The Celtic Festival Missoula 2014 kicked off on Friday night, July 25 with an opening ceremony featuring the Celtic Dragon Pipe Band. This band features some of best pipers and drums from throughout Montana, as well as Highland dancers. They play a mixture of traditional pipe band music shared by bands from around the world, and include marches, strathspeys, slow aires, jigs, hornpipes and reels. With an introduction by Festival founder and director Bob Lukes, the band gave a rousing start to the festivities. When they were not on stage, the Dragons could be seen and heard wandering around the grounds at Caras Park.
The first act to take the stage was the lovely Gothard Sisters from the Pacific Northwest. Composed of sisters Greta, Willow and Solana, the Gothard Sisters combine traditional Celtic, roots, classical and world music with comedy and dance to create a truly spectacular and memorable performance. Greta is proficient on guitar, violin/fiddle and backing vocals, while Willow supplies violin/fiddle, backing vocals and bodhran. Solana provides the lead vocals as well as violin/fiddle and bodhran. The sisters are equally adept at Irish dance.
The chemistry between the sisters is amazing and comes through in the ease with which they go from song to song and their antics on stage. The audience at Caras Park sat mesmerized by the music, while quite a few people, especially children, could not contain themselves and danced and danced to the music. Check out their website for more information. I highly recommend seeing them whenever they perform in your area and see why they were the winners of the Best New Irish Act in the recent Irish Music Awards.
The next act to take the stage was special to me, as it gave me the chance to see an old friend I had not seen in quite a few years. Eric Rigler is probably the premier piper in the entire world, and is well known for his music on television and in movies, including Braveheart and Titanic. If you have ever heard bagpipes played in those media, it was probably Rigler that you heard, as he is the most recorded piper in history. In addition, at the request of the family, Rigler played Amazing Grace at the funeral of President Ronald Reagan in 2004.
Whether playing the Irish Uilleann pipes, the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipes or the tin whistle, Rigler's music is both breathtaking and stirring, compelling his audience to move with the music and dance. He was joined on stage by Dirk Freymuth, a gifted guitarist who was previously a member of the Baroque Orchestra of Ireland and the renaissance ensemble, Circa 1500.
Between the two musicians, Caras Park was filled with some of the best music I have ever heard. The hour passed much too quickly as the strains of their music filled the air. If you have not had the chance to experience either of these musicians live, I strongly encourage you to take the time. They are worth the effort.
Last to take the stage on the first day of the Festival was the incredible band, Enter the Haggis. Although I did not have the chance to hear them on Friday, I did hear them on Saturday. My review of their performance will be in the Day 2 recap.