“It was a wee thing at the beginning,” says Patrick Little about planning for the very first Saline Celtic Festival back in 1996 to celebrate Saline’s relationship with its sister city, Brecon, Wales. Over the years the festival grew and grew, and thousands of visitors from near and far have trekked to Mill Pond Park to enjoy jousting knights, Highland dancers, musicians of all stripes, historic presentations, sport, and food. But the weather has not always cooperated, and neither has the recent economic climate.
Little, who’s been one of the festival’s major forces all along, says this year “there was considerable debate about continuing the festival.” In the end, though, “we decided we would shrink it, if necessary, as long as we didn’t compromise the festival’s quality.” With fewer corporate sponsors and a budget reduced by 14 percent to $68,000, the festival will take place on July 17–but without some big-name performers and without the popular ancient Highland games such as the caber toss and haggis hurling.
Several popular events are still on the festival program–including the Friday preview music tent and the fourth annual “Mr. Pretty Legs in a Kilt” competition. New this year will be “waulking songs” in the textile arts tent with the weavers, spinners, quilters, and lace makers. Waulking is the Gaelic custom of beating and folding newly woven fabrics, historically accompanied by songs whose rhythms match the beating.
Even with budget cuts, Sheila Graziano, the festival’s longtime artistic director, is busy booking performers. “These artists understand the climate, and I’m finding many would rather perform for less than not at all,” she says.