March 17 may be months away, but that isn't stopping Buffalo's Irish from celebrating their heritage.
The 30th annual Irish Festival will take place tonight through Sunday with one big change -- the venue. The festival has moved to the Statler Hotel and is the first public event to be held there since it was purchased and refurbished by local developer Mark Croce this spring.
Susan Kirkpatrick, festival spokeswoman, said although renovations to the historic building won't be complete until the end of the year, they're well on their way. The Irish Festival will serve as a way to introduce the upgrades to the public.
"It's still the Statler. It's just that you can see the improvements and the upgrades, and it's really going to be fabulous once it's done," she said. "I think it'll give people a great sneak peak of what they remember -- everyone's got a memory of the Statler -- and what's to come."
The festival, which usually draws a crowd of about 10,000, will be spread out over three floors of the hotel, including both of its main ballrooms.
It will begin with a parade honoring the 32 counties of Ireland at 5:30 p.m. today, and feature more than 25 vendors of Irish goods and crafts, traditional Irish food and beverage offerings, historic displays and information and an original theater production by Mary Kate O'Connell about the role of Irish immigrants in Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition in 1901, "The Rainbow's End."
More than 20 Irish musical groups also will perform at the festival, including bands from as far away as Ireland and as close as our own Western New York. One group, the Tartan Terrors, is playing at the festival for the first time this weekend. Based in Burlington, Ont., the Tartan Terrors' co-directors, brother-sister duo Ellen and Ian Wilkes Irmisch, have strong roots here: Their father and his family hail from Buffalo.
Ellen Wilkes Irmisch said they're looking forward to participating in the festival. "This is where our heritage is," she said.
Fitzpatrick said not only will the Statler set-up allow for each band to play without interfering with each other's sound, it also eliminates the threat of inclement weather. The new venue, she said, is a perfect way to celebrate 30 years of the Buffalo Irish Festival.
"Moving it indoors is going to give it a different flavor," Fitzpatrick said.
"Everyone loves a beautiful, sunny day in August, there's no question about that, but we think, particularly because there's such excitement around the rebirth of the Statler, this will be a really exciting year for people to come down and take a look and experience the festival like they've never experienced it before."
WHO: Buffalo Irish Festival
WHEN: 5 to 11 p.m. today, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Statler Hotel, 107 Delaware Ave.
TICKETS: $10 adults, $8 for kids 4 to 12 and seniors 60 or older