Residents of and visitors to Waterloo can help make history this coming weekend — and have a whole lot of fun doing it.
With a little luck o’ the Irish, that is.
The 13th annual Iowa Irish Fest runs Friday through Sunday. Organizers are hoping 13 will be a lucky number. Thanks to a significant expansion of the fair’s geographic area and entertainment offerings, organizers seem well positioned for a record year with a blessing of fair weather.
The festival is expanding four city blocks to the southwest to add another entertainment stage on Sycamore Street, next to the historic Black’s Building, and activities in adjacent Newton’s Park.
Iowa Irish Fest Director Chad Shipman also has said organizers are expanding the LSB MercyOne stage at Lafayette and East Fourth Streets to bring larger productions to that stage.
Shipman said Irish Fest has “substantially increased” its entertainment budget to allow for world-class performers on seven stages. There will be 22 bands and 55 entertainment acts at the fest.
Fest attendance had generally hovered at or around 40,000 for several years, breaking 48,000 last year, according to organizers, even with a soggy final day. But with the expanded fest area and entertainment offerings, the sky’s the limit, especially if the skies are blue all three days.
A stormy Sunday last year forced the Irish Fest Mass at Lincoln Park inside to Queen of Peace Catholic Church and wiped out the traditionally popular Sunday afternoon closing performance by festival favorite Gaelic Storm. But organizers have doubled down with the expansion. And there’s no quit in Gaelic Storm; they are back this year. With a little Irish luck, the only “Storm” will be the one on stage.
Other attractions include:
Trinity Irish Dance Company’s dance workshops, which run through Sunday for kids ages 5-13, culminating in a festival performance on Saturday.
Highland Games will be on northeast side of Lincoln Park, including events like the Scottish hammer throw and a sheaf toss, which entails tossing a bundle of straw wrapped in burlap bag with a pitchfork over a raised bar.
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A High Nelly Bike Rally will be 10 a.m. Saturday. The ride, which starts at Lincoln Park and hits the Cedar Valley trails, includes a competition for best vintage or Irish costume and best vintage bike.
Throughout the weekend, whiskey classes will be held at the Elks Lodge.
The Celtic Cruise will take to the streets at 10 a.m. Sunday from Silver Eagle Harley Davidson.
Several new events join the festivities this year. The Cultural Events Center has expanded into the Cultural Village, where blacksmiths, weavers and spinners will practice and display their crafts.
This year the Irish fest is recognizing veterans and active duty military throughout the weekend with a “Heroes Area” next to the Elks Club on Mulberry Street and a “Missing Man” ceremony from 2:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday presented by U.S. Marine Corps. Gunnery Sgt. Bob Livingston, a decorated Vietnam veteran.
This year’s entertainment lineup includes Scythian as the Friday night headliner, and Gaelic Storm headlining Saturday and Sunday.
The festival begins 4 p.m Friday with a parade down East Fourth Street and a 4:15 p.m. opening ceremonies at Lincoln Park.
For tickets, additional event information and shuttle routes, visit iowairishfest.com.
About 1,400 volunteers make the fest happen. More volunteers are being sought for this year’s expanded fest. Interestingly, the number of volunteers alone is greater than the festival’s first-year attendance of about 1,000.
Iowa Irish Fest has grown to become one of the premier summer Irish cultural celebrations in the country, attracting visitors from throughout the Midwest and beyond, adding $1.5 million to the local economy last year alone over the festival’s three days.
And that’s no blarney. Wear some green and create some green for your Cedar Valley neighbors at this year’s Iowa Irish Fest. Make this year’s fest the stuff of legend.
Do your civic duty and, as the Irish might say, have a grand time.