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With Omicron surging, Passim’s annual Boston Celtic Music Festival goes virtual

Alasdair White will perform Thursday and teach a workshop on Sunday at the BCMFest.Leila Angus

As we’ve learned in these last years, the best-laid plans of mice and men fall victim to COVID.

With the Omicron variant spiking, Club Passim made a last-minute pivot from a ticketed, live four-day event to streaming its 19th annual Boston Celtic Music Festival for free, Thursday through Sunday, via Facebook, YouTube, and its website.

“It’s not our first rodeo,” says lead festival organizer Summer McCall with a laugh, citing Passim’s other virtual pandemic-era events.

Some events will be prerecorded, others will be livestreamed. There are no tickets, though a $25 donation is suggested for each day.

For the uninitiated, BCMFest annually showcases music from Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton, and other Celtic communities, from traditional sounds to more contemporary takes.


Summer McCall is the lead organizer of this year's BCMFest.Dylan Ladds

Here’s the week’s lineup:

First Round Concert” on Thursday is billed as an introduction to Celtic music in Boston through a mix of longtime and recently arrived local performers: Matt and Shannon Heaton kick things off at 7 p.m., followed by Hanneke Cassel and Mike Block, Copley Street, and Alasdair White and Eamon Sefton.

Shannon Heaton was one of the founders of BCMFest with Laura Cortese. “These are artists who are steeped in traditional music,” McCall says.

“Roots & Branches” on Friday features Portland Country Dance Orchestra, Rakish, plus Ethan Setiawan and Neil Pearlman, starting at 7 p.m.

The night’s theme is “branching out of the traditional concept a bit,” McCall explains. “The Portland Country Dance Orchestra is a new group put together by Katie McNally and Neil Pearlman, and they’re doing largely New England-based music. That’s a fun new project.

“Rakish, they’re often known as an Irish duo, but their new album coming out in February has some old-time elements. And Ethan and Neil Pearlman, they seem to be masters at bending tradition.”


Both weekend “Dayfests” — originally planned to last from morning to evening as live events — will stream from 6-10 p.m. Saturday’s features Elizabeth and Ben Anderson; Nathan Gourley, Laura Feddersen, and Devin McCabe; Leland Martin and Conor Hearn; Scottish Fish; Casey Murray and Molly Tucker; Glenville; The Faux Paws; and Jenna Moynihan

Sunday will see The Treaty Trio; Sarah Collins and Jonathan Vocke; Carroll Sisters with Friends; Boston Scottish Fiddle Orchestra; My Gentle Harp; Seán Heely and Owen Kennedy; Molly Pinto Madigan; and Rachel Clemente and Dan Houghton.

Both days represent “a hodgepodge of Celtic genres,” McCall says.

Two workshops for musicians will be conducted by Zoom on Sunday: “Irish Flute with Shannon Heaton” at 11 a.m. and “Tunes of the Scottish Gaidhealtachd with Alasdair White” at 1 p.m. Pre-registration is required, and the cost is $50.

Although students will Zoom and performers will be online, McCall says “the heart of BCMFest has always been to highlight the rich Celtic community of Boston and New England, [and] we’re still holding that tradition strong. There are so many amazing Celtic musicians who flock to the Boston area, and BCMFest has been a driving force for the last two decades.”

McCall, 28, is one of those musicians who moved to Boston to embrace the culture. Attending 2020′s BCMFest as an audience member “was the moment I thought, ‘OK, here’s my community. This is it.’ ”


When the chance came to direct BCMFest this year, she jumped at it. “I moved to Boston from California just on the whim of knowing that the Celtic community here was strong,” she said. “I wanted to be more connected to it.”

Next year, for the 20th festival, “we have The Sinclair reserved,” she says. “I’m ready to make that one a big, exciting non-COVID event.”

For more details on BCMFest, go to www.passim.org/live-music/bcmfest-2022.