This weekend, the Motor City Irish Festival celebrates its sixth anniversary at Western Graham Field in Redford. The event boasts an array of family entertainment, including local Irish musicians, performers and vendors.
The festival includes new programming that appeals to a wider audience than previous years. For starters, nonlocal bands have been added to the entertainment lineup. National Irish acts The Mahones, Seamus Kennedy and American Rogues join Metro Detroit area bands, including The Diggers, Blackthorn, Bill Grogan’s Goat, The Jamrocks, Johnny Manning Band, The Codgers and Brother Crowe.
Festival Chair Kevin Murphy says Detroit’s Irish community has no shortage of talent to choose from.
“The number of direct descendants is pretty big,” he says. “In the festival alone we have 21 local Celtic bands, and there are about 10 more from the Detroit area that would be there if we had room for them. The United Irish Societies that puts on the St. Patrick’s Day parade every year has 32 different Irish organizations in it. I think it’s pretty substantial.”
Visitors will also have the chance to meet Red Wing alumni Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio. The two hockey stars will sign autographs on Saturday. Fans can meet Lindsay from 1-3 p.m. and Delvecchio 4-6 p.m.
Another new attraction this year is the “Whiskey Tasting Tent.” Gary McGinn, a whiskey expert from Dublin, Ireland, will host five tasting sessions throughout the weekend.
“I don’t know many Irishmen who don’t enjoy their whiskey,” says Charles French, festival co-chair. “It’s certainly part of the heritage, but it’s something we like to dig into and explore. Gary’s going to show us a lot of new things this year.”
Attendees will sip and savor Jameson Black Barrel, Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength, Green Spot, Powers and Midleton whiskies, while McGinn enlightens them with his expansive knowledge of spirits. Tickets are $25, in addition to the festival’s admission fee.
Murphy and French founded the festival in 2010 with a mission to promote local Irish culture, and it’s been expanding ever since.
“Detroit seemed to be the only major city around that didn’t have some kind of Irish festival to showcase our talent in our Irish community here,” Murphy says. “We started a small one in a park, and the next year we went to a field in Redford, and this will be our fifth year there.”
The festival’s attendance has been steadily increasing each year, from 500 visitors the first year to an expected 10,000 this weekend. French says the festival’s popularity has grown astronomically in the past couple of years as word about the event has gotten out to Detroit’s large Irish community.
“Livonia, Redford and the surrounding communities on the West Side all claim that about 40 to 60 percent of residents have Irish heritage,” he says. “There are 26 different factions of the Irish community, and our goal is to give every one of those an opportunity to be involved in the Irish Fest. We’ve got about 15 involved right now, so we’re getting there.”
Murphy and French aim to bring in a younger crowd this year. The children’s tent has been expanded to accommodate Ring of Steel, an Ann Arbor-based acrobatic troupe, and the organizers have booked the Mahones, a Toronto-based punk rock band, to headline the festival.
“They’re going to surprise a lot of people,” French says. “I’m not a punk rocker, but I gotta tell you I like their music. They’re going to be impressive.”
The high energy band starkly contrasts the festival’s usual lineup of traditional Celtic performers, emphasizing the organizers’ desire to make the festival more attractive to non-Irish attendees.
“I would hope that anybody who enjoys good music, good times, and dancing comes,” Murphy says. “A tremendous amount of people come out just for the good music and the fun of the festival.”
Motor City Irish Fest
Western Graham Field
14841 Beech Daly, Redford
Tickets $12; free admission for fathers on Father’s Day.