Celtic Fest 2016, Brownsville, TN

Celtic Fest 2016

September 17 and 18, 2016, was the 11th annual Celtic Fest.  The Celtic Society of West Tennessee has been hosting an autumn Celtic Fest for over a decade.  The date varies, the location varies, but every fall, there is a Celtic Fest in Tennessee somewhere between the Loosahatchie River and the Tennessee River. This year, for the first time, the festival was in Haywood County, at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville.


The best part of Celtic Fest, in my opinion, is the music.  This year the performers included:

Tuatha Dea: Celtic/Appalachian/folk/rock/tribal fusion

Cara-Anne and the Minstrels: folk music


North East Arkansas Caledonian Pipes bagpipes

Bobby and Sue Bates: Scottish and Irish folk songs

Medieval Lassie: storyteller and folksinger

Birdsong School of Music Harps:  religious and Celtic harp music

John and Vickie LeCroy, with Scott Myatt: Celtic and contemporary music

Rob Millette: contemporary and traditional Celtic



Vendors and Performers

In addition to the musical performers listed above, Sarah Rohde demonstrated clog dancing, and later gave impromptu tap lessons to three girls. The Scottish Armoury sold dirks and other blades, as well as clan badges and journals.  Blue Goose Soaps and Gilded Lily both sold scented soaps and lotions.  Terrie K sold mugs, jewelry, and CDs.  Tuatha Dea sold five different CDs, t-shirts, and assorted fannish memorabilia.  The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce was selling t-shirts; Sue and Bobby Bates were selling CDs.  There were face painters, people selling tartan pillow cases and books, and a blacksmith.  One of the food vendors was selling Irn Bru, a Glaswegian soda pop that is something of an acquired taste, but which my husband loves.  (He bought a six-pack to take home.)  The other food vendor was the ResQ Cafe, with BBQ sandwiches, Cornish pasties, Irish stew, nachos, etc., with the money raised going to Loving Paws Rescue, a local animal charity.   There were some combat demonstrations by the SCA Saturday, but due to schedule conflicts, we were only able to attend on Sunday.




Celtic Fest through the Years

Celtic Fest began in Jackson, TN, (Madison County) and for the first few years was at the Casey Jones Village, behind the Old Country Store.  That was a wonderful site:  lots of room, and a nearby playground where the kids could burn off energy.  In the early days, Celtic Fest had clan tents, vendors, heritage groups, and local high school and college students volunteering for community service hours.  Musicians came from as far away as Texas and Kentucky.  About three-four years ago, if I remember correctly, Celtic Fest moved from Jackson to Parkers Crossroads (Henderson County).  The city park where the festival took place had a nice stage, and there was a small playground for the kids. And this year, the festival took place for the first time in Brownsville (Haywood County).

Over the years, Celtic Fest has slowly shrunk.  First, the clan tents stopped coming, which meant the festival couldn’t have the traditional parade of the clans.  Then, fewer vendors came: a matter of economics, if people can’t afford to buy their goods, they can’t afford to come.  Not as many dancers come — it used to be Inis Acla School of Irish Dance sent their students, and I believe (going by memory here) that Scottish country dance groups used to come.  Local libraries and genealogy groups used to come.  But schedules got busy and budgets got tight, and each year the festival seems smaller and smaller. (I’ve heard similar complaints from other festivals.)

I like the new site.  I hope Celtic Fest stays here a few years, and I hope it starts to grow again.

West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center


Brittany Hardaway of WBBJ Channel 7 interviewed Sue Bates and me, as well as some other people. As I told Ms. Hardaway, I liked the new site.


The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center had a nice grassy meadow behind their buildings, where the festival took place.  They had several mini-museums in their air-conditioned buildings, as well as real bathrooms.  The festival had port-a-potties, of course, but personally I’d rather walk a few yards further, especially when I’m wearing a hoop skirt, to use a real bathroom.  There were also three fast food restaurants in walking distance, for those who didn’t care for Cornish pasties or Irish stew.  (You can see Kentucky Fried Chicken in the background of the photo above.) The center had several small museums: the West Tennessee Cotton Museum, the West Tennessee Music Museum, the Hatchie River Museum, the “Sleepy John” Estes Home, and the Tina Turner Museum @Flagg Grove School.

“Sleepy John” Estes was a pioneer of blues music and his house is on the grounds, next to an old one-room country school. Flagg Grove School is where Tina Turner went to school, and is now the Tina Turner Museum. The front of the building displays several of her costumes and gold records.  The back of the building tells what “colored” schools were like in the early to mid-20th century.



Thanks to the Sponsors and Volunteers of Celtic Fest 2016

Gramercy to the sponsors of Celtic Fest 2016: the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center, the city of Jackson, TN, Hippie Radio 105.3, Walker’s Shortbread, Coca-Cola of Lexington, TN, the Jackson Arts Council, Tennessee Concert Sound, and Great Scot International.  Tapadh leibh to the volunteers and organizers, Sue Bates and her gallant but overworked crew.

And for Celtic Fest 2017?

I’d love to see Celtic Fest regain its former glory.  I’d love to see more clan tents and Scottish American Military Society and Royal Scottish Country Dance Society and St. Andrew’s societies and sister-city groups that are paired with Scottish towns.  I’d love to see genealogy societies and crafts demonstrations.  House of Douglas Scottish Bakery, luthier Kelly Amsden and jewelry-maker Susan Amsden, Hamish’s Dreck, Celtic Realms, aye, I’m talking to you.  (Please note:  this is my personal desire.  I do not represent Celtic Society of West Tennessee, nor do I have the authority to speak for them.)  I know the Clan Donald USA conveners are in eastern Tennessee and the Murray Clan Society of North America are in central Tennessee, so it’s a long drive for either of them, but surely there must be some clan associations in western Tennessee or northern Mississippi.

I’d like to see more children’s activities:  coloring contests, cardboard caber tossing, carnival games, bounce castles, etc. This would mean more volunteers, and possibly more money.  Spending other people’s money is rather like belling the cat — easy in theory, harder in practice.  My kids would like more for teenagers to do, although they’ve been vague on what would interest teenagers.  Both liked going to the museums at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center for a break from the festival (and for the air conditioning and indoor plumbing).  My son liked the aquarium at the Hatchie River Museum and my daughter liked the costumes at the Tina Turner Museum.

Maybe next year Highland Heather Travel and Press will have a tent, for people who want to go on holiday to Scotland or Ireland or people who want to buy R is for Renaissance Faire.




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