Bill Reid:
bringing the music together

When Bill Reid first started organizing Celtic music festivals, he worried he might get a bad reputation.

"We held the first one in a great room off the turnpike," he recalled. "It snowed like the blazes. We had this one big room. We filled it with vendors and had just the one stage. ... The next week, they knocked the place down."

The next year, he moved the event to a hanger in Warminster. A few months later, the airbase was closed by the government in a cost-cutting move.

"Then I went over to the Valley Forge Convention Center and said, 'This is what we do. We close places.' And we've been there ever since," he said. "It's grown and grown and grown."

Reid and his wife, Karen, run East of the Hebrides Entertainments, based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. This weekend, they are hosting the 19th annual Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Music Festival & Fair in King of Prussia.

"The thing of it is, people love the music," he said.

Reid said he got into the music at an early age, via his father's Scottish import business. Reid started attending various Highland games -- and quickly decided they needed more entertainment.

"I thought I could do something with this," he said. "I started bringing a few singers in to set up and perform. Then I put on a few shows of my own and branched out into the Irish world."

Now, he organizes Celtic music events across the country, including a few in recent years here in Lancaster. But his favorite event is the Mid-Winter Festival, he said. "It's just big. It's a lot of fun."

Reid plans shows that are top-heavy with big-name acts and traveling bands from around the world, with a mix of local performers.

"There's no sense doing a festival with bands people can see every weekend locally," he said.

The planning process never stops, he added. "Let's see," he said. "This festival ends on the 20th. I'll put planning the next one off to the 22nd. I need a day for cleaning up."

Actually, Reid said, he's already talking with DeDannan in Ireland and the Old Blind Dogs in Scotland about the 2012 event. "It's an ongoing process," he said.

It's also hard sometimes, he added, deciding who not to include in a lineup.

"We hear from the public who they want to see. This year, people are asking where the Screaming Orphans are," he said. "I'll miss the girls, but we had them three years in a row, and they wanted to try something else. We'll probably get them back next year."

It's tough, he said, because a lot of working relationships with the artists have developed into good friendships.

"That's the hardest part," Reid said. "We become good friends with these guys, so when you don't hire them, you feel funny about it. I mean, how do you turn them down when they show up at your house?"

The festival opens at 6:30 this evening with a concert featuring the Hooligans, Albannach, the Young Dubliners and Jamison.

Entertainment resumes at 10 a.m. Saturday with the MacLeod Fiddlers. Main Stage performances throughout the day include Albannach, Brother, The Elders, Seven Nations, the Tannahill Weavers and Rathkeltair. Second-stage entertainment begins after 11 a.m. and includes Hadrian's Wall, Seamus Kennedy, Annalivia and the Paul McKenna Band.

Many of the same performers -- along with a few additions -- are back Sunday for more.

The weekend includes workshops in the Irish and Scots Gaelic languages, Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey tastings, dances and dance lessons, fencing classes and bring-your-own-instrument music sessions.

The festival closes Saturday at midnight and Sunday at 8 p.m. Visit for the full schedule.

[ visit the festival website ]

interview by
Tom Knapp

19 February 2011

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