Fall Celtic fest

Celebrating Samhain at Blue Room with music, stories and dance

The Irish word “Samhain” (pronounced “sowin") means “summer’s end.” In medieval times, folks set ritual bonfires atop the hills of Ireland during a three-day Festival of Samhain, celebrating the end of the harvest and marking the beginning of the “dark half” of the year. Samhain actually dates all the way back to the early days of the Druids—who celebrated while wearing animal skins and masks—and is the forerunner to today’s Halloween.

“For the Celtic world, Samhain is really the most important of the four [Celtic] seasons,” said Mark McKinnon, Butte College English teacher and guitarist/singer-songwriter for popular Chico Celtic band Ha’penny Bridge. His band will be at the Blue Room Theatre once again this year for the second annual Samhain celebration.

McKinnon—who describes himself as “a Celtic mutt"—will also be performing with The Celtic Knights of the Sea Men’s Choir alongside an all-star cast of characters that includes local attorney Denny Latimer, Chico State English professors Lynn Elliott, Matt Brown and Steve Metzger and Chico City Councilman Tom Nickell. The Celtic Men’s Choir has been involved in performing at and organizing local Celtic celebrations since the Blue Room’s first Bloomsday celebration 15 years ago.

McKinnon describes some of the choir’s songs as “really silly stuff,” but added that the final sing-along of the night will be “Loch Lomond,” a well-known, traditional Scottish song that McKinnon said had last year’s audience in tears.

Other highlights for this year’s celebration include a few duets with McKinnon and lovely Ha’penny Bridge vocalist Molly McNally (also of Dick and Jane), plus Irish dancers, humorous skits, ghost stories—even an audience-participation game show called “Clan Feud,” a play on the popular Family Feud TV game show. All of the “Clan Feud questions will have to do with “the influence of the Celtic nations on us today,” according to Chico State theater professor and Samhain director Gail Holbrook.

“It’s kind of like a variation on the ceili,” McKinnon pointed out, referring to traditional Celtic gatherings in homes where people sing, dance, play music and tell jokes and stories. “We decided last year that Bloomsday was such a success, that we needed more [Celtic celebrations].”