Grab Your Blankets! The Fleadh is Coming Back!

Fun and family friendly!

Fun and family friendly!

File this piece of advice from Frank Daly away to pull out any time you’re thinking of throwing a big music event: “Never rent a park.”

Not that Pennypack Park isn’t a great venue for an Irish music festival. Daly and partner C.J. Mills rolled out their first one there last year, the very successful Philadelphia Fleadh, in a niche of this rambling, 1300-acre green space in northeast Philadelphia. Best friends, partners in American Paddy’s Productions , and members of the band, Jamison, Daly and Mills are putting the finishing touches on their second festival—scheduled for Saturday, May 3—and Daly says it was an easier sell to the Fairmount Park Commission this year.

“They weren’t difficult to deal with last year, but they weren’t inviting,” says Daly. “Frankly, they heard Irish event and they thought debauchery, port-a-potties, people fighting.”

In other words, not exactly like folks letting out of Sunday Mass. “They were there last year watching, and I think they have a much different idea,” says Daly. In fact, it’s a little more like folks letting out of Sunday Mass, only with bands, beer, and bouncy castles.

“We had 2,700 people attend last year and they were a great group of people. It was very family friendly,” he says. And the Fairmount Park Commission was impressed. “They say me and CJ out there the next day at 5 AM picking up trash,” he laughs. “They saw we weren’t throwing a giant drunkfest there.”

This year, expect more of the same—along with Irish beer. “That was the only complaint we got,” says Daly. “We didn’t have Irish beer. Well this year there’s Guinness, Smithwicks, and Harp.”

And an appealing mix of both traditional and Celtic rock acts, including some of Philly’s finest: the Paul Moore Band, Jamison, the John Byrne Band, Buring Bridget Cleary, the Hooligans, Raymond and Mickey Coleman, the Birmingham Six, the Jameson Sisters, the Broken Shillelaghs, Killen-Clark, The Ladeens, and Seamus Kennedy. This year’s import are the Mahones, a punk rock Celtic band from Canada. Last year, it was the Young Dubliners.

Instead of a DJ tent, says Daly, this year’s festival will include an acoustic tent with music sessions and workshops for those who want to perfect their tunes and a ceili dance at 1 and 3 PM where instructors will show you the steps to the Gay Gordon and Siege of Ennis so you can join in the fun.

Festival Food and Maggie’s on the Waterfront will be feeding the crowds and there are 10 vendors selling everything from kilts to t-shirts. And this year there’s a bonus—an open feis (pronounced “fesh,” it’s an Irish step dance competition) hosted by Celtic Flame School of Irish Dance that’s also free. “You don’t have to buy a ticket to the festival to go to the feis,” Daly says.

Philadelphia Fleadh is one of three Irish-themed events American Paddy’s Productions mounts every year, including American Celtic Christmas during the holidays and Paddypalooza, a tented Celtic rock party around St. Patrick’s Day.

Next year, they’ll be adding a fourth—Sober St. Patrick’s Day, a family-friendly, alcohol-free program that got its start in New York and has been enormously successful (as in, sold-out) in New York, Casper, Wyoming, Richmond, Virginia and Belfast, Northern Ireland.

“It came about because of my friendship with Katherine Ball-Weir who is involved in the local branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann [an Irish organization supporting Irish music and culture among Irish people]. We met when I was doing marketing for Kildare’s pubs and we worked on bringing big name Irish traditional musicians to West Chester University who would then play at the session in the pub.”

Ball-Weir, whose teenaged son, Alexander, is a fiddler and a member of The Ladeens, managed to secure the rights to the name from the New York organization and she, Daly, and Mills are planning the event for 2015, on Philadelphia parade day.

“We’re looking for a spot—and we’re definitely not renting a public park,” laughs Daly. “They told us when we rented the park they’ve only rented out Fairmount Park two times. One was for “Made in America,” and the other was the Philadelphia Fleadh. So me and Jay-Z,” he deadpans, “are almost exactly the same.”

You can order tickets for the Fleadh by clicking on the Fleadh ad on our pages, or by going to their website.

Author: Denise Foley

Denise is one of the founding editors of irishphiladelphia.com and a veteran magazine and newspaper writer and editor.

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