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Celtic fest concerns surprise director

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By Ben Orcutt -- borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The coordinator of the Front Royal Celtic Festival says he was taken aback after some Town Council members expressed concerns about this year's event during a Monday work session.

"I was blindsided by this," Michael Turner said Wednesday. "I had no idea that there'd be negativity. It shocked me."

Turner said Councilman Thomas E. Conkey came to his defense.

"The first thing he said was I don't see why you guys are grilling the guy like this," Turner said of Conkey. "It's kind of rude. It was rude and it was offensive. I don't know these people. I'm just a citizen in the area trying to do something positive for the town."

The Town Council has a request on its Monday agenda from Turner to allow the use the common area by the gazebo for the third annual festival slated from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on June 18.

In that regard, Turner is trying to rally as many people as possible to attend Monday's meeting to speak in support of the Celtic festival being downtown.

"There's alcohol, but it's not a drunkfest and we're going to make sure it doesn't get out of hand," Turner said. "The point is, again, the positive, the dancing, the music, tremendous heritage here in this area of the Celtics."

Turner said the event is family-oriented, and the charge is $5 per person or $25 for an entire family, which can be loosely defined.

"So we need some more family-friendly festivals," he said. "This is a great town. We need more things that are good for families here. And that's why we're doing this. It's not a personal venture. We're becoming a nonprofit. We're in the process."

Last year's event lost money, Turner said, with him personally taking the hit to the tune of more than $1,400. He said this year's event will benefit Scots for Tots, an organization that promotes children's health, according to its website.

"But it makes sense to be in the middle of town," Turner said of the festival. "Eventually we'll outgrow that area, which is fine. It's still small. So the town, in my opinion, should be an incubator for these things, these positive, small, little family festivals."

Turner said the first festival attracted 1,000 people, and last year's event drew 4,000 to downtown.

Councilman Thomas H. Sayre supports the festival.

"The Celtic festival is a family-friendly, educational festival and the merchants will have the ability to have sidewalk sales during the festival," Sayre said.

However, Mayor Timothy W. Darr and Councilmen Carson C. Lauder Jr. and N. Shae Parker have some concerns.

Lauder said he thinks there perhaps should be a permitting process for festivals.
"It's like the vendors," Lauder said. "You have to have a permitting process to allow them to do what they need to do and you also need a permitting process for a festival, regardless of size, to come in and perhaps the permit fee should be structured along the lines the bigger the festival, the more revenue generated, the more the fee should be on the sliding scale because it's going to take more work force through police and cleaning up afterwards."

Darr was like-minded.

"I think overall the town needs to, we need to look at a policy or rules, put something into effect that will maintain and support the whole festival activity thing," Darr said. "My biggest concern is it impedes on parking and some things in the downtown area."

Darr suggested there are other places the festival could consider, such as Gertrude E. Miller Park or the former middle school on 15th Street.

"It's not that I'm anti-Celtic festival," Darr said. "It's just the proper thing is to put it in the proper place so we don't impede the businesses downtown, so we don't impede the farmers' market, so we allow people to park their vehicles when they come to downtown Front Royal on a Saturday."

Parker spoke in a similar vein in a Wednesday e-mail.

"The Gertrude E. Miller Park adjacent to Bing Crosby Stadium would be a very suitable location with ample parking and other amenities which are not available at the Gazebo location," Parker said. "Another option would be the former Warren County Middle School on 15th Street, which houses Zuckerman Field. This football stadium and track which surrounds it, is used by other organization(s) ... and includes ample parking and could also make a desirable location."


It sure seems odd that the Town of Front Royal picks on this particular event. Mr. Turner must just not know the right people.

Front Royal is so agressive and hostile to small business it is just sickening. Unless, that is, if you know the right people, have the right partners, belong to the right club, etc. etc.

However, I do find it frustrating to have an event serving alcohol billed as a family event. Serving Alcohol and being family friendly do not go together. What we need are more events that are truly family friendly, not events that have children watching thier parents get drunk while the child is getting his face painted.

A few thousand folks gathered downtown for a festival just might be in a position and location to spend a few dollars at downtown restaurants or businesses. Economics 101 says traffic volume (pedestrian or vehicular) by your front door is a good indicator of potential customers.

