Friday, 29 June 2012

The man behind the smiling Montelago mask - part 2

(This post continues from its part 1 prequel, which can be read here.)

As significant and unique an undertaking as the Montelago Celtic Festival is, it's but a single bow in Maurizio Serafini's quiver. This is a man of many talents and interests, with a passion and a drive that invariably brings to fruition everything he decides to give a go.

As a performing artist in his own right, he recently launched his fourth group with long-time friend and co-organizer of Montelago, Luciano Monceri. Their first project was (and still is) Ogam, an acoustic group blending sounds and spirit through strings, air, and melodies from cultures spanning the globe. Then followed Mortimer McGrave and Friends, whose Celtic rock continues to be Maurizio's and Luciano's most popular outlet. The most recent musical intiative is The Storm, a band that defies categorization, merging the sounds of the sax with the bagpipe, the harp with the guitar, and the snare with the bongo in a fusion of celtica, jazz, hip-hop, tradition, and a host of other sounds from a diverse range of genres and cultures. The band is named after the 1984 album The Storm by Irish group Moving Hearts, whose piper Davy Spillane Maurizio counts as one of his many influences.

In between the band work, Maurizio and Luciano launched Vincisgrassi, a cabaret-type comedy group named after a type of lasagna particular to the Le Marche town of Macerata where the two of them grew up and went to school together. Performing in the region's dialect, their skits were eventually combined by popular demand into a 2011 film Succo di Marca (The Juice - or Gist - of Le Marche).

Now for most mere mortals, running three bands and a cabaret group, and organizing central Italy's biggest Celtic festival might constitute a rather full - if not overflowing - plate, but for Maurizio it doesn't end there. His early involvement in the Province of Macerata's Terra di Teatri initiative has more recently evolved into a collaboration with the Province of Ascoli Piceno in the form of the Festival dell'Appennino. In its second edition this year, some twenty diverse cultural events take place in the region's most evocative locations. Maurizio is heavily involved in the organization of at least six of them, amongst which was a seven-day Franciscan pilgrimage from Assisi to Ascoli Piceno, and a dramatic production entitled San Giorgio, il drago e i cavalieri del lago (St. George, the Dragon, and the Knights of the Lake), whose candle-lit set lit up Lago di Gerosa near Montemonaco like a fantasy.

These "pastimes", it bears pointing out, are just the main ones - there are others, all with a flavour of exploring and resurrecting culture, history, and tradition.

In his spare time (!!!!!), Maurizio cultivates a lifelong passion for travel, which in the past 20 years or so has taken on a distinct Asian flavour, sparked by a 1991 visit to Myanmar, where his "discovery" of the Bhuddist philosophy ignited a desire to learn more about it. Following this trip, a local event centred around Giuseppe Tucci - a pioneering archaeologist from Macerata who spent many years in the 1920s and 30s studying, teaching, and researching in India, Nepal, and Tibet - prompted further interest on Maurizio's part, and the more he learned the more he became fascinated by this extraordinary individual. In his inimitable way, the fascination turned into a passion, and numerous trips followed to Nepal and Tibet tracing Tucci's steps in the Himalayas. Aside from the Tucci interest, Maurizio has also travelled from Sikkim to Libya, and Pakistan to the Andaman Islands.

All in between organizing the Montelago Celtic Festival, naturally. It begins to make one wonder about what one could be doing instead of taking those afternoon naps, doesn't it? 

What's important to Maurizio in all of this, is to do something of value, but not to hold on to it - once it's done let it go, as Bhuddist philosophy suggests. "Everything is both important and unimportant.When it's finished I go for a walk in the mountains and let it all go. But it's not just about Bhuddism - Christianity too has some aspects that I find interesting. Of course, people play a big role in my life, and for me, everything regarding people revolves around respect - if I respect someone, I can do something with them, but without it, there's not much possibility."

Meeting and spending time with someone like Maurizio is energizing, and it also prompts a bit of introspection, to see if we're doing as much as we could be doing. And isn't that what it's all about?

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The man behind the smiling Montelago mask - part 1

The Montelago Celtic Festival's first shoots may have sprouted in 2003, but its roots had been gestating for some time before that. Indeed, its seed was planted some 20 years previously when a 21-year-old Italian traveller was taking a rest near a Scottish cliffside castle overlooking the deep, brooding waters of the fingers of the North Sea "somewhere near Inverness." As he sat in the spiritual silence, the air of bagpipes drifted into his realm from within the stony chambers of the castle ... and proceeded to change his life.

So enchanted was Maurizio Serafini with the experience that he - already a musician of various influences - took up playing the bagpipes himself. His commitment and determination - trademarks of his life - did the rest, with self-teaching and occasional learning trips to Scotland turning him into an accomplished practitioner of some repute.

