Eileen Ivers, world-renowned Irish fiddler, grew up tapping her toes to the hillbilly musicians on the TV show “Hee Haw.”
“I would walk around the house with a wooden spoon playing air fiddle,” said Ivers, who grew up in the Bronx, New York. “They had great musicians. And I can see now that so much of American and Irish music is connected, whether it’s a hoedown or a jig or a reel or something with a mournful sound. It’s all folk music.”
Ivers said talking about the connection between the Celtic music she’s famous for and other forms of folk music, including American, is something she does at most of her shows. And she plans to do it Saturday when she plays two shows as part of the Saltwater Celtic Music Festival, along with her band, Immigrant Soul.
She will be among more than 50 musicians scheduled to play the festival, scheduled for Friday through Sunday in Portland.
While the festival lasts all weekend, most of the music will happen Saturday at half a dozen indoor venues downtown. There will be a few free performances and talks on Friday and Sunday, but the bulk of the action is Saturday.
Other acts from around the country and Maine scheduled to play the festival include The Prodigals, Mari Black, the Gothard Sisters, Fodlha, The Press Gang and The Pubcrawlers. Tickets for Saturday are $25 in advance $35 at the door, and includes all shows that day.
A person could see Ivers at 8 p.m. at Port City, then perhaps The Gothard Sisters at 9 p.m. at One Longfellow Square and Jack Devereaux and Tom Rota at 11 p.m. at Blue. Or one could start the evening with Ashley Davis’ 7 p.m. show at One Longfellow Square and see Ivers’ later show at 10 p.m.
The festival, organized by Maine music producer Randy Labbe, began as an outdoor festival at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick in 2011. But Labbe said it was too much work — and too much risk — to present such an extensive festival outdoors. This year it moves to downtown Portland, and indoors.
Ivers has been at the forefront of the revival of interest in Celtic and Irish music during the past 25 years in the United States. She was a founding member of the all-female Irish music group Cherish The Ladies in the mid-1980s. In the 1990s, she was the fiddler for the “Riverdance” Irish dance troupe. Her music has been used in major films, including “Gangs of New York.”
Ivers, who has played all over the world, said she was impressed by Saltwater’s schedule. Besides the music, the festival includes storytelling, instrument workshops and dance demonstrations.
“I think it’s great, because by having dance and stories, it shows how the cultures are connected,” said Ivers. “Irish step dancing, for instance, is basically clogging.”
Though Ivers grew up in New York, her parents were both Irish immigrants who came to this country from County Mayo in the 1950s. So she was exposed to Irish music by her parents, but her father was a big bluegrass and country fan, too.
What really drew Ivers to a life in music was the violin, the instrument itself. She was attracted to the instrument early on, whether it was being used to play classical or Irish or country music.
“It’s just so emotive, like a human voice,” she said. “It sounds gorgeous no matter what the music.”
At her Portland shows, Ivers said people can expect a band that includes fiddle, accordion, whistles, acoustic guitars, upright bass, percussion and vocalists.
“We do Appalachian tunes, a set of French Canadian tunes, plus Celtic, and talk about the similarities and connections,” Ivers said.
While Ivers has been playing Celtic music for more than 30 years, the festival also includes up-and-coming acts like The Gothard Sisters, who range in age from 19 to 27. All three sisters, from the Seattle area, play fiddle and have competed in international Irish dance competitions. Their shows in Portland will include the three sisters dancing and playing multiple instruments.
Greta Gothard, the oldest sister, said the family came to Celtic music through dance. She started playing classical violin when she was young. And, since she had to get a very small violin, that instrument got passed to the next sister when she outgrew it. And so on.
Then, the sisters all took Irish step dancing, where they heard live Irish fiddle music at every competition. It felt natural for them to start playing Irish music themselves.
“We heard it so much, it just made us want to play,” Greta Gothard said.
WHEN: Friday Oct. 3 through Sunday Oct. 5
WHERE: More than half a dozen venues in downtown Portland.
HOW MUCH: $35 at the door; $25 in advance, through Friday.
MUSIC SCHEDULE: The festival includes some free demonstrations and separate-ticket gatherings, Friday through Sunday, which are listed on the festival website. The main musical performances are on Saturday at indoor venues in downtown Portland:
Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St.
7 p.m. – The Prodigals
8 p.m. – Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul
9 p.m. – The Prodigals
10 p.m. – Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul
11 p.m. – The Pubcrawlers
One Longfellow Square, 181 State St.
7 p.m. – Ashley Davis
8 p.m. – Mari Black Trio
9 p.m. – The Gothard Sisters
10 p.m. – Mari Black Trio
11 p.m. – John Byrne Band
Acoustic Artisans, 594 Congress St.
Noon – Acadia Trad School
1 p.m. – Guitar workshop with Chuck Donnelly
2 p.m. – Intro to pipes with Chris Gray
3 p.m. – Intro to music of Canada with Aout Gris
4 p.m. – Acadia Trad School
7 p.m. – Aout Gris
8 p.m. – The Press Gang
9 p.m. – Fodhla
10 p.m. – Ashley Davis
11 p.m. – Open house
Blue, 650 Congress St.
3:30 – 5:30 p.m. – Session hosted by Tom & Mike from Boghat
7 p.m. – The Press Gang
8 p.m. – Nicole Rabata and Bethany Waickman
9 p.m. – Darlin’ Corey (Erica Brown and Matt Shipman)
10 p.m. – Ed Pearlman and Will Woodson
11 p.m. – Jack Deveraux and Tom Rota
Midnight – Performers open jam
Bull Feeney’s, 375 Fore St.
9 p.m. – Dave Rowe (open admission)
Maine Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray St.
1 p.m. – Highland dance with Emily Smaha
2 p.m. – Highland and Cape Breton step dance with Laura Scott
3 p.m. – Scottish country dance with Pat Tillotson
4 p.m. – Irish dance and music with The Gothard Sisters