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Celtic pride 

Experience a cultural legacy in full bloom -- and pray for sunshine

This weekend's Atlanta Celtic Festival gives the weather gods yet another chance to wreck an Atlanta rite of spring. With hopes of averting the storms that drowned the Dogwoods and muddied Music Midtown, the event aims to teach about the Celtic cultural legacy by celebrating it. And because music naturally accompanies celebration, the festival is going to feature continuous performances on three stages.

"We really tried to bring in well-known acts," says festival spokesperson Karen Simmons. "We've gotten a fair amount of acclaim for some of the international acts we get -- and then fill that in with strong local and regional favorites."

This year's headliner is the Prodigals. Made up of two Irishmen and two Americans, the group marries traditional Emerald Isle sounds with Ramones-like punk energy and polyglot drum-and-bass rhythms. Touring on the heels of its recent, hooky release, Dreaming in Hell's Kitchen, the quartet plays at 3 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, and 5:15 p.m. Sunday.

Rounding out the bill: Bad Haggis, Full Moon Ensemble, Sian James, Margaret Lyle Gravitt, Emerald Rose, Ossian Gillebert, Kim Flanagan, Keltic Kudzu, a Celtic harp competition and more. Musical workshops and jam sessions are also scheduled throughout the weekend. That "sessioning," says Simmons, is in keeping with the Celtic tradition of passing on music from one person to the next. "It's how [music] passed down -- by sitting down with whoever's leading the session and playing," Simmons says. "They end up helping each other."

And much of what is imparted, she adds, cannot be learned any other way. "There's a lot of ornamentation that isn't in any book."

In addition to the Irish, Scottish and Welsh musical pickings, other art forms and traditions will be showcased, including Celtic country dance from several local troupes, arts and crafts demos and vendors, a sheepdog herding demonstration, a Gaelic football match, children's activities and Celtic theater groups Theatre Gael and Gateway Performance Productions. The preservation of folklore through storytelling -- long a vital tradition among the Celtic peoples -- also will enjoy a high-profile place at the festival.

This year's event is Atlanta's 15th such celebration of the history and legacy of the Celts, who consist chiefly of the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Breton peoples and their descendants. Atlanta makes an especially fitting site for the event, considering the Celtic influence throughout the Appalachians and the Southeast and its impact on this country's musical traditions.

"This whole area has been largely settled by and impacted by the Celts," says Simmons. "And with their merging with the Native Americans, that turned into the very foundation of the folk music of the American Southeast."

The Atlanta Celtic Festival happens Sat.-Sun., May 18-19, at Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road. Sat. 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Rain or shine. $10 adults, $5 children 12 and under, seniors and students. atlanta.celticfestival.org.

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