Bagpipes, xorbing and tomfoolery mark the Rocky Mountain Irish Festival

Time to dust off Grandpa O’Malley’s old fiddle — Fort Collins is transforming into the land of green and Guinness this weekend.

No, it’s not March — nor is it even close to St. Patrick’s Day —, but it is time for the Rocky Mountain Irish Festival.

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The festival began in 2008 in Fort Collins. After being away for two years, it returns to Civic Center Park this year with a special mission.

According to founder John Schreck, Sunday has been declared “Rams Day” at the festival. There will be a special entrance gate set up both Saturday and Sunday specifically for CSU students and staff, where they will pay $7 instead of $12.

Fifty percent of proceeds from that gate will be donated to the CSU Marching Band to help fund their trip to Dublin for the St. Patrick’s Day parade in March. The band is performing on the festival’s main stage Sunday at 1:45 p.m. and 3 p.m.

“Obviously (students should attend) to enjoy the Irish history, culture, education and music,” Schreck said. “But we’re really hoping to get a huge crowd Sunday to show support.”

Net proceeds from the main gate go to the Poudre School District Foundation to support music education.

For musically-inclined attendees, a “Best of the Feis” fiddle contest will be open to all ages Saturday at 2 p.m. Participants can register in advance for $5 or on Saturday for $10, and will have their main gate fee waived.

“Whoever wins, we’re going to put them up on the main stage Sunday afternoon to perform their winning song in front of everyone,” Schreck said.

According to Schreck, the festival usually lines up a large conglomerate of national acts. This year will be different.

“We are playing local bands and then we’re also adding in Irish dance troupes, pipe and drums, Irish harp – a variety of musicians,” Shcreck said.

Festival performers include national championship fiddler and Fort Collins resident Vi Wickam, MileHighlanders Pipe & Drums, Bennet School of Irish Dance, Colorado Youth Irish Dance, Indigent Row, and headliner The Commoners.

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“We’re an Irish jam rock band, which is really kind of a blend that you don’t get anywhere else,” said The Commoners’ lead vocalist, who goes by Mouse. The Commoners have headlined the festival since its inception.

According to Mouse, who is also the vendor coordinator, vendors this year range from Celtic clothing and a variety of foods from around the world to Xorbing and vertical bungees.

Other attractions include an “Animals of Ireland” exhibit, “Tom Foolery” magic show, Irish authors, a professor of Irish genealogy, hurling exhibitions, and film screenings of “Beautiful People” – a documentary about traditional Irish music in New York.

The festival is also looking for volunteers. It takes anywhere from 100 to 140 volunteers to make the festival happen, Schreck said.

Schreck didn’t think that any negative stereotypes of the Irish existed in today’s society.

“I’m half-German and half-Irish so I can look at it from two perspectives,” Schreck said. “Irish people are probably truly the most dignified, honest, loving group of people that you could involve yourself with.”

For more information on the festival students are encouraged to visit www.fortcollinsirishfestival.com.