Friday, September 27, 2013

Greeley Irish Festival

Seven years ago, North Platte developed Rail Fest and Greeley, Nebraska developed the Greeley Irish Festival on the same weekend each year. Naturally, being involved in tourism in North Platte dictated that I devote my time closer to home.

However, this year, the entertainment lineup in Greeley was just too stellar to miss! It started out with the Dublin City Ramblers, then the Wild Colonial B'hoys, and finished up with The Elders. If you love Irish music, you know you're going to see some quality performances from these groups!

I did fulfill my local obligations first - spending all day Friday hosting bus tours of Bailey Yard and filming at the Cemetery Tour in the evening. Then bright and early Saturday morning, Mark and I and our neighbors hooked onto their camper and made the three hour trip to Greeley.

Greeley, Nebraska (the official name is Greeley Center, but is more commonly referred to as simply Greeley) is about an hour north of Grand Island on Highway 281. It is a tiny community - according to the 2010 census, only 466 people call Greeley home.

As you can imagine, with a small town like this, the business district isn't too big, but there are two pubs, two markets, two banks, a medical clinic and several agricultural businesses. Driving around town (which only took about 10 minutes), we found a quaint, quiet, well-kept community.

There isn't much lodging to speak of in Greeley (wouldn't a few Airbnb homes be perfect?), but they have laid out a great campground adjacent to the festival grounds which really filled up over the course of the weekend.

But to get to the Irish Festival - it was amazing! GIF could write a book for other communities about how to do a festival right! First off, the area is completely fenced in, so you purchase tickets, show them at the gate then get an in/out wristband. This is so important because in order to survive, community festivals have to be SUSTAINABLE! If you can't find a way to make it cash-flow, the festival isn't going to be around very long.

What Irish Festival would be complete without Guinness, so the next stop is an ID check and another wristband. This is another way to make a festival sustainable! Revenue from beer sales is often what puts festivals over the top financially.

On the grounds are several large tents - beer, food, entertainment and comfort. There are multiple food vendors, souvenir and t-shirt vendors, and of course, beer. They had the old-standbys of Bud and Bud Light, but also Guinness, Smithwicks and Kilkenney, and a full bar.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking - why does there have to be alcohol? Do you have to drink to have fun? The answer is that since the beginning of time - really, since the beginning of time on earth - alcohol has been a part of daily life and especially a part of socialization and celebration. You think you can't have a family friendly event while serving alcohol? Think again. If people are going to learn to drink responsibly, you can't segregate alcohol consumption in an out-of-the-way place where adults don't have the chance to model responsible alcohol consumption. At no time did I see anyone falling-down drunk. What I did see was adults enjoying a beer or cocktail, and entire families, extended families, babies to great-grandparents (and all their friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and even complete strangers) enjoying an event together.
As soon as we arrived, we put our lawn chairs in a spot with a great view of the stage (honestly, there isn't a bad seat at the festival, though). Then went to find food - traditional Irish fare plus festival standards like hamburgers and funnel cakes. We bought t-shirts and hoodies and even raffle tickets for a quilt, which we didn't win!

There is a Cultural Center where you can learn about Greeley's Irish roots and more about Irish culture and music. Outside, between acts on the main stage, Dowd's Irish Dancers and the Omaha Pipe and Drum Corp performed - what a treat to see these talented artists.

Each main attraction artist performed two 90 minute sets, so you can really get your fill of great music! On into the night, it was fantastic to see the little kids dancing right in front while the adults were doing the same thing just a few feet away.

By midnight, it was all over - just one day of great fun. We hope to make this an annual tradition.
If you go:

  • Be sure to keep abreast of the plans for the celebration by visiting their website, www.GreeleyIrishFestival.com.
  • Secure a camper! Yes, there are lodging options listed on their website, but none are as close as you can get in the adjacent campground. Be sure to let them know you're coming by reserving your camping space.
  • If you can, arrive the day before - I understand that often one or more of the entertainers will be holding court in one of the pubs in town.
  • Purchase your tickets in advance online - it'll save you $5 each.
  • Take lawn chairs.
  • Plan on having LOTS of fun!




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