The Celtic Music Feis (or Festival) is entering its 14th year in Ocean Shores, with 31 groups and artists set to perform at three venues.
Galway Bay, a block past the Ocean Shores gates on Point Brown Avenue, is the birthplace of the event that has grown into the biggest annual Irish music festival on the West Coast.
Hank Cramer, who tours the country from his Winthrop home, has become an enduring part of the festival. A regular performer at the pub since 1993, he was one of five musicians Galway Bay owner William “Liam” Gibbons booked for a modest weekend music festival in 2004.
That year, the pub moved from its cramped location on Ocean Shores Boulevard to its present home, and the greatly expanded space made the event possible.
In a recent interview, Cramer recalled playing in the old location: “There was no stage; the only space to set up and perform was right by the kitchen door into the dining room. I had to learn to listen for the waitress’ footsteps coming from the kitchen, so I could step out of the way before she swung the door open. Otherwise, she’d have clobbered me or the guitar. It probably looked like a dance routine to the patrons!”
He has watched the annual event grow and transform, performing at all of them from the start.
“As I recall, during the first year or so many in our audience were just folks who happened to be visiting Ocean Shores,” he said. “Then we began drawing music fans from Seattle, Vancouver and Portland who came specifically to hear the music. Now we draw fans from all over the country.”
Cramer said authenticity is the key to the festival’s success.
“I wish I had a dollar for every ‘pub’ in America that puts green food coloring in cheap beer and hires some hack to sing ‘MacNamara’s Band’ — that just isn’t Celtic,” he said. “The Galway Bay Pub goes to the trouble and expense to bring in the real deal: real Irish music, real Irish food, real Irish beer.”
Kríostóir Clements, who leads festival favorite Ockham’s Razor, of Seattle, said the fans are part of what makes the event special.
“Over the years we have gained a family in Ocean Shores,” he said. “We’ve celebrated with them, laughed with them, and mourned with them. Ockham’s Razor doesn’t have fans, per se, but rather friends.”
He added: “The audiences at the Galway Bay feis totally respect the musicians, and the musicians respect the audiences. In a way, to come here to perform music feels like coming home.”
Seattle’s Stout Pounders have played the event every year since 2010.
“The Galway Bay staff has really gotten things down to a science for streamlining food and drink service, shuttles between venues, and allowing bands time to set up, play, break down and move to next stage,” said singer/guitarist Marc Wallace. “It is such a cool community of musicians and fans that basically take over the town. There is really nothing else like it.”
Steve Gardner, of San Francisco’s Culann’s Hounds — back this year for their fifth festival — attributes the event’s growth and success to Gibbons: “His intelligence, execution and dedication to the Irish Arts are the reasons this has happened.”
Gardner also cites the fans: “Many of them have become friends, and we pretty much love this community. Like I said in my song … that I wrote about this festival: It’s the melodies so true, the songs that we knew, it’s the pint at the end of the day; but it’s the friends that we met that make me regret the leaving of Galway Bay.”