The Hebridean Celtic Festival came of age in style last week by smashing all records and enjoying the most successful event in its 21-year history.

And it never stops…Early Bird tickets go on sale tonight at 5p.m. via the HebCelt website - www.hebceltfest.com - for next year’s festival, to be held from 19-22 July 2017.  

The 21st HebCelt was the highest grossing festival in terms of sales, with tickets selling faster than at any time before and most shows were fully booked weeks in advance with an estimated 18,000 people – by far the event’s highest audience – enjoying four days of music in Stornoway and surrounding communities.

Scottish rock legends Runrig, who brought the festival to a close on Saturday night, led the praise for this year’s event.  Keyboard player Brian Hurren said: “It was incredible. The crowd was unbelievable. It was so good to hear Runrig’s music played at home, it just comes alive like nowhere else. It was definitely one of the top gigs the band have ever done.”  Drummer Iain Bayne posted on social media: “There are gigs and then there are experiences. We love every concert we play, of course, but few can match HebCelt.  What a crowd! The atmosphere and the energy were amazing. From the first beat to the last note we gave it everything. We were all on a high afterwards.  Thanks for proving yet again that Stornoway is very, very hard to beat.”

The festival staged more than 70 hours of performances in the main arena, at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway and in rural venues in Lewis and Harris – making it the biggest programme ever, while onsite trading hugely increased on last year.  Festival director Caroline Maclennan said: “It has been a truly remarkable festival this year. We have broken all previous records. Our sales income smashed our target and broke all previous box office records from the last 21 years.  This is easily our best performance, with big spikes firstly when we announced Runrig and put weekend tickets on sale back in November, and then when we released day tickets.  Since then sales have been incredible. Runrig are obviously a huge draw, especially in our unique setting in the Gaelic heartland, but we had a very strong and varied programme with a host of great artists on all four days.”

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Hayseed Dixie, Astrid, Julie Fowlis, King Creosote, Eddi Reader, John McCusker and Breabach were also among the line-up of stars that thrilled the international audience.

Over the four days Stornoway and the surrounding villages were crammed with visitors from across the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, filling hotels, guest houses and campsites in the area. The local VisitScotland office made an appeal for locals to house festival-goers with accommodation at a premium. 

Nearly half the audience came from outside the Hebrides, demonstrating again the festival’s importance to the tourism industry, with non-UK visitors making up six per cent of the total.  Alastair Lockett, VisitScotland’s assistant area manager (information and quality), Outer Hebrides, said: “The whole festival week surpassed anything we’ve seen before. Everything ran very smoothly and really good business was done all round.” 

Among this year’s visitors was Kathleen Eves, from Pennsylvania, who travelled to Stornoway after hearing about the festival via local radio station Isles FM on the internet.  She said: “I’ve heard about the festival for several years and when I heard Runrig were here this year I figured I should come. I also saw the opening show ‘Hebridean Women’ which was just great and there were all kinds of other little gems.  “There was wonderful music and all these things to see and do. I got to march in with a pipe band which was a unique experience – and the island itself is just gorgeous.”

A host of artists praised the festival, its setting and the fans. John McCusker, who this year is marking 25 years as a professional musician which has seen him play with the Battlefield Band and Mark Knopfler, played HebCelt as part of an extensive UK and European tour with his own band. He said: “We’ve just spent the last three months travelling all over Europe touring the new record and, no word of a lie, this is by far the best gig we’ve had all year.”

James Mackenzie, from internationally acclaimed Scottish folk band Breabach, said HebCelt was “one of the highlights of the year”, adding “(The festival) brings in so many people to the islands and the town was just buzzing.”

Scottish four-piece Sink Ships said: “HebCelt is an unbelievable setting for a festival. We love coming here – everyone is friendly and we are well looked after from start to finish.”

And rock band Hunter & The Bear added: “HebCelt is an absolute belter of a festival. The atmosphere in that main stage tent was electric.”