By Barbara Yule
Let the pipes and fiddles set your feet to tapping! September 21-24 ushers in the 13th year of “the biggest, little Celtic festival” in Colorado – the 2017 Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival in Huerfano County. Picturesque La Veta, located at the base of the beautiful Spanish Peaks, is the focal point for the majority of festival events. Sacred to early American Indians tribes, the Ute people named the Spanish Peaks Huajatolla (Wa-ha-toy-a), “Breasts of the Earth.”
Today, people living in La Veta still celebrate the peaks for the plentiful snow and rain they bring and the greening of surrounding valleys and uplands that sustain her people and abundant wildlife. Look closely, and you’ll see deer moseying down the street and resting under trees.
Unique in its scope and focus, the festival is designed along the lines of musical retreats in Ireland and Scotland, where attendees typically stay for an extended time and actually participate in scheduled and impromptu activities with guest performers and tutors. This festival offers a dazzling array of instrumental, singing, and dancing workshops plus fascinating demo/performances and concerts throughout each of the four days (lots of FREE events!). The festival has an intimate feel, and folks come back year after year to experience the rare blend of learning and entertainment and to share their passion for the craft and the music with like-minded, kindred spirits.
The festival started almost by accident in 2005 in the postage stamp-sized community of Gardner. My Scottish husband, Jack Yule (one of Scotland’s leading harp makers) and I had moved from outside Edinburgh to Huerfano County in December of 2000 for the sunshine – it tends to rain a lot in Scotland! The spring before our move, Jack raised a shed on our land – no running water or electricity – where we could live while he singlehandedly went about building our house. Jack was surprised to find he was the only Scotsman in the whole county. Not only that, but as a melodeon player himself, he could find no one interested in playing traditional Celtic music. The call went out and gradually a few hardy souls decided to give the music a try. Among them was neighbor and fine guitarist, Clark Diamond, who suggested issuing an open invitation to a musical picnic gathering (or ceilidh) on his land the summer of 2001. Forty people, including children, showed up.