By Kevin Collison
This year’s 17th annual Irish Fest had a dilemma.
For the first time since its soggy inception in 2003 at Berkley Riverfront Park, the festival’s favorite band, The Elders, wouldn’t be performing.
“Obviously, The Elders are gone, which means we’re looking for a new tradition,” said Keli O’Neill, whose firm produces the annual event.
So what the organizers have come up with to fill the final Sunday night slot previously anchored by The Elders is what they hope will become a new festival tradition. It’s called the KCIF Mix Tape.
O’Neill described it as a 90-minute, sing-a-long where festival performers and special guests will croon covers of their favorite hits by such well-known Irish artists as U2, Van Morrison and the Cranberries.
And among them will be Ian Byrne, the former lead singer of The Elders and an honorary Irishman, former Mayor Sly James, who will sing Van Morrison’s hit “Moondance.”
This year’s Irish Fest runs Friday through Sunday at Crown Center and adjoining Washington Square Park, and expects to draw more than 80,000 people.
Over 300 musicians, dancers, story tellers, comedians, and folklorists will perform on the ten different stages throughout the festival grounds
Among the additions this year will be new food and craft vendors as well as a half-dozen booths staffed by Irish tourism operators. There also will be a bar featuring Boulevard Brewing’s Fling line-up of canned cocktails.
The Irish Fest began its current incarnation on the riverfront in 2003 with 12 bands and two stages. Unfortunately for the fledgling festival, heavy rains washed out the event on Saturday and Sunday. It drew 7,000 people on Friday, but the spirit wasn’t dampened.
“The Fest went on Saturday evening, with performers playing in the Hotel Philips’ lobby, mezzanine, lounge, meeting rooms and hallways,” founder Pat O’Neill recalled in an email. “The people who stayed had a fun and most memorable time.
“We lost $90,000,” he added. “We cried.”
Since it landed at Crown Center in 2004, the festival’s fortunes have been on a steady rise. It’s become one of the country’s largest Irish festivals attracting people from 39 states last year.
Advanced general admission tickets are available until midnight Thursday. The cost per session is $12 for adults on Friday, and $15 on Saturday and Sunday.
General admission tickets day of the festival are $15 on Friday, and $18 on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets for kids ages 3- to 12 are $7 throughout. A special $35 weekend pass is available online on Thursday.
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