The summers of Amy Mackenzie’s childhood were not spent in the typical preteen fashion. While others her age were lounging on the beach or trying to beat the Pokémon League in their parents’ basements, Mackenzie was getting her Celtic groove on with regular ceilidhs at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts in St. Ann’s, N.S.
“A lot of us involved in the pipe world went to the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s [for summer camp], where every week the students would have workshops with people who are experts in Celtic crafts, whether it’s bagpiping or fiddling or square dancing. At the end of the week they would have a ceilidh where the students perform,” said the current drummer for the Fredericton Society of Saint Andrew Pipe Band.
“It would just be a lot of music, a lot of dancing and a lot of fun – basically just a Celtic jam session. You don’t need to be well-versed in anything since the audience always gets involved and everyone is cheering and laughing. It’s a really fun event.”
Originating from Scotland and Ireland but now common anywhere where Celtic culture is celebrated, a ceilidh is defined as an informal social gathering with folk music, singing, dancing, and storytelling.
It’s an experience Mackenzie hopes to bring to Frederictonians with the Fredericton Society of Saint Andrew Pipe Band’s second ceilidh fundraiser at the James Joyce Irish Pub on Friday, Jan. 24.
“People can expect a lot of really great music. Lots of people just like to stay on the sidelines and observe . . . but whether you want to get involved in dancing or you have a fiddle or a bodhran drum and want to jump on the stage, we encourage that as well because that’s what a traditional ceilidh is like,” said Mackenzie, adding that her Grade 2 competitive pipe band requires the funds from such events for their ever-mounting travel costs.
“We’re a pipe band so we travel around and do parades and concerts but our main focus is competition. We’re the only Grade 2 pipe band in the Maritimes right now so we have to travel to have competitions.”
However, this event is clearly more than just a fundraiser. Mackenzie believes that for a city like Fredericton with so much Celtic culture and history, a ceilidh would be a perfect fit.
“Fredericton has tons of Celtic musicians . . . a lot of people [who] can play the fiddle, the small pipes, or who can accompany with guitar and piano, they don’t really have a place do that on a regular basis. We’re trying to create a platform for those artists, so they’re not just playing at kitchen parties or their own apartment,” said Mackenzie.
“[This is why] we decided to have monthly ceilidhs, usually on the last Friday of every month. But this month we moved it to the 24th, because it’s Robbie Burns Day. It should be a really fun night. We just hope people will come and have a lot of fun and get a taste of the culture we love to celebrate.”
Entertainers at Friday’s event will range from award-winning musicians like Katherine Moller to local fiddlers and dancers. St. Thomas University student Paige LeClair can’t wait to show off her Celtic talents.
“I’ve been fiddling for 13 years, since the age of seven, and step dancing for 17 years, since the age of three. When I [found out about] the ceilidh on Facebook, I asked if they needed any entertainment,” said LeClair, adding that Fredericton’s less-than-vibrant Celtic scene was part of her motivation.
“I’ve been living in Fredericton for three years and the Celtic music scene is kind of lacking compared to what I’m used to back [home] in P.E.I., so I had to get involved somehow.”
LeClair will be showcasing some “jigs, reels and maybe fiddle and step dance at the same time.”
“It’s a casual but lively night and we will definitely have our feet tapping and hands clapping – and it’s for a great cause. Bring spoons and dance shoes because you won’t be sitting in your seat for long.”
Mackenzie couldn’t agree more. While she’s one of the key organizers for the event, she can’t wait to see what the evening has in store.
“You never know who’s going to show up at a ceilidh and that’s the fun of it.”
The ceilidh will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday at the James Joyce Irish Pub. Donations will be accepted at the door.