Dougie Maclean (Photo: Josh Cameron)
Organisers of the 22nd Hebridean Celtic Festival are celebrating another resounding success for the four-day event which has delivered lasting positive economic and cultural impact for its host community.
Festival director Caroline Maclennan said: “Our 22nd festival was a great success. The beautiful weather added to the wonderful atmosphere in and around the arena and the feedback from the artists, audience and traders has been extremely positive, demonstrating the enormous benefit to the community the festival undoubtedly brings.
“It is a relaxed, chilled out occasion and, with the kids running around enjoying themselves too, it provides a superb family experience.
Against a background of some music festivals in Scotland being discontinued, HebCelt is going from strength to strength, with this year’s event confirmed as one of the most successful in its history.
The festival was held from 19-22 July in the isle of Lewis, with headliners The Waterboys, Imelda May, Dougie MacLean and Lucy Spraggan.
It featured more than 40 acts and over 70 hours of performances in the main arena, in Stornoway town centre and in sell-out community shows in Lewis and Harris, reaching nearly 16,000 attendances over its four-day run.
Added Caroline: “The demise of other festivals underlines just how challenging it is to organise these large-scale events, particularly outside the bigger population centres.
“Our continued success is testament to the fantastic support we get from our audiences, funders, sponsors, supporters and from this community.”
Ho-Ro (Photo: Fiona Rennie)
During festival week Stornoway and surrounding villages were crammed with visitors, with nearly 60 per cent coming from outside the islands – from across the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - filling hotels, guest houses and campsites in the area.
Numbers visiting the Stornoway Information Centre were up by more than 40 per cent on the corresponding week in 2016, as Alan MacKenzie, VisitScotland islands manager for the Outer Hebrides, said: “The number of visitors to the area during HebCelt was tremendous.
“Many people came for the whole week so they had a chance to see all the amazing scenery and attractions the island have to offer, with many saying they will definitely come back to visit again.
“Feedback from festival goers has been really positive and the weather certainly helped those who were camping.”
Businesses also reported trading up on previous years. Colin Cameron, who runs Cameron’s Chip Shop in Stornoway, said: “I’ve run the shop for 16 years and it was the busiest I can remember. The festival does a great job bringing people to the island.”
And Netty Sopata, from Diggory Brown kilt making business which had a craft stall at the festival, said: “Over the past four years the craft tent at HebCelt has grown from a platform with international exposure, at which I can showcase and sell my work, to a venue at which I can strengthen local trading relationships whilst developing national and international ones.”
The Waterboys (Photo: Colin Cameron)
Leading acts also provided a chorus of praise for this year’s event: “The audience were absolutely wonderful and there was a great atmosphere and great feeling of community in the tent,” said headliner Dougie Maclean.
Steve Wickham, fiddler with The Waterboys, commented: “This is the third time we’ve been here and every time we come back it gets better and better. Beautiful music, beautiful audience and a beautiful place. What a blessing.”
Saturday headliner Imedla May said: “I had a fabulous gig, the audience were fantastic. They were warm, involved and open to anything. The band and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Thank you so much for having us back here and I hope we can come back again.”
Lucy Spraggan celebrated her birthday at HebCelt, and enjoyed her performance at the island party, saying: “It was absolutely amazing. The audience was unbelievable, singing along and they get stuck right in. It’s such a beautiful place to be in.”
And Lau added of their festival experience: “It was a joy to be back here at HebCelt. We’ve been coming here for 10-12 years and it’s been a beautiful thing to watch it growing from a small, intimate festival into a huge but, yet, still quite intimate thing.”
Imelda May (Photo: Colin Cameron)
The Hebridean Celtic Festival has also been recognised for its economic and tourism impact on the islands in a motion to the Scottish Parliament as Rhoda Grant, a Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, asked the Parliament to congratulate and commend the organisers and volunteers who run the not-for-profit event.
HebCelt has grown from a small event attracting less than 1,000 fans, to an international showpiece for roots, Celtic and traditional music. It is estimated it has generated nearly £25 million for the local economy over 22 years.