Where there’s a will, there’s a way – as the saying goes – and that proved true in 2021 for the Calaveras Celtic Faire, which was moved to June but still put on, making the 2022 version the 36th annual event.
Founder Patrick Michael Karnahan said the 2022 edition returns to its traditional second weekend in March timeframe, planned at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds in Angels Camp from March 11-13. The fairgrounds are at 2465 Gun Club Road in Angels Camp.
“We had to manipulate it some, the (COVID) restrictions of last March forced us to move it to June,” Karnahan explained of the 2021 faire. “The fairgrounds were available in June so instead of skip a year and lose our annual status, I decided to go ahead and move it to June; we had it Father’s Day weekend.”
While smaller in scale, he said it was still successful, although having it in June also meant they dealt with hotter weather than normal.
Thankfully, Karnahan said, they are back to mid-March and he is excited to welcome crowds back to the fairgrounds. The event goes on, rain or shine.
He also said the faire had a humble beginning, all those years ago, and has been hosted either in Sonora or Angels Camp throughout its tenure, having settled the last few years in Angels Camp as its preferred venue.
“I just spent a lot of time in Ireland in my 20s,” he said. “Besides being a musician, I am also an artist, a painter, and I was honored to teach art over time in the west of Ireland.”
After returning to the states, he continued to paint and decided to put on a small art show one year around St. Patrick’s Day.
“I put together a show that became a small festival, I grabbed a couple of other painters and it kind of grew,” he said of starting the faire in the mid-1980s. “I thought, maybe we can do this again, it was a focal point for artwork and we had music for the reception, some food and drink … before you know it, it’s a full-blown festival celebrating the culture of everything Celtic.”
That premise has remained the same throughout the years, even as the faire has expanded and now includes multiple bands, specialty acts such as jousting, sword fighting demonstrations, ‘street’ acts like magicians and jugglers, and plenty of authentic food, drink and wares.
“The beauty of the faire,” Karnahan added, “is that it’s good when they start out small; it takes a while for a concept to grow. Thirty-six years ago Celtic music wasn’t that big, it didn’t have much of a following and really the only time people would think about it was St. Patrick’s Day when they were drinking green beer.”
The Celtic Faire, he said, served up an alternative, providing plenty of culture to go along with music and libations.
“It was called a Celtic event, a Celtic Faire and it was the first of its kind ... there have always been groups that have done Highland Games (athletic competitions) and Irish Days,” he said, noting that the Celtic Faire encompasses Irish, Scottish, Cornish and Welsh and is the largest faire of its kind on the West Coast.
Music is the cornerstone and visitors can expect a full day of entertainment and activity.
March 11 the faire runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is geared more toward school field trips, with seminars, programs and reenactments. It is open to all but students make up the bulk of visitors the first day as educational programs are in the forefront.
March 12 the grounds are open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; March 13 the hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Ticket prices vary by the day and age of the attendees, with some package deals available. The faire will also post current health department recommendations due to the ongoing COVID situation. More information on the event and ticket prices is available at the website: celticheritagecelebration.com
There is a whiskey tasting competition, the jousting, the music, the food, and many booths with a wide variety of handmade wares and specialty items.
Headlining musical group, Skerryvore, is named for an island off Scotland and is a group that has been popular there for about a decade, said Karnahan. Another returning favorite band is the Wicked Tinkers, while the Black Irish Band will also be back on stage and The Fire will perform. These are just a few of the groups on the schedule.
“There is real diversity, it’s not just one style of Celtic music,” Karnahan said. “We go from the traditional bagpipe or the fiddle to the ancient Irish harp so you will hear different time periods, different styles. We will have full-on bagpipe bands, dancers, a few Celtic rock bands with real high energy.”
For those that like competition, there will also be such events as the hammer throw and the caber toss, common to Highland Games, and the knights in full armor jousting in the arena.
You might even run in to a Viking or two, he said.
“We try to represent everything, not just the history but also the culture, the food, beer, whiskey and the crafts, things people have made,” Karnahan added. “We have 100 vendors; it’s amazing, there are kilt makers, flags, foods that are imported … there are always people there that are friendly, will talk about the culture. A lot of our re-enactment groups will be there … it’s kind of neat, you get all the different history.”
So whether it’s an archery demonstration the swordplay, perhaps the chance to sample and rate whiskey or just enjoy music and immersing yourself in culture, Karnahan said visitors will not be disappointed.
“It’s a full day of entertainment, four stages of music and all the side acts, the ones that are more spontaneous for children to enjoy, a fire eater, puppet show, juggler, magician,” the longtime event director said. “We offer a well-rounded day of sights and sounds.”