With festival season in full force, music of every genre — from folk to jazz and blues — can be heard around St. John’s this summer.
But one festival in particular, the Féile Séamus Creagh, puts the spotlight on traditional Newfoundland and Irish music.
The third annual Féile Séamus Creagh will take place at Gower Street United Church July 26-30, with a show at Regina Mundi Complex in Renews July 28.
Artistic director Graham Wells says the festival has grown since its inauguration in 2010, with the inclusion of workshops and a night of traditional Newfoundland dance at the Rocket Room.
“When we started out, we just had the concerts,” says Wells, who added a guest lecture by Dr. Colin Hamilton to the Féile schedule this year.
The lecture, “Music and Identity: an Irishman’s experience in Newfoundland,” will serve as the kickoff to the festival on opening night at the Arts and Culture Centre MMAP Gallery in St. John’s.
The next five days will feature performances by Newfoundland musicians Greg Walsh, Kelly Russell, Jim Payne, Alan Ricketts, Mike Hanrahan, Matthew Byrne, Billy Sutton, Dave Panting, The Freels, Fergus O’Byrne and Wells.
Other musicians include Toronto native Duncan Cameron, and Ireland’s Colin (Hammy) Hamilton, John Faulkner, Benny McCarthy, Colm Murphy, Nell Ní Chróinín, The Donohoes and Raw Bar Collective.
Raw Bar Collective is one of the headliners of the festival and features some of Ireland’s top instrumentalists and singers, including Nell Ní Chróinín, winner of TG4 Singer of the Year at the Gradam Ceoil 2012, Ireland’s traditional music awards concert.
“We pick some of our best artists and some of the best artists from over there and put them onstage side by side to showcase the interrelation between the two different traditions,” Wells says.
“It was in the spirit of that that a lot of the artists from away were selected and are going to be paired up with the artists from here.”
The Féile Séamus Creagh began in memory of the late Irish fiddle master Séamus Creagh, who became a part of the music scene in Newfoundland when he lived in the province for five years.
Creagh was born in Killucan, County Westmeath, Ireland, in 1946, and came to Newfoundland in 1987 to perform and pass on his knowledge of traditional music.
Wells is one of several musicians who had been influenced by Creagh, and had the privilege of meeting the man and working with him when he moved to Ireland after high school.
“I visited with Séamus quite a bit. I knew him from before when he was in Newfoundland, but obviously I looked him up when I moved to Ireland because he moved back by that point,” Wells says.
“I lived in Galway, he was down in Cork. But I spent quite a lot of time down there when I had time off or holidays or weekends.”
Creagh shared his tunes and techniques with Wells, and later collaborated with him for the album, “Island to Island,” a collection of Newfoundland-Irish music released in 2002.
“We recorded with people from this side of the Atlantic and people from that side. I think it was the first collaboration of that kind,” Wells says.
Sherry House, one of the organizers of Féile Séamus Creagh, says the festival aims to continue the legacy of mentorship that Creagh left behind.
“Séamus was a really sweet man. He really encouraged younger people. So when he died in 2009, everyone was really saddened by it,” House says.
Shortly after Creagh’s death, Wells came up with the idea for Féile and has since expanded on the format.
This year, workshops will be held in harp, accompaniment, accordion, flute, singing, bodhrán, fiddle and uileann pipes — one of the foremost traditional Irish instruments.
Lessons are tailored for beginner, intermediate and advanced musicians of all ages, and are taught in an intimate setting by musicians from the Féile lineup.
Wells says participants last year were given the unique opportunity to work with Paddy Keenan, one of the best pipers in the world.
“There was one particular young girl who had just gotten the pipes and she couldn’t even play a note on them, and by the time she was finished, she could play a jig,” Wells says.
“So if you’re a beginner, it’s no trouble at all. You can come down and we can get you started on whatever instrument that you’re beginning on.”
As a festival situated directly between the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival and Wreckhouse International Jazz and Blues Festival, Féile organizers say they are not worried about competition.
“We actually put ourselves where we are on purpose. This is a good opportunity for this niche tourism market of people that tour to these festivals,” House says.
“So you don’t want to put your event on the day that another one’s going to come, but it’s nice to put them in close proximity so that people can hop from one to the other. So we’re put in there for a reason.”
Wells hopes to continue with the Féile Séamus Creagh for many years to come, and hopefully reach a long-term goal of taking the festival to Ireland with a group of 15 to 20 Newfoundland musicians.
“More people are playing traditional music now and, as a result, more people are listening to it and getting into it,” he says.
“I think it’s actually headed in a good direction.”
Tickets for the Féile Séamus Creagh are available at O’Brien’s Music, and at Wells and Company Personal Service Lawyers, or by calling 693-8311.
For the Renews show, tickets are available at Ultramar Renews, Foodland Ferryland and Ultramar Cape Broyle.
Further details and a complete festival lineup are available at www.feileseamuscreagh.com.