BELFAST, Maine — Toe-tapping Celtic music, men wearing kilts and cheese will all play a starring role in Belfast next weekend, thanks to the 6th annual Maine Celtic Celebration.
The event, held at the Belfast waterfront, will feature performers including Acadian group Vishten of Prince Edward Island, fiddler Chrissy Crowley of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and Irish musician Michael Black.
But for many, including organizer Claudia Luchetti, the best part of the weekend is the rough-and-tumble New World Cheese Rolling Championships. Groups of men, women and children all compete separately to chase a wheel of Cheddar cheese down the hill on Belfast Common.
The cheese is made by the State of Maine Cheese Co. in Rockport, and features a thick rind that protects it from bumps, batters and the grabbing hands of all those competitors.
“Once you cut them open, the cheese inside is perfect,” Luchetti said.
The winner takes home the cheese — and the glory. Hundreds of spectators cheer and laugh as the competitors fight to become the next U.S. National Cheese Roll Champion.
“I love the cheese roll,” Luchetti said. “It is very hysterical. People are really kind of fearless about throwing themselves down that hill.”
Despite that, the Belfast event is “kind of tame” in comparison to the old-world cheese roll that takes place in Gloucester, England. Thousands go to that one, she said, and some have gotten injured in the wild dash for the cheese. That event is controversial, which is not quite the case in Belfast.
“ I think we’re getting a reputation,” she said. “Certainly hundreds are watching the New World Cheese Roll, and excited about winning the cheese.”
Some live to compete, others like to watch and cheer and many enjoy sitting in the shade of the beer tent and listening to the tunes that float over the picture-perfect harbor, she said.
The event is by donation only, with organizers asking for a suggested donation of $10 per day. It costs about $40,000 to bring in quality musicians, she said, and every year the festival has ended slightly in the red.
“We have to figure out how to raise money for the rest of the year,” Luchetti said. “It would be great if we could do our fundraising in advance [at the festival].”
Other events include a parade Saturday morning to open the celebrations, a gala dinner Friday night at the Belfast Boat House featuring local foods and drink, the Celtic Breeds Dog Show, the Highland Heavy Games and the Not-So-Heavy Kids Games.
During the weekend, musicians also will hold workshops at the Belfast Boat House where attendees can bring their own instruments and learn.
“It really is a community event,” Luchetti said.
For information, visit www.mainecelticcelebration.com.