180 people attend celebration

Staff writer

Amy Osteen got up from her balcony seat at the Celtic Celebration knowing one thing: she just had to dance.

“It is so much fun,” the 4-year-old said as she danced down the aisle of the auditorium balcony. “I love the music. It makes me want to move my feet.”

Osteen was just one of the 180 people at the Celtic Celebration Saturday who listened to the lively, toe-tapping music. While many enjoyed the Knocknasheega Celtic Band, most said that they were equally impressed with Marion’s own bluegrass band, The Alternates.

“They’re just so good,” she said. “I had heard that they were opening, and I made sure to come early just so I could hear them. I always love to hear them play. They have a great sound; it just gets me all excited inside.”

Doug Kjellin, lead vocalist for the group, said they agreed to come because the organizers could not find anyone else to open for Knocknasheega. But most Marion residents were happy for an excuse to hear the band again — some even left after they were finished.

“I got what I came for,” Roger Stinson said. “Now that it’s over, it’s time to go home. I’ve been here quite a while anyway.”

But Jim Versch said that wasn’t the purpose.

“We want to get people’s blood pumping before the show,” he said as he prepared to go on stage. “Anything else will be an added bonus.”

The group played for about 20 minutes, stopping only briefly to turn their musical scores over so they could play the next selection. As soon as each song got underway, many present began tapping their feet to the beat of the music.

Fred Peters said he couldn’t stop his feet from moving, and he soon found himself slapping his knee as well.

“Sometimes you just can’t help yourself,” he said. “These tunes just get to me. I can’t wait to go to the bluegrass festivals this summer. Whenever I listen to this kind of music, I just feel so alive.”

John Korte of Knocknasheega said he was really impressed with the quality of the Marion band.

“I had to force myself not to get up on stage and join them,” the 17-year-old mandolin player said. “They are all really skilled at what they do. Jim (Versch) has an exceptional instrument. It was good to just get up there and talk with him about what we both love — mandolin-playing.”

Other band members agreed, saying that their bluegrass style would be an excellent addition to their band, and hoped that one day they could play together.

Mary Culligan said she didn’t know that the Marion band was playing, and would have arrived earlier if she had known.

“I’m a little disappointed,” she said. “They are a really great band. I wish I knew to come sooner. I’ve never heard them before, but my friends told me that they were good. I should have listened to them more. I love their bluegrass twang. It makes me feel like I’m a kid again.”

Many, like Bob Darrah of Marion, went to the Celtic Celebration last year, and knew what to expect.

“I came last year and it was really good,” Darrah said. “I just knew I needed clear my schedule for it this year — and I wasn’t disappointed. All the performers were wonderful.”

The evening’s festivities also featured an Irish meal, which was served by members of the Hillsboro FFA, as well as a two-hour-long concert from the Knocknasheega Celtic Band, and performances by Irish step and tap dancers.

While band members said they did not have a lot of time to practice for the event this past week due to all the snow, attendees said they didn’t notice, engrossed in the skilled playing of the band, the singers’ harmonies, and the beautiful stepping of the Irish dancers.

“It was our first time working with the school and we’re really impressed with them,” she said.

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