Dance, Music

Get Set for the Ceili Group Festival

Put on your dancing shoes.

Put on your dancing shoes.

Rosie McGill has been attending the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival for 28 years.

She just turned 28 a few weeks ago.

Do the math.

She’s risen through the ranks of the Ceili Group, so to speak, doing all of the scut work, setting up stages, collecting garbage, being everybody’s runner.

McGill’s one of several dynamic people helping to run this year’s festival at the Philadelphia Irish Center. Probably the only thing that has changed is her definition of scut work.

“Me and the other committee members are working really hard to make sure nothing is forgotten. We have so many performers. I have to make sure our workshops start and end on time. I can never actually ‘attend’ the festival.”

There’s a pretty good chance she won’t see much of this year’s festival, either, the Ceili Group’s 40th. The festival begins Thursday at 8 p.m. with Singer’s Night, an assemblage of some of the finest singers of Irish music you’re ever going to hear, with the great Matt Ward serving as emcee. Local musicians will also perform to honor the memory of Frank Malley, longtime festival chairman.

Friday night is a Rambling House & Ceili Dance, also starting at 8 p.m., with Gabriel Donohue running the show as the evening begins. Look for special guests singer-fiddler Niamh Dunne and button accordion and guitar player Seán Óg Graham.

Later on, the McGillians & Friends Ceili Band take over, with Cass Tinney and John Shields as hosts.

Saturday is really big, with performances all day by so many groups it’s hard to keep track, including: The Converse Trio, a group of incredibly talented young people who came in third this year at the Fleadh Cheoil in Sligo; the Jameson Sisters; and Donegal sean-nós singer Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde. There are workshops all day, food and drink, and lots of activities.

That evening is the grand finale, featuring the critically acclaimed Sean Keane and His Band, and a marvelous group of young musicians, FullSet.

Landing FullSet was an important goal for the Ceili Group, and an online crowdfunding campaign made it possible—and the three-month campaign had an unexpected benefit.

“We really had an early start by booking Sean (Keane) around last year’s festival, and with getting FullSet in advance,” McGill says. “And I didn’t even mean to do it this way, but the crowdfunding campaign really promoted the festival way, way before people were thinking about it, back around March and April. Everybody came out of the woodwork to help us be more successful. Everybody donated for a different reason but they all came together to support us.”

All of which reinforces her belief that, after 40 years, the festival is still exactly the right thing to do. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s like my sister or my baby. I don’t know where I would be without it. It shaped my life.”

You can get all the details—and tickets—right here.

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