After taking 2016 off, the Bakersfield Celtic Music Festival is back with the same music, kilts and beer guests have come to love and expect. But there are a few surprises under those bagpipes for the now one-day festival with a new venue and activities.
Moving from Cal State Bakersfield to the Kern County Fairgrounds, the festival will take place Saturday, with music starting at noon. In addition to all the things that make the festival what it is, there will also be new lawn games this year, making the festival even more of a party than it was previously.
“We’re really trying to mix stuff up a little bit,” said Marty Brownfield, a member of the society’s board of directors and immediate past chieftain. “We’re keeping some things the same. People like to come but they want something different from time to time.”
The Kern County Scottish Society, which puts on the festival, was forced to cancel it last year due to rising expenses. Taking the year off to recalibrate, the nonprofit decided to change venues for the music event and bump it from a two-day event to just one day.
“The previous venue got to be expensive, and we were always concerned about the weather,” Brownfield said, noting that even though the event is held the same time of year each time, guests would often stay at home because it was too hot or too cold for an outdoor event. “We’re taking that out of the equation and bringing it inside.”
Although the organization did have to raise the event’s price this year, the increase comes with a pretty sweet trade-off: two free beers — or wine, soda or water, if guests prefer something else.
The festival is also now only for those 21 and older, though those younger Celtic music fans who will have to miss out this time might be happy to learn that to make up for it, the society decided to make the Scottish Games & Gathering a two-day event in 2018.
“We’re giving parents a night out without the kids, and we’ll make up for that in March with a two-day Highland Games,” Brownfield said.
While the music is the main draw of the festival, Brownfield thinks guests will also enjoy the new lawn games, which include cornhole, a washer-toss, lawn darts, oversized Jenga and lawn Twister, which will be played like the classic game only on grass instead of on a mat.
“There might be people in kilts playing lawn Twister,” Brownfield said, noting that that could be a warning or an enticement, depending on the person.
Of course, all the beer and games would be incomplete without the music. Local bands The Angry Brians, Whiskey Galore and Banshee in the Kitchen will perform along with other Californian bands BlackEyed Dempseys, The Ploughboys and Whiskey & Stitches. Most of the bands are a little more hard-rocking than traditional Celtic music. The closest to traditional the bands get is Banshee, Brownfield said, and they’ll play first.
“We want to wake people up and progressively get their energy up until they’re screaming and dancing in the aisles and having fun,” Brownfield said.
But don’t ask Brownfield to pick a favorite. He knows better than that and would like to avoid angering any of the bands.
“All of these are really, really good bands,” he said. “We wouldn’t give you crap to listen to.”
With a full day of music to enjoy, guests will want to keep their energy up with some food. Brownfield said options will include bangers (sausage), tri-tip and, of course, haggis. Don’t write that last one off just yet, though.
“Everyone hears bad things about it, but I compare it to people hearing bad things about menudo,” Brownfield said, “but once they try it, they like it.”
In addition to various beers for sale, guests can also partake in whiskey tastings, sampling Irish, Scottish and American varieties. The tastes are $5 a piece, Brownfield said. He encourages guests to drink responsibly and plan to have a ride home if necessary, either through a sober driver, taxi, Lyft or Uber. Or guests and their cars can be taken home through DDI, Designated Driver Inc.
To commemorate the fun of the day, guests can get their picture taken by Photo Booth Rentals. There will also be a 50/50 drawing to raise some money for the society while giving one lucky winner a chance to take home some cash of their own.
Celtic might be in the festival’s name, but that doesn’t mean attendance is limited to those with Celtic roots.
“Everybody’s welcome!” Brownfield said. “If you’re not sure (about the music), come out and see. Celtic music’s not all bagpipes. It’s not all accordion, either.”
Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.