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).

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