But Maurizio is not just a musician that likes to travel - like most of his fellow marchigiani, he loves his homeland of Le Marche, and with a university background in the performing arts, he'd become involved in Macerata province's Terra di Teatri (Land of Theatres) initiative, where " theatre" means "anywhere capable of hosting a show - abbeys, piazzas, castles, parks, ..." and "show" means anything from music and dance to drama and film. (Convention is  not a feature of Maurizio's life.) Having already established himself as a preeminent Celtic performer, discussions with the province's then-director of culture led to the original idea of today's festival.

Hosted by the province on the alpine plain of Montelago not far from the festival's current location, the first edition in 2003 was a big success, attracting some 7,000 enthusiasts, who cleaned out the food provided within short order, prompting an all-hands-on-deck search for whatever comestibles could be found from establishments nearby. Maurizio's coup - first time out - was nabbing renowned Galician band Berrogüetto, whose performance remains one of his favourites over ten years of top-class acts.

As much as it's been a challenge attracting eminent groups, Maurizio's done an amazing job on a very limited budget, also bringing in Australian Celtic fusionist Mark Saul in 2006, Spanish virtuoso Hevia in 2009, and - his personal favourite - Celtic/world music group Kila from Dublin in 2010. This year he's done it again, with the Isle of Skye's cross-genre Celtic dance favourites the Peatbog Faeries topping the bill.

Maurizio's own bands Ogam and Mortimer McGrave routinely take the stage at Montelago, offering ambience and "music for the imagination" (Ogam) on one end of the spectrum, and rousing Celtic rock (Mortimer) on the other. This year he's chosen to rock, taking the stage on Friday 3rd August at 10pm.

After its promising beginnings, the festival has grown into an event keenly anticipated by the growing Montelago community, but where to from here?  "I'd like it to become a focal point for travellers and tourists coming from within and outside of Italy as they plan their trips here," says Maurizio. "For the Germans, Dutch, English, Americans and others making trips to this area, I'd like the festival to be the fixed point around which their other travel ideas are centred. And then also the new generation - I'd like to pass this on, for them to embrace it and take it forward."

After all he's accomplished with the festival to date, seems like he's got it truckin' down the right road - may the journey continue...

(The second part of this post can be read here.)

Monday, 25 June 2012

Montelago 2012 - getting there

For those with their own means of transport

From the Adriatic coast
Get off the A14 motorway (autostrada) at the Macerata/Civitanova Marche exit
Follow the SS77 highway (superstrada) towards Macerata/Foligno until the end of the dual carriageway, then continue on the single-lane SS77 until the plain of Colfiorito, and follow the map below.

From the Tyrrhenian coast:
Find your way to Foligno in Umbria, then take the SS77 towards Macerata until the plain of Colfiorito, and follow the map below.

(Click on the map to expand)

For those looking for a lift

The dedicated Celtic bus from the Adriatic coast:
Two buses from Civitanova Marche on the Adriatic coast to the gates of the festival at €4,20 round trip according to the following schedules:

Going there (4th August):
Civitanova Marche (Piazzale Cristo Re)               15:00                 17:00
Piediripa (in front of the Banca delle Marche)      15:30                 17:30          
Tolentino (Motel 77)                                        16:00                 18:00
Taverne di Serravalle (festival entrance)             16:40                 18:40

Going home (5th August):
Taverne di Serravalle (festival entrance)            11:00                 15:00
Tolentino (Motel 77)                                       11:40                 15:40
Piediripa (in front of the Banca delle Marche)     12:15                 16:15
Civitanova Marche (Piazzale Cristo Re)              12:45                 16:45

Space is limited (50 people per bus) so reservations are essential. Send your request to by 18th July with your name and surname, point of embarkment, number of people, and time. Your reservation will be confirmed by email.

Please note also that luggage space on the buses is limited, so bulky bags and camping gear can not be accommodated.

For more details on the Celtic bus, go to (in Italian).

By bus from Florence, Siena, and Perugia:
The RomaMarche bus line offers fares to Colfiorito from Florence (€19 one-way, €35 return), Siena (€15 one-way, €28 return), and Perugia (€6 one-way, €11 return) on the following schedules -

Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th August: Florence 16:45, Siena 17:15, Perugia 18:45, all arriving at Colfiorito at 19:40.

On Sunday 5th, buses depart from Colfiorito at 9:20 (arriving in Perugia at 10:40, Siena at 11:50, and Florence at 12:40) and 20:10 (arriving in Perugia at 21:20, Siena at 22:20, and Florence at 23:30).

For more information, go to

By train:
Book your tickets to Foligno (Umbria), and in the square right in front of the station, buses depart at various times coordinated with the train arrival times. Closest stop for the festival is Fonte delle Mattinate, just 2 km from Taverne and the festival.

