Celtic Connections music festival reveals line-up for 'full-scale' 30th edition
Organisers have revealed a host of international guests as well as the return of many of the festival’s favourite acts to grace its stages since its launch in 1994.
Notable anniversaries being celebrated at Celtic Connections include fiddler John McCusker’s 30 years in the industry, which will feature special guests Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart, Kris Drever and Roddy Woomble, 10 years of the Eigg-based record label Lost Map, 21 years of Colin MacIntyre’s Mull Historical Society, and half a century of Skye’s Gaelic college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.
Lucinda Williams, Beth Neilson Chapman, Anaïs Mitchell, Sammy Rae & The Friends and Nickel Creek are among the Americana stars in the line-up, which will also feature Tennessee’s singer-songwriter Sierra Hull and Nashville star Rachel Baiman.
Other international guests include Austrian percussionist and composer Manu Delago, Moroccan-French outfit Bab L’Bluz, Nordic band Dreamers' Circus, African duo Amadou and Mariam, Malian superstars Trio Da Kali and Haitain voodoo blues rock singer Moonlight Benjamin.
The festival is joining forces with the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, the French event said to have inspired the creation of Celtic Connections, to stage “Celtic Odyssée,” a celebration of the Celtic Nations, featuring musicians and singers from Brittany, Galicia, Asturias, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. A “Celtic Runes” night will see musicians from leading Scottish and Scandinavian bands including Circus, Frigg and Kinnaris Quintet come together for the night.
The festival will open with a “Big Band” gala, with Hebridean rockers Peat & Diesel, Mercury Prize nominated pianist Fergus McCreadie and saxophonist Matt Carmichael, and singer-songwriters Karine Polwart, Sierra Hull and Rachel Sermanni among the special guests.
Other visiting performers at the festival, which will run from 19 January-5 February, will include Colin Hay, the Scottish-born frontman of the chart-topping Australian band Men at Work and the all-women Irish-American supergroup Cherish The Ladies.
Canadia-American singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright, Hothouse Flowers frontman Liam Ó Maonlai and Capercaillie’s Gaelic singer Karen Matheson will appear in the festival’s Transatlantic shows, while Roddy Hart’s annual Roaming Roots revue will feature Irish singer Lisa Hannigan, Del Amitri frontman Justin Currie and Admiral Fallow singers Louis Abbot and Sarah Hayes.
Celtic Connections will be staging its first major contemporary dance collaboration, Moving Cloud, a joint commission with Scottish Dance Theatre, which will feature a 14-piece folk ensemble featuring members of the bands Sian and Trip. Fiddler Chris Stout and clarsach player Catriona McKay will appear with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
The 2023 event will also see a reunion for festival favourites Treacherous Orchestra, as well as headline shows by new songwriting collective Hen Hoose, Blazin’ Fiddles, Breabach, Peat & Diesel, Matthew And The Atlas, Kim Carnie and fiddler Duncan Chisholm, who has performed at the event every year since the inaugural festival in 1994.
The 2021 festival was forced to be staged entirely online due to the Covid pandemic, while the reintroduction of restrictions in the face of the Omicron variant late last year saw many events postponed or cancelled, with the 2022 festival attracted just 23,000 attendees, compared to more than 130,000 in 2020.
Donald Shaw, creative producer of Celtic Connections, said the festival had been planning on the basis that next year’s event would be uninterrupted.
He added: “We don’t really have the capacity or resources to continually think about a plan B.
“It will be very much a full-on live festival, which will be pretty close to the size of the event in 2020, the last time we had a big festival.
"We didn’t really know where things were going last year, so we were a bit more careful about things like international artists, which we had very few of last year.
"We’ve also inheritated quite a lot of shows which had to be pulled at the last minute last year.”
Mr Shaw said he expected the festival’s audience to return in big numbers for the 2023 event, despite the impact of rising energy bills and inflation, which had forced Celtic Connections to increase ticket prices across the board.
He added: “We have to be passionate about what we’re doing. Folk music is the music of the people and music of communities. I think they’re going to rally and come out.
“As much as possible, we try to make our ticket prices a bit lower than if people go and see the same artist another time, as we’re always trying to encourage the multiple ticket-buyer.
“We are having to nudge up ticket prices, mostly because of the external logistical costs. Ticket prices are only ever as good as people prepared to play. I’d rather have 500 people at £10 than 200 people at £20. As far as possible, we’re trying to guage the market.”
Mr Shaw said the 2023 programme would feature a careful balance of audience favourites from the last 30 years with showcases for Scotland’s rising trad music stars.
He added: “I always think my role is to try to get a feeling for the zeitgeist of what is happening on the scene, but also fulfil the needs and wishes of quite a large audience.
“Across the board, we’re looking at how much we can try to develop emerging artists and how much we can rely on high-profile artists who will definitely bring in the crowds.
"It makes a lot of sense for us to have a lot of artists performing next year who have been at the festival over the years. “But for a festival like Celtic Connections to develop and survive you have to invest in the artists of the future.”
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.