Bowen to travel to Gaelic nations seeking talent for Celtic Festival
EVANSTON — Evanston’s Céilí at the Roundhouse Celtic Festival, held annually, will celebrate its 10th year this March. For years, Arts, Inc., formerly known as Young Musicians, has labored to bring culture and diversity of events to Uinta County.
This month marks a big win for the community art council. An ambassador for the local festival has been invited to attend international Celtic festivals in Ireland and Scotland.
On Jan. 23, Carolee Bowen, Arts Inc. director, will travel to the Gaelic nations, along with assistant Shasta Wigginton, to spend two weeks recruiting new musicians to take the stage at Evanston’s Celtic Festival in the coming years.
“Scottish and Irish bands are really interested in us,” Bowen said. “These are people who are really excited to share what they have.”
Upon their arrival in Europe, Bowen and Wigginton will join a group of 17 other ambassadors from throughout the world. The group will be hosted by an organization called Culture Ireland, which utilizes a government-sponsored program designed to promote the culture and talent of the Celtic countries.
“There are organizations in Ireland and Scotland that have programs where they bring in people who run festivals to come to their event, their festival, to see these Irish and Scottish performers in the hopes that we will book them into the U.S.,” Bowen said.
Her selection and sponsorship to travel to Ireland and Scotland to represent Evanston on a global scale is “pretty amazing,” she said. The other event organizers who have been invited to attend manage festivals that see much higher visitation numbers than the annual Roundhouse event. The other attendees include managers from the Milwaukee Irish Fest, the Pittsburgh Irish Festival and the Dublin, Ohio, Irish Festival.
“These are festivals that have like 100,000 people who come to them,” Bowen said. “They’re absolutely huge, so for us in little, tiny Evanston, Wyoming, with a festival that draws 2,000, it’s pretty amazing that we have been invited.”
The Evanston Celtic Festival developed from humble roots. What has now grown into a full weekend event once started as a simple afternoon concert with about 200 people in attendance.
Bowen hopes to bring home fresh ideas from the trip.
“I’m excited to make everything we do better and hopefully bigger, too,” she said.
Bowen said that applying to be a part of this trip was a lot like writing a grant application. As the only representative of Celtic events in the west, Bowen wonders if the international arts community perhaps sees her invitation as “an opening for them to the West.”
Part of her appeal is her involvement in Arts Northwest, a group that spans from southwestern Canada, to Washington, Montana and Wyoming. Bowen said that she hopes interest in the outlying areas of the northwest will provide a way for block booking, a way to book Celtic bands for several concerts throughout the area, thus cutting hosting costs.
“It’s not something that a lot of people have done in the Northwest,” she said, “whereas on the east coast and in the midwest, they have this kind of thing all the time.”
Hovering around 2,000 people in attendance has allowed the Evanston event to maintain a sense of intimacy.
“I think that’s why people come from the big metropolitan areas to our festival,” Bowen said.
The week of the event, the bands in town play at the Roundhouse and tour local schools giving musical and cultural presentations. Bowen said that’s an important part of the festival.
“We are so lucky to live in a small town where we can reach all the kids,” she said.
Bowen said the Evanston Celtic Festival has “grown up like a Celtic enthusiast town. Everyone knows what Celtic is and they all know about it and they’re excited about things. … Every single kid has been exposed to it.”
Bowen and Wigginton are excited to be setting off to bring the sights, sounds and tastes of Ireland and Scotland back to Evanston.
“This is like the best job in the world,” Bowen said, “where you get to go and listen to the music that you love and then bring it back to your community — what could be more fun than that?”
This year’s Celtic Festival will be held March 23-24, with a pre-event concert at Strand Theater on March 22. More information, ticket prices and event scheduling can be found on the Arts Inc. website.