(Published in September 08 Celtic Connection) World-Class musicians from around the U.S. and abroad will travel to Huerfano County in south central Colorado for the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival September 25 -28. They will give concerts, offer music lessons, talk on the music traditions, and partake in impromptu music sessions along the way. The towns of Walsenburg, La Veta, Cuchara, and Gardner, all take part in the County-wide festival ” and it all started in a shack and trailer that Jack and Barbara Yule called home. Jack and Barbara moved with their four cats from Scotland to Gardner, Colorado in December of 2000 just in time for Christmas. In the previous spring they came across for a month so Jack could “knock up a shed” where they could live while he single-handedly built the two-story house he had designed for the couple to live. Luckily they had an old tiny used trailer to stay in while this job was being completed. The shed turned out to be 16″ by 20″ ” divided the long way for a half to hold Jack”s work tools and the other half for them to live in ” no amenities, including no electricity the first year. World-Class musicians from around the U.S. and abroad will travel to Huerfano County in south central Colorado for the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival September 25 -28. They will give concerts, offer music lessons, talk on the music traditions, and partake in impromptu music sessions along the way. The towns of Walsenburg, La Veta, Cuchara, and Gardner, all take part in the County-wide festival ” and it all started in a shack and trailer that Jack and Barbara Yule called home. Jack and Barbara moved with their four cats from Scotland to Gardner, Colorado in December of 2000 just in time for Christmas. In the previous spring they came across for a month so Jack could “knock up a shed” where they could live while he single-handedly built the two-story house he had designed for the couple to live. Luckily they had an old tiny used trailer to stay in while this job was being completed. The shed turned out to be 16″ by 20″ ” divided the long way for a half to hold Jack”s work tools and the other half for them to live in ” no amenities, including no electricity the first year. American born, Barbara went to Scotland in 1978 with her then eight year old daughter Heather to study for a doctorate in folklore at the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University. Jack and Barbara met and married and her stay extended beyond the degree for 22 years. Jack had been first a boat builder in a East Lothian boat yard, then a cabinet maker and somewhere in between he worked in the building trade. His final challenge after he and Barbara were married was to learn how to design and make Celtic harps. He became so successful at his art that in 2004 the Smithsonian Institute invited him as the only harp maker from Scotland to exhibit his harps at their Washington D.C. Folk Life Festival honoring Scotland and their finest traditional artists. Besides working in wood, Jack”s other love was playing his squeezebox or melodeon, a popular folk instrument in Scotland. He learned to play while growing up on various farms in East Lothian where his father was a ploughman. Barbara set the backdrop for the family Yule, “Our little cottage in the hamlet of Silverburn south of Edinburgh drew musicians both professional and amateur for regular ceilidh evenings. Storytelling, my field, was also popular at these events. This was Heather”s upbringing including getting the opportunity when she was still a schoolgirl to accompany me on many of my field collecting trips. We traveled widely throughout the country so I could record traditional stories told by the traveling people (formerly known as tinkers). It is no wonder Heather eventually went on to become a professional Celtic harp player and storyteller herself.” When Jack and Barbara moved to Scotland, Jack was and still is the only Scotsman living in Huerfano County. It took him a wee while to find other amateur musicians like himself who enjoyed playing Scottish and Irish music. He did find a few such men and they met regularly once a week to jam together. Barbara explained how the seeds of the Celtic Fest were planted. “In the summer of 2001 a couple of our musician friends from Scotland came across to camp on our land, and so we organized a ceilidh in their honor. The word spread, as seems to happen easily out here in the country, and about 75 people showed up with food and drinks and we had a rip roaring good time. Another ceilidh was held the following year and the year after that ” whenever one or more of our friends would cross the ocean, instruments in hand. Every summer participants to these rather spontaneous events increased and dancing and sing-alongs were added. After the 2004 summer ceilidh a number of us thought it might be fun to organize an actual weekend Celtic music festival.” With only a start up loan of $2500, all Barbara could think to do was to phone several of their professional musician friends who, because of Jack”s profession, were predominantly harp players, and ask them if they would come at their own expense to help launch a new festival. “To my surprise everyone I asked agreed!” said Barbara. That first year included Scottish ballad singer Alison Bell, world renowned harpers Billy Jackson (Scotland), Grainne Hambly (Ireland), international jazz harpist Park Stickney who flew in from Switzerland and Alfredo Ortiz, master player of the Paraguayan harp, and finally Jane McMoran, a fabulous Celtic fiddler from Tennessee. “Jack volunteered to host the concerts and his dry humor made such a hit that he still has that job today. We even had our daughter Heather across that year to take part as a harp teacher and storyteller. We couldn”t guarantee these wonderful artists the price of their flight tickets let alone offer them a fee! – As it turned out in the end we were able to reimburse all their expenses, pay back our loan, and still have a little money left over as a start for a second year!” Not bad for the first try especially so when you figure the preparation for the festival took place in the 8″ by 10″ living-work space in the shed that Jack built, still without running water and just a wood stove for heat, and six cats (they had added two American strays to their family). At least the shed now had electricity and an uncertain telephone that was on the blink more than it worked ” they would have to wait for their telephone poles later along with a well for water. The next years saw many more great international and American artists join their festival ranks. From the very first year outreach programs were presented by the guest artists to all Huerfano County schools K-12 during the week leading up to the festival itself. During the weekend they offered classes, workshops and demonstration talks especially with musicians and lovers of Celtic culture in mind. The festival has grown in number and popularity year to year, but by design it strives for quality and not quanity. “Ours will always be a small festival because our concerts (this year 5, one of which is free) and our strong educational music program does not have as broad an appeal as say, a Highland Games event,” explained Barbara, “We try and bring in artists as much as possible from Celtic countries, or Americans with direct Irish and or Scottish ties who perform internationally to offer participants an opportunity to hear, enjoy and learn from artists not normally accessible to Southern Colorado. We hope in the future to include more of the exciting best Celtic musicians Colorado has to offer as we are getting to know them from their visits to our festival.” This year the festival have two popular duos with local Colorado ties ” the delightful Willson and McKee who actually are rooted in Walsenburg and Shannon and Matt Heaton who have a big Colorado following from their years displaying their skills in their Colorado based band Siucra (Shoo-cra, Irish for “sugar). The Heatons will be joined on stage for the Saturday night concert at the Fox Theater in Walsenburg with internationally renowned Irish fiddler Liz Carroll, premier Uilleann piper Jerry O”Sullivan, and Kieran Jordan, a beautiful master of Sean-Nos (Old Style) Irish step dancing. As the festival closes in on its fourth year Barbara, as festival director, continues to take on the mighty task of presenting the pure form of Celtic music and dance to Colorado, while Jack single-handedly builds a house and home. Progress has been slow but steady -Jack and Barbara moved into their unfinished house (November of 2006) and now they have running water as well as electricity! Stop down to the beautiful Spanish Peaks region the last weekend in September and enjoy the fruits of their labor. “We welcome all to another festival we think you will find exciting, and this time, you will be pleased to know, we finally have found a great pub in La Veta happy to welcome late night session players! For more information visit www.CelticMusicFest.com

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