Sunday August 21, 2011

BENNINGTON -- The return of the Bennington Irish Music Festival brought the Gaels back to the Green Mountains for a full weekend of music and fun.

Similar to last year's inaugural event, this year's festival was held at Colgate Park on Route 9 West and included a full lineup of music both Saturday and Sunday.

Organizers moved the date to earlier in the season, however, to avoid the Labor Day weekend bustle and improve the chances for nicer weather. (Last year's festival coincided with the Southern Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival, held just down the road at Camelot Village. While some enjoyed the dual attractions, others lamented the scheduling and ensuing traffic snarl.)

Weather only minor problem

Besides a brief hail and lightning interlude Sunday afternoon, the new date paid off with warm, sunny skies. Perhaps not quintessential Irish weather, organizers said that they would take it.

This year's music lineup was nearly all-new and more diversified. "The talent this year is incredible," said event organizer Laura Moore.

Among the acts scheduled to play were The Makem and Spain Brothers, as part of their U.S. tour; regional faves like Hair of the Dog, The McKrells, Triskele, and Rakish Paddy; and Donnybrook Fair, newly reunited after a long hiatus.

"These guys are good," remarked a couple from Arlington, during the Gibson Brothers' Saturday set.


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The Gibsons, a bluegrass brother duet, reflected the festival's complementary mix of Irish, folk, and bluegrass.

"Vermont, southern Vermont -- this is folk country. So we added folk to the mix," said Moore.

The cost for admission was reduced this year, while small children remained free. Moore said that she saw a more local crowd as a result.

An event volunteer from Bennington, Bud Krawczyk said that he wasn't available last year but was this weekend, and so he decided to help out. "Why not?" he said. "Do a couple of hours, listen to music, drink some beer, eat. It's just a good thing."

Krawczyk attended Mount Anthony Union High School with Vicki Jerome -- co-owner of Colgate Park along with her husband, Jamie. He called the event good for the community. "People go to stay somewhere, eat somewhere," said Krawczyk.

Fest brought in tourists

One couple from Connecticut, who said that they didn't often travel to Vermont despite loving it and the drive up, said that they would be spending the night and having dinner in town. The wife, Helen Frye, said that she had always been a fan of the headlining genre.

Originally from Chicago, Frye said that she "sought out" Irish music and that she and her husband took in many Irish music festivals throughout the Northeast. The couple hadn't come for any act in particular; instead just to "see what shows up."

"I'd come back," said Frye's husband.

An activities area was set up to keep children busy. "This year it's fairies and wizards," said Moore. Her sister, Mary Moore, was on hand and provided all the materials -- moss, bark, and twigs -- for children to build fairy lean-tos. No word if any took up residence.

On Saturday evening, tethered hot air balloon rides were available on-site.

Local school was beneficiary

The School of Sacred Heart Saint Francis de Sales was again the designated beneficiary of this year's festival. Last year's event led to $3,000 being donated, and organizers hoped to increase that amount this year.

As for next year? "Our focus over the next few years is to keep bringing back excellent talent," said Moore. "It's the biggest piece of our budget, and we're really dedicated to making it special for people."

Sarah Jayne, from Albany, N.Y., said that she was Irish but hadn't previously explored her roots. At the festival with her eight-year-old daughter -- on her daughter's birthday -- Jayne said that she had been planning a birthday party at home when she received a free ticket from an aunt.

"It's the first time I've heard music like this," said Jayne. "I love it. I love it."

Contact Zeke Wright at ewright@benningtonbanner.com.