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Arts + CultureMusicLive Shots: Jigs galore, maypole madness at Céilí on...

Live Shots: Jigs galore, maypole madness at Céilí on the Lake’s Beltane celebration

Waterside Gaelic fête declares spring has sprung—and now it's time to shear the sheep.

The heart of a ceili (KAY-lee) is dancing, so it was fitting that one of the first events (after the bagpipes) of Céilí on the Lake, which Red Barn Productions brought to Marin’s Lagoon Park on April 27 and 28 to celebrate the Bay Area’s Irish heritage and Beltane was a maypole dance, a common expression of the joy of spring is also an intricate weaving of ribbons by the dancers.

Indeed, the beat was kept throughout proceedings. The event’s Beltane stage—named for the reason for the season, the Gaelic May-Day-spring celebration—featured the fancy footwork of The Jackie Flynn Irish Dance Academy, the Kennelly School of Irish Dance, Treble by the Bay, Brosnan School of Irish Dance, Healy School of Irish Dance, and even a not-strictly-Irish Morris Dance by Pipe & Bowl Morris. The groups cavorted through all manner of jigs, hard shoe, soft shoe, and a contrast between Irish and Scottish dancing.

While the Beltane stage was a more traditional venue, the Musician’s Snug offered an intimate outcropping on the shore of the lagoon. Attendees plopped themselves down amid the musicians for an up-close-and-personal experience with multi-piece Ag An Céilí. Quartet Blame the Whiskey played between sets, offering plenty of opportunities for folks to chat.

Storyteller Nathalie Reginster spun yarns about magic and clumsy princesses in the intimate poet’s corner. The Redwood Empire Sheep Dog Association captivated children and adults with sheep shearing demonstrations—and education. To whit: sheep are generally shorn once a year. While it takes a good bit of physical maneuvering to get the wether (a castrated male sheep—a new term I learned from the sheep trivia board!), in position, its actual shearing does not hurt. For interested parties, the resulting fleece was available for the taking.

Later, Roxy the border collie and handler Jennifer delighted crowds with a demonstration of sheep herding. Jennifer’s whistle commands took Roxy and the flock (some members fuzzy, some shorn) through their paces. The announcer explained how border collies have a particular physiology that enable the low crouch they use while herding. Their direct eye contact enables “effective and efficient” control of the sheep.

Even the vendors provided fun learning experiences, with Falcon’s Court giving people the chance to pay to pose with a western screech owl, a great horned owl, or a Harris’s hawk. At first glance this seemed merely like an IG photo op, but the donations helped to cover the costs of caring for the birds, who are brought to middle school classrooms for educational presentations.

There too was Guy Moore of Ye Pellucid Wares, crafting delicately blown glass on-site. Moore’s glass bottles of all sizes were available, but perhaps the most interesting were his diminutive tear bottles.

Cormac Gannon, a local Irish musician and owner of Heartbeat Bodhran’s, played his hand-crafted drums and chatted about local venues supporting the Irish music tradition. Games for kids, food for sale, and of course Guinness, Harp, and cider (kudos to onsite pun, The Bearded Goose, for using aluminum cups instead of plastic) were available. Here’s to many more Céilí on the Lake events in the years to come.

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