For more information, go to the festival's transport page (in Italian) at

2012 Headliner - the Peatbog Faeries

Montelago organizers are choosy about their main acts, and 2012 is no different. This year the Peatbog Faeries take the main stage on Saturday night/Sunday morning at 1:00am, bringing their unique blend of Celtica and a smorgasbord of other influences to the expectant and appreciative Montelago community.

Hailing from the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides, the Peatbog Faeries have been described as the future of Celtic dance music. Traditional jigs invite in the worlds of jazz, hip hop, reggae, and techno, as their traditional sounds blend with the beat of electronica in a forceful fusion that leads to but one inevitable audience reaction - dance.

Their bold Celtic sound, fashioned from high-energy melodies and backed by a rhythmic power designed to accelerate the heart beat, has raised the roof on stages all over the world, winning numerous awards such as the Best Live Act at the prestigious Scots Trad Music Awards. Their music has also found its way on to soundtracks for a variety of DVDs and radio and television programs, including a performance in Glasgow for the BBC's Proms in the Park in collaboration with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

The band's inventive and originality approach to their material gift their audiences with a high-voltage live performance which is never predictable, and where anything is possible.

Noteworthy among their works, 2009's Live captures the excitement of the live performance, while Dust, released in 2011, follows a new path for the band, and is astounding listeners everywhere.

Band members:
Peter Morrison - bagpipes, flutes
Peter Tickell - fiddle
Innes Hutton - bass, percussion
Tom Salter - guitar
Graeme Stafford - keyboards
Haikney Stuart - drums

Sample tracks can be found on the Montelago Celtic festival web site at, with more info on the band's ownsite at

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Montelago 2012 programme


Friday 3rd

16:00   New Road (Irish folk - Italy)
18:30   Rondeau De Fauvel (electronic/medieval show - Italy)
20:15   Montelago Celtic Project (experimental folk - Italy)

21:00   EtnoarmòniA (etno/acoustic - Italy)
22:00   Mortimer Mc Grave & Friends (Celtic rock - Italy )
00:00   Cisal Piper (folk/celtica - Italy)
01:00   Furor Gallico (Celtic/folk metal - Italy)

Saturday 4th

11:30   EtnoarmòniA (etno/acoustic - Italy)
15:00   Montelago Celtic Project (experimental folk - Italy)
17:00   Cisal Piper (folk/celtica - Italy)
20:15   Folkomondo (Irish folk - Italy)

21:15   La Corte di Lunas (reinassance/folk rock - Italy)
22:15   Rarefolk (folk /folk rock/fusion - Spain)
23:45   City of Rome Pipe Band (Scottish pipe band - Italy)
01:45   Peatbog Faeries (celtica/electro folk rock - Scotland)
02:30   New Road (Irish folk - Italy)
03:45   Rondeau de Favel (electronic/medieval show - Italy)


Rugby: Saturday 4th, 10:00-15:00

Celtic games: Saturday 4th, 15:00-19:00

Fantasy literature presentations & discussion: Visions from the Shire - Tolkien and fantasy tradition in Ireland: Friday 3rd & Saturday 4th, 15:00-18:30

Workshops:  Saturday 4th, 16:00 (Ancient fencing, historic archery) and 17:00 (Scottish bagpipes, Irish bagpipes, banjo, Irish violin, flute & tin whistle, medieval & renaissance dance) 

Monday, 18 June 2012

Montelago 2012

“2012 was meant to herald the end of the world, but we would rather pronounce it the 10th anniversary of the Montelago Celtic Festival.”  (Artistic directors and chief organizers Maurizio Serafini and Luciano Monceri.)

OK, if there wasn't a MCF this year, it probably wouldn't literally mean the end of the world, but for the developing Montelago community, who start looking forward to it the moment the last one has ended, it would be more than a big disappointment. Thankfully for the many thousands that fall into this category, it isn't a factor, and as  with each edition, it's going to be bigger and better this year, as the anticipation reaches its crescendo on August 3rd and 4th.

Aside from the now customary high-class acts on the main stage, a second more "intimate" venue has been created - the Mortimer Pub, which will feature main stage acts in the afternoon (& the morning on Saturday), and continue until the big boss gets going around 9pm. The full programme will be posted in a subsequent blog post, but for those that are impatient, you can go to the festival website (in Italian) and check it out ( Suffice it to say, though, that following on the knockout success of Hevia, Kila, and Berrogüetto in past editions, this year's headliners the Peatbog Faeries and the City of Rome Pipe Band are sure to live up to the standards everyone's come to expect.

The established favourites will once again be available - Celtic games on Saturday afternoon (tossing the caber, stone-throwing, and tug o' war), traditional dance and music workshops, fantasy literature presentations, a Celtic village, beer and food stalls, and the unusual (for this area) and engaging 50-plus stalls of Celtic crafts and curiosities, amongst them the Tolkein tent.

