PHOTO CREDIT: Michigan Irish Music Festival

By Victor Skinner

Muskegon – The 2020 Michigan Irish Music Festival was canceled because of the coronavirus, but Muskegon’s 100.9 FM is making sure it’s not forgotten.

Throughout the summer the station’s Irish music show Sounds Like Ireland has worked to keep the genre’s annual festivals alive amid the worldwide pandemic, providing a virtual line-up of the acts unable to perform due to social distancing edicts.

Sounds Like Ireland will devote two hours to what would have been a rollicking good time at Muskegon’s Heritage Landing, along with discussion about the acts and plans for the future.

“Basically, what we have been doing on Sounds Like Ireland is we’ve been featuring the various festivals, the people who would have played,” said Sounds Like Ireland host and creator and Michigan Irish Music Festival emcee Bill Marshall.

From 5 to 7 p.m., September 17, “we’ll be featuring artists that would have been playing at the (MIMF) festival, and we’ll have representatives from the festival to sit and talk,” he said. “We’re trying to do something positive. We’re just trying to feature the festivals and make something positive out of the cancelations that have been bumming people out.”

Sounds Like Ireland recreated the Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Penn-Mar Irish music festivals earlier this year, and the effort “increased listenership from all over the country,” Marshall said.

Sounds Like Ireland is broadcast weekly on Michigan’s 100.9 FM, both locally and online at www.MuskegonRadio.com, with a focus on Irish artists and music year-round. The show is sponsored by the Michigan Irish Music Festival.

“We’re happy about the new listeners we’ve been finding that are tuning in after hearing about the festivals on the show,” Marshall said.

Thursday’s show will feature several major acts that would have returned to the MIMF for 2020, including We Banjo 3, Scythian, Doolin’, and Sharon Shannon, as well as festival regulars Seamus Kennedy, Blackthorn, The Kreellers, and Kennedy’s Kitchen, among others.

“It’s just trying to keep people excited,” Marshall said.

MIMF officials canceled the 2020 celebration in May along with organizers of numerous other summer festivals across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted governors in most states to impose social distancing requirements, facemasks and other measures to limit the spread of the virus.

“First and foremost, the safety of our volunteers, patrons, musicians, and vendors was the most important factor in this decision,” president Chris Zahrt said in a prepared statement announcing the cancelation. “It is also important that we make this decision now due to the hundreds of details and months of planning required to produce the festival.”

The MIMF, known as “the best damn fest in the Midwest,” is an annual Muskegon tradition that launched more than two decades ago to promote Irish culture and heritage through entertainment, tourism, education and philanthropy.

Since 2008, the MIMF has raised more than $308,000 and donated more than 21,000 pounds of food to local charity organizations including Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry and Kids’ Food Basket.

Canceling the 2020 event will ensure the goodwill into the future by avoiding the risks and complications of navigating the shifting the health mandates and travel restrictions during the pandemic, officials said.

“Everyone is facing challenging times right now, and in order to ensure the long-term success of our event and organization, this difficult decision was the best plan to allow the festival to move forward,” Zahrt said. “Please stay safe, stay healthy, and know we all look forward to celebrating with you in 2021.”

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