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Celtic Classic Opens Tonight

Festival and Highland Games takes over downtown Bethlehem this weekend.

Celtic culture takes over the historic downtown tonight and all weekend as the Celtic Classic festival celebrates its 24th year.

The festival, one of the largest of its kind in North America, promotes the Celtic heritage through education, musical presentations, and traditional competitions in athletics, piping and dance. It is presented by Celtic Cultural Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Celtic traditions.

“Our mission has been to promote and preserve Celtic culture, that is why we have had this festival for the past 24 years,” said Jayne Ann Recker, the Alliance's executive director.

“Celtic culture is one of the founding cultures in the Lehigh Valley — Irish, Scottish and Welsh.”

The festival kicks off today with the band Blackwater at 4:30 p.m. at the Grand Pavillion, the Haggis Eating Contest at the Highland Field at 5:15 p.m. and Irish Songs of the Civil War with David Kincaid at 7:30 p.m. at Foy Hall.

There will also be live entertainment at these sites as well as the Tavern in the Glen, the Ice House and Jameson Irish Pub.

The internationally acclaimed Irish Folk band, Solas, will headline the 2011 Celtic Classic festival on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Foy Hall on Church Street at Moravian College. The opening act, McPeake, will take the stage at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for this concert are $11 and can be ordered online.

National and regional Celtic music performers will play throughout the day including Burning Bridget Cleary, Emish, Glengarry Bhoys, the Jameson Sisters and more with a range from traditional to contemporary fusions.

The festival will host the Fifth Annual U.S. National Highland Athletic Championships and International Legends Exhibition.

Competitors from as far away as Scotland and Iceland, will throw hammers, toss cabers and lift heavy stones. These were the traditional competitions at clan festivals since medieval times in Scotland.

The 14th Annual Celtic Classic Fiddle Competition will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Ice House. Fiddlers will delight audience members with traditional jigs and reels as well as slow airs.

The Bag Pipe Band Competition draws top Bagpipers from all over the country to compete. In addition to the games there will be the showing of the Tartan parade, whisky tasting, kids craft tent and plenty of opportunities to purchase Celtic merchandise and collectibles.

The festival will take place on Main Street and the festival area between Conestoga and Lehigh streets, today from 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Admission to the festival is free. A shuttle is available to and from the Martin Tower parking lot, 1170 8th Avenue, Bethlehem. Shuttle passes cost $4.00 per day and $2.00 per day for children under 10.

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