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The Goderich Celtic Roots Festival: 6 Things We Loved About Our First Performance In Canada

Updated: Oct 8, 2023


Julie and Josh Kinn (Kinnfolk) at Courthouse Square
Performing at the Courthouse Square stage on August 8, 2023. Photo by Colin Field.


Up to this point in our lives, neither of us have spent much time outside the country. But this year alone we were given the amazing privilege of visiting Ireland (with a wonderful though all-too-short stopover in Iceland!) and most recently Ontario, Canada for the Goderich Celtic Roots Festival. If you're anything like us and love traveling to check out highland games and Celtic festivals around the country, this is one you'll absolutely want to put on the bucket list to see. Here are our top five reasons why Goderich is among our top favorite festivals:



1. Provides Crucial Professional Development For Musicians

Many artists like us are independent and started out doing performances as a hobby first, then a side hustle second. The problem is that most of us get stuck on step two and can't figure out how to break free from the 9 to 5 job. We can't thank Dolmen Entertainment Group in partnership with the Goderich Celtic Roots Festival enough for the priceless development courses they gave us before, during, and after the festival. Here's the thing: we know plenty that we need to do in order grow as a band, but sometimes the unknown is scary and can keep you from acting. Having a competent and professional team guide you in rank-ordering the most important items makes tackling new tasks a little less frightening. There are also so many subtle nuances they have helped us navigate, and those small changes lead to large positive results over time. We believe that if there were more high quality resources like them around, we'd see a huge growth in people creating great Celtic music around the world. While it is absolutely possible to make a living as an independent musician today, many of us just need that extra bit of help and encouragement to lay the proper foundation to make it work.




2. Attracts a Wide Array of World-Class Musicians and Entertainers

Holy moly, to say all the artists who performed here were good would be a gross understatement. As the Robinson Emerging Artists, we would watch these bands who have played together for ten or fifteen years and just be blown away by their arrangements and skill. We watched a couple of bands we'd seen before at other festivals and venues, but the vast majority of the bands were new to us, and we really enjoyed hearing their music and getting to know them. As a matter of fact, we created a playlist called Celtic Music: Goderich 2023 Traveling Tunes which features most of the artists that were there. Check them out when you get a chance!




3. A True Community-Supported Event

Goderich is a small town of about 8,000 people, and you really get that community feeling when you enter. Everyone we interacted with was so polite and welcoming, and it just made you feel excited and happy to be there. This town cares about its festival, and it shows in every detail. There were people of all ages there as well, and it was wonderful to see the amount of young people playing in the sessions each night. It was a reminder to us of the importance of keeping tradition by passing it on to the next generation. By welcoming everyone to participate in the way Goderich did, it honestly felt exactly like playing in the sessions in Ireland. Canada also does something called "billeting," which is the practice of families offering to house traveling musicians for festivals (usually, this applies to exchange students, but we're grateful they made an exception for us!). Our billet family made us feel right at home in a place we never visited before, and we're incredibly grateful to Marilyn for her generosity and for coming to cheer us on at our shows!




4. Top Quality Sound Team

The Goderich Celtic Roots Festival has been going on for over 30 years, and they are by far the best we've ever seen at handling sound engineering for Celtic music. As any professional musician will tell you, there is almost always a huge difference between the sound the audience hears and the mix of sound musicians hear from the monitors (for the uninitiated, those are the speakers that face the musicians). If not done correctly, the mix might not sound that great to the musicians, even if it sounds amazing to the crowd. That can really make it difficult for the musicians to know how they truly sound and lead to a false perception of their abilities. The sound crew understood what the instruments and artists needed to sound optimal, and they were an absolute pleasure to work with. The only downside to that is now we're officially spoiled.



5. An Incredible Week-Long Celtic Music College

In the week leading up to the festival, Goderich organizes four days of intensive courses on a wide variety of Celtic instruments and culture. Professional musicians come from all over the world to provide high-quality instruction by day and play in sessions late into the night at The Park House, the local pub. If you're looking to improve the music you play at your local session, the college is absolutely worth every single penny. We were lucky enough to both teach and take courses during the week, and we got in-depth instruction for improving accompaniment on guitar, bouzouki, and bodhran. We also studied songwriting, as well as ways to improve our singing! The best part about the college is getting to go through the classes and then see the instructors put those lessons into practice when they perform onstage. It's really inspiring to watch the people you've gotten to know and respect over the week showcase how good music can sound, and it gave us so many great ideas we will be pursuing as we go in to record our third album.




6. Beautiful Scenery

Goderich is located on the eastern coast of Lake Huron, providing locals and tourists alike an incredibly scenic boardwalk. There are several restaurants within walking distance, and down town is only a ten minute walk away. Goderich also boasts the world's largest salt mine, which goes below the lake itself. Barges and other large boats frequently travel in and out of the harbor and they're an incredible sight to see. Goderich was also awarded the town with the most beautiful sunsets in Canada, and we can certainly attest that they are stunning to watch. The Celtic Roots Festival itself is situated in a grove next to the lake, and the town made sure there was plenty of trees to provide shade and make you feel like you're still surrounded by nature. It somehow made a festival filled with 2,000 people feel cozy without making you feel crowded, which was a new experience for us.




Honorable Mention: Butter Tarts

Okay, so we'd never heard of these before, but prior to traveling to Ontario, the organizers told us the first thing we needed to try were some of the local desserts that make the province famous. There are quite a few pastries and treats that have come from this region of Canada, but the butter tart is the most famous, apparently. For our fans in the Southern U.S., it's a lot like a pecan pie if the filling was made with maple, though you can order it plain, with pecans, with raisins, or with chocolate added. They are incredible and we have since realized we've been living under a rock all this time and tried to make up for lost time by trying to eat every single one the town of Goderich had. Seriously, it's become a problem, and all I can say is if you make it up there, it's not a successful trip unless you visit Culbert's Bakery for a few (dozen) of them.



These were just a few of the thoughts we had from the week, but we could write several blogs raving about Goderich. What is your favorite Celtic festival you've attended? Let us know in the comments!





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