of Irish vendors in the world at the Moore Street Market, history exhibits and more. With classic harp to electric guitar and everything in between, it’s a Celtic celebration for the entire family!

How has the event evolved through the years?
The first Milwaukee Irish Fest saw 4 stages and just under 40 entertainment acts. All the original structures have been replaced and grass and mud is now fully paved. Today we have 17 stages and over 100 entertainment acts. However, what remains the same is the celebration of all things Irish, Irish American and Celtic – just on a grander scale!  We’ve been introducing audiences to traditional and contemporary Irish and Celtic musicians each year. This year is the Celtic World Showcase where artists from all over the world will be here representing Ireland, Isle of Man, Britanny, Scotland, Newfoundland, France and even the Orkney Islands! Since the first festival, Irish culture abounds throughout the grounds as well as our dedicated Cultural Village. This year is dedicated to the 1916 Commemoration.

Will you remain involved with the event in the years ahead?
My entire family has been involved in Milwaukee Irish Fest for all of our 36 years. The third weekend in August will always hold a special place in my heart and I am excited for the future of the festival as well as the year-round CelticMKE organization.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
CelticMKE, home of Milwaukee Irish Fest, partners throughout the year with several area Celtic organizations including the Shamrock Club, Irish Cultural and Heritage Center and UW-Milwaukee Center for Celtic Studies. Our Ward Irish Music Archives houses one of the largest public collections of Irish music in America consisting of more than 50,000 pieces. Many parts of Archives have been turned into traveling exhibits to display at events and festivals throughout the United States. In addition to the Archives, the Milwaukee Irish Fest Foundation provides grants to initiatives that support excellence and innovation in music, drama, arts and culture as well as the special needs of the Irish and Irish American communities.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
There are many Celtic festivals held throughout North America celebrating and promoting Celtic music and culture. We have provided support – both monetarily and strategically – sharing ideas to ensure all of our success. These many festivals provide multiple venues for our entertainers to share their music and culture throughout the country.

What can we be doing better?
Milwaukee Irish Fest is the largest celebration of its kind anywhere in the world. We have taken the success of our annual festival to grow our year-round events including our School of Music, Summer School and concerts and lectures. Now, we can support our Mission – to promote and celebrate all aspects of Irish, Irish American and Celtic cultures, and to instill in current and future generations an appreciation of their heritage – all year!