A few thousand folks gathered at Crosby Stadium will have what chance to spend how much with who? If you own a hot dog cart you might be in luck.

Why not move the Festival of Leaves over to the Stadium? And don't forget Warren's 175th Anniversary activities should be confined exclusively to the Stadium, too.

I guess if you buy enough signs you get to stay downtown?

1000 to 4000 people to the main st. area! the stores on main st. can have sidewalk sales! sounds like the festival would be helping the downtown businesses, not impeading on them. the parking should be no diferent than the wine fest. or dancing downtown, talk about a drunk fest. drunk parents with little kids running all over the place. this council surely has some sort of hidden agenda with this issue. how long has this town had festivals? they are just now thinking of a permit policy. this town council is the laughing stock of the whole state.

Maybe the Celtic festival SHOULD consider a different location--Strasburg, or Winchester for example. Then when all the revenue goes to those towns the Little Caesers who are running Front Royal as if it was their personal fiefdom will see that their micromanaging is costing us much needed money!!! Better yet, maybe their swing vote supporters will see that in time for the next election. Really, local politicians need to learn that they are not as important as they seem to think they are.

Ok...so we don't want to impede parking for the downtown merchants. I would think the downtown merchants would welcome what could possibly be a couple of thousand people just like they do for the wine festival and the festival of leaves. Do these events not impact parking? They have and heavily promote Dancing Downtown where alcohol runs freely along with wine at the wine festival and they don't seem to mind. These events, I believe, are a financial burden on the town that is already suffering with budget woes but I don't see the Council trying to discourage them. Quite frankly, as a taxpaying citizen, I am a little outraged that they are giving the organizers of the Celtic Festival a difficult time instead of welcoming them with open arms!

For once, I think I have to agree with all of the above listed comments. People are generally social creatures and want to go where other people and activity are located. When the Celtic Festival becomes the magnitude of other regional festivals (i.e. Maryland Renaissance Festival), then I don't think anyone would mind staging it at the park or other larger venue. I am quite positive the organizers and the community would be thrilled if and when this happens.

"Serving Alcohol and being family friendly do not go together."

Apparently you haven't been to very many restaurants, carnivals, festivals, concerts, sports events or amusement parks lately. Activities for children are a staple at these places, along with beer vendors.

Perhaps there should be some sort of permit process and maybe the town has the right to collect fees from festival planners, however if these are not already established, then it's not realistic for the town to deny us this festival based upon thier desire to collect a fee. What's the concern being raised about alcohol being served? Are these concerns also present when wine tastings or wine festivals are mentioned? This festival is a tremendous opportunity for downtown businesses, and the Celtic Fest should be welcomed, embraced, encouraged, pursued- by residents as well as local business owners! Serving alcohol shouldn't be a concern, it is possible to consume alcohol responsibly. My point is, if there is a fee or process already in place, then fine- all festivals should be subjected to this process equally. But if there is no such process in place now, this is not the proper way to bring it up. If the town council intends to hold this against the Celtic festival, then the same should be applied to ALL other festivals- starting NOW. If the town council wants to be to blame for the loss of revenue, then by all means- press on. I am strongly against it. The Celtic Festival SHOULD take place as planned, without discrimination.

I would like to applaud all of those that pretty much agreed that this Town Council is playing favorites and has something against the Celtic Festival. As usual, Mr. Conkey has to be the rare one with any common sense. It's true that a fee may need to be imposed to handle the extra police and clean-up needed, but our businesses on Main St. do benefit from these events. As a major part of attracting "tourists" or visitors who might someday decide to locate in the Town, it could also generate future tax revenues. I agree there is a fine line with providing alcohol at these events, but if handled properly as is the case in other events, it doesn't need to be a problem. I'm surprised I didn't hear any comments about Tom Sayre's and Hollis Tharpe's reactions. I hope everyone that is submitting their opinions didn't vote some of these councilman in and decide to be there when its time to vote them out.

Jerry, from what I could see Councilman Tom Sayre completely supported the Celtic Festival and worked hard to have the festival approved. His public comments were 100% in favor of the "family friendly" festival. So I don't understand where you received your information, but he was, in my opinion, all positive.

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