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Gavin’s picks up where Hunter Mountain left off

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    Celtic Cross, a New York City band that performs Irish pop music, plays at Gavin’s Irish Country Inn in 2016.
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    Courtesy of Bernadette Gavin-Palmieri Shilelagh Law performing at Gavin’s Irish Music Festival in 2016.
August 10, 2017 11:21 pm

EAST DURHAM — It’s the luck of the Irish as one festival door closes, another opens.

The International Celtic Festival, a summer fixture in Greene County for two decades, was shut down for good this week as a result of dwindling attendance.

Gavin’s Irish Country Inn will be holding its second annual Irish Music Festival, dubbed “Gavinstock,” from Aug. 18 to Aug. 20 with bands such as the Celtic Cross Band, the FDNY Pipes & Drum Band and Shilelagh Law.

The first weekend of music was held in 2016 with Shilelagh Law and an opening act as the only performers. The first festival was a more low-key affair but a sold-out show, Gavin’s Innkeeper Bernadette Gavin-Palmieri said.

“This is the first year with 12 acts,” Gavin-Palmieri said. “We really wanted to tune in on getting the best Irish music.

The festival was expanded this year due to Hunter Mountain canceling its long-running International Celtic Festival, which Gavin-Palmieri was personally disappointed about, she said. The festival brought in many people who stayed at Gavin’s and other area resorts.

“I think it’s a huge loss to the area — it hasn’t hit people yet,” Gavin-Palmieri said. “We have people coming in thinking it’s still happening.”

The International Celtic Festival was held at Hunter Mountain for over 20 years and drew thousands when it was a weekend event, Hunter Mountain Marketing and Communications Manager Katie O’Connor said.

“It also included Irish-American music, dancing,” O’Connor said.

The pipe and drum competition and an accompanying parade was a major draw for visitors, but attendance dwindled when many of the bands opted to participate in the World Pipe Band Championships, held around the same time of the Celtic Festival in August, O’Connor said.

“There had been a decline in participation from pipe bands and drummers,” O’Connor said.

The Celtic Festival was scaled back to one day in 2016, but the date was not changed because it was important for organizers to have a consistent date every year, O’Connor said.

“To change that might have conflicted with our guests’ schedules,” O’Connor said.

Gavin-Palmieri said the cancellation of the International Celtic Festival came down to financial reasons but she said Hunter Mountain could have attempted other ways to make money.

“You can make things work you just have to approach it a different way,” Gavin-Palmieri said.

Hunter Mountain’s weekend festivals like the four Oktoberfest events in September and October and the Ahimsa Yoga and Music Festival in November bring in many visitors who stay at hotels and resorts on the mountaintop and the surrounding towns, O’Connor said.

“Anytime we have any type of festivals, music events or any other large activity on the mountain, it brings in a larger amount of tourists,” O’Connor said. “We’re constantly looking at the interest levels of our guests.”

There are no immediate plans to bring back the International Celtic Festival, but Hunter Mountain is hosting a four wheel drive vehicle expo in partnership with Northeast Off-Road Adventures to be held Aug. 26 due to the popularity of 4x4 adventure events throughout the summer, O’Connor said.

“There’s nothing too similar in the area,” O’Connor said. “We realized there’s a high level of interest in that.”

Attendance and hiring superb entertainment are two of the most important factors of holding a festival at Hunter Mountain, O’Connor said.

“All of these factors come together,” O’Connor said.

Shilelgah Law’s fiddler Denis McCarthy dubbed the first year’s festival “Gavinstock,” and he and the other band members have been instrumental in getting the festival off the ground and seeing the Irish culture of East Durham retained, Gavin-Palmieri said.

“He’s been my biggest consultant,” Gavin-Palmieri said of McCarthy.

Gavin-Palmieri said the FDNY Pipe Band is looking forward to coming to the festival. The Pipe Band was a regular at the Celtic Festival. The festival can be adapted to have different kinds of music in the future, Gavin-Palmieri said.

“I would love for it to stay Irish in the future,” Gavin-Palmieri said.

Gavin-Palmieri has seen a large volume of interest for the event and there have been many advance ticket sales, she said. Events like Gavin’s Guinness Festival, now in its 10th year, and the East Durham Irish Festival have attracted more visitors recently.

“We have increased our events at Gavin’s,” Gavin-Palmieri said. “Catskill Irish Arts Week was definitely busier than the year before.”

The resort will welcome more campers this year and Gavin-Palmieri said she is looking to expand the resort to include a campground area. Gavin-Palmieri finds that camping has become popular again at festivals such as Mountain Jam and is affordable for visitors.

“We have been paying really close attention to the camping events,” Gavin-Palmieri said. “That seems to be a really big trend.”

Vendors from the International Celtic Festival are welcome to email Gavin-Palmieri if they want to set up shop during the Irish Music Festival. An Irish food truck will be on site. “We haven’t really pushed that end of it yet,” Gavin-Palmieri said of having vendors.

Gavin-Palmieri hopes word gets out that the festival is a three-day event and said many of the same Irish-American families come back to the resort year after year. Even though Gavin’s does not have a large budget, Gavin-Palmieri is happy to get those families to come back.

“I’m comfortable with it because I know I’m securing the Irish Americans coming to Greene County,” Gavin-Palmieri said.

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM