Kansas City Irish Fest Returns To Crown Center This Weekend. Here’s What You Can Expect | KCUR 89.3

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Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer, and with it comes Kansas City’s annual Irish Fest, Friday, Sept. 3 through Sunday, Sept. 5 at Crown Center.

In a regular year, the festival draws as many as 80,000 green-wearing revelers. But because of the pandemic, last year’s event saw workarounds such as at-home whiskey flight kits with a link to a virtual tasting, Zoom concerts and online cooking classes.

Irish Fest Executive Director Keli O’Neill Wenzel says this year’s ticket sales are up, but she can’t know for sure how many people will actually attend. What she does know is that the festival should be much closer to its pre-pandemic glory.

Here’s what visitors can expect at Kansas City Irish Fest 2021.

Family Fun

Kansas City Irish Fest 2021

KC Irish Fest

Kansas City Irish Fest continues this year, with socially distanced events for kids and the whole family.

Gone are the days of multiple small tents filled with activities and families gathered close to each other. This year, all activities for kids will be spread out across Washington Park to allow for lots of physical distancing.

There will be a large stage where events such as the Silent Disco will take place. Wenzel explains that the silent disco will be achieved by using wireless headphones tuned to one of two stations. Only people tuned to the same station will be dancing to the same music.

But kids aren’t the only ones who can enjoy the dance — the whole family can join in. “It’s so much fun,” says Wenzel. “We think this is for everyone.” And if you don’t feel like dancing, Wenzel says it’s just as fun to watch.

Other than these changes, watch for old favorites like balloon artists, inflatable obstacle courses, face painting, crafts and a scavenger hunt.

International Music

Kansas City Irish Fest Musicians

KC Irish Fest

A COVID-19 travel ban prevents our Irish friends and musicians from visiting us this year. But KC Irish Fest has found a way to feature Irish musicians and local artists.

As you may know, a travel ban is preventing our Irish friends from visiting from across the pond. This means that, once again, no musicians from Ireland will physically perform at Irish Fest.

But it’s not all bad news! Thanks to a grant from Culture Ireland, 10 bands will entertain festival-goers live on big LED screens on the Miller Lite and Boulevard stages. The lineup includes Maca, Shane Hennessy, Claire Sands, Aoife Scott and We Banjo 3.

And Sunday, at 7 p.m. on the Miller Lite stage, a new tradition continues. Local artists create a live “mix tape” of popular songs by Irish performers, an event that first appeared in 2019. “The idea is that everybody knows the songs,” Wenzel says. Participating artists this year include Calvin Arsenia, Jessica Paige, Ashley Davis and Gaelic Storm.

Keeping With Tradition

Kansas City Irish Fest Breakfast.jpg

KC Irish Fest

One of the festival’s signature traditions is back this year: Irish breakfast on Sunday morning, prepared by chef Shaun Brady.

While some things may look quite different, you’ll find many familiar events and offerings at this year’s Irish Fest.

Whiskey tastings are back in person, with tickets available each day of the festival. For $42, you’ll get a sampling of six Jameson whiskeys and a 30-minute session with a whiskey expert, or you can upgrade to a flight of six high-mark whiskeys for $64.

Comedy & Cocktails is back as well, with a guest who may be familiar to NPR fans. Irish comedian Adam Burke, a regular panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”, will perform at Irish Fest on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, and include a choice of one cocktail.

If you’re looking forward to a Saturday night whiskey tasting and comedy show, you’ll likely be in need of a good, hearty meal the morning after. Indulge in a traditional Irish breakfast on Sunday, Sept. 5, served from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and prepared by Irish chef Shaun Brady. Tickets are $40 for adults and $15 for kids.

After Parties

Whiskey pour - Dylan de Jonge.jpg

Dylan de Jonge

If you don’t get your fill of whiskey during Irish Fest, the Kansas City Irish Center presents the Whiskey Academy on Friday, Sept. 10.

If you don’t get your fill of whiskey at Irish Fest, the Kansas City Irish Center presents the Whiskey Academy on Friday, Sept. 10, from 7-9:30 p.m. at Drexel Hall. Whiskey expert George Vial will talk about the histories and nuances of eight whiskeys, all of which registered students will have a chance to sample.

And, also at Drexel Hall, the Irish Center is hosting a showcase of Kansas City’s best amateur boxers with announcer Micheal Mahoney on the mic. Ballroom Boxers takes place on Saturday, Sept. 18, from 7-9:30, and you can purchase tickets to watch in person or online.

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