Following on from last year's inaugural 7-a-side rugby tournament, this year's edition (held on Saturday 4th) is open to women (definitely worth a visit), there's a photography competition, and the heart of the festival - camp city - will enjoy a modicum  more of orderliness with demarcated sites and "street" divisions. Most importantly, for personal comfort, a "refreshing point" will offer the cool spray of tranquil water for the dog day heat of August.

Getting there will also be easier this year, with buses organized from the Le Marche Adriatic coast, Florence, Siena, Perugia, and arriving trains in the Umbrian town of Foligno. Specifics will be detailed in a forthcoming blog.

But to wind up this post, let's not forget the primary motivation of putting this whole thing together - the Montelago community. Over to Maurizio and Luciano: "For the past 10 years, young people have been meeting here to share a smile and a beer, and to dance until dawn to the mellow tunes of the harp. It’s a testament to their attitude and sense of community that in ten years we haven’t had a single unfortunate incident. In today’s world of crisis and financial constraints, it’s a challenge to put the festival together, but it’s for these young people and their spirit that we work hard to ensure not only its survival, but also its success.”

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A first unique experience

Some two years ago I had my first experience of the Montelago Celtic Festival. I enjoyed it so much that it inspired me to write an article, which - by way of introduction - is reproduced below. Since then I have come to know the organizers (Arte Nomade -, and this year I am doing their international press. Over the coming weeks, blog posts will focus on this year's festival and all that it offers, as well as introducing the key players in the event. But before that, let's create a little atmosphere...

Given where we are - in a deeply traditional part of central Italy - the Montelago Celtic festival is best described in a single word: unique. Ringed by peaks of the central Apennines, the high Colfiorito plain on the Umbrian border comes alive over the course of a weekend in a feast of colour, sound, and humanity.

"Colour, sound, humanity ... unique?" I hear you justifiably ask. OK, consider this - there were enough kilts on display to suggest a McFellini family reunion (although the black Megadeth T-shirts that offset their tartan pleats were a tad incongruous). Then there was the all-night concert which ended after sunrise, a not unheard of phenomenon in these parts ... except for the fact that The Wild Rover by a band from Lazio named The Shire ended the musical festivities after a stream of Celtic favourites throughout the night. (A local marchigiano band named Mortimer McGrave closed out Friday's lineup.) Tossing the caber, McEwans Scottish ale, and a Tolkein booth (amongst many other similar attractions) added a flavour that these hills - and others in the region - have seldom (if ever) tasted prior to Montelago's first bash eight years ago.

But away from the stage, and the food, drink and craft stands, it's the life in tent city that defines the festival. A broad arc of coloured domes, gazebos, A-frames, and who-knows-what border one side of the site, with setups ranging from the sophisticated to the fleeting. Our neighbours, who obviously got there early, had their site neatly pegged out and cordoned off, military style, with a covered outdoor area and sheeted entranceway meticulously pegged down, citronella candles laid out symmetrically to repel the anticipated coordinated (and symmetrical) mosquito attack. Their shoes and boots stood neatly in paired obedience outside the sleeping area. The mosquitoes never came, obviously deterred by such organized defence, but it was all we could do to stop from mischievously disturbing the candles' symmetry and fussing the shoe ranks.

In front of us was an open-sided gazebo with an equally open-ended invitation for strangers and kin alike to join their festivities, while a few sites down a couple of night owls had draped their canvas loosely over a very low horizontal support constructed out of those flexible tent rods meant for the sides - if any thought had gone into its construction, it was fleeting, with only one object in mind: haste. Every now and then a chorus of voices would join forces to herald a developing primal roar, sweeping around tent city like a wind.

The majority of regalers seemed to be in their twenties, something of a surprise I must say - I expected more thirty- and forty-somethings - but despite their not inconsiderable overindulgence in a diverse menu of liquid refreshment (with predictable purgative results), there wasn't a hint of tension, confrontation, or anger. And this to me is what makes it uniquely Italian (or perhaps central-rural Italian) - the spirit of friendliness and camaraderie of a group of young revellers out on a weekend adventure. It's one of the many reasons that makes living here such a pleasure.

As for the music, it was pretty good all round, although the featured group on Saturday - coming on stage at 1:30 am on Sunday morning - was outstanding. Kila is an acclaimed seven-piece band from Dublin, playing a range of rousing music with Celtic overtones that was several notches ahead of their fellow performers. Well worth the trip on its own. Last year featured Spanish bagpipe virtuoso Hevia, demonstrating the organizers' continuing efforts to attract world-class headlining acts.

As we packed up and left at around 8:30 am on Sunday - as part of an extremely well-organized and civilized exodus - I reflected on why it took me four years to finally make it to this festival. But one thing's for sure - it won't be another four before I'm back again.

The Montelago Celtic festival is typically held on the first weekend in August. Details of the festival can be found online at (in Italian).