Thursday, 9 August 2012

Phew! Now THAT was a Celtic festival!

I suspect that some days after the Montelago Celtic Festival started packing up leaving the Colfiorito plain, the dust is still settling. Stardust, that is, for the music and the spirit certainly reached that far.

It must be quite a feeling to walk out on the plain when it's empty and quiet, a place that not long before was heaving to the rhythms of the Montelago community in its annual celebration of camaraderie, release, and - naturally - celtica. What stories those plains could tell ...

But whatever remembrance and imagination can conjure between them from the off-stage happenings, we're really here to discuss just one thing - the music.

Let's start with Friday, and a quote from a previous entry on this blog: "(Mortimer Mc Grave) may just be the roof-raiser of the festival." Prophetic words, it seems (the absent roof notwithstanding), as Maurizio, Luciano and their friends made emphatic statements in several different musical languages for two festival-defining hours. In short, they knocked it out of the park - from the first stirring numbers of their Moving Hearts-inspired band, The Storm, to soirees with the City of Rome Pipe Band and the Cisal Pipers, the beat and the energy fulfilled their promise of a musical earthquake with devastating dance-like effects. The message was simple: "We love this festival!" It showed, and underpinned the achievement of this tenth Celtic year in the Apennines.

It would be an injustice to omit mentions for their Friday partners on stage either side of them - New Road and the Cisal Pipers, accomplished crowd-movers and foot-tapping provokers in their own rights. Same goes for Saturday's opening act, La Corte di Lunas, who threw down the night's gauntlet with a rousing set.

And then came Rare Folk, as rare an act to appear at the festival in all of its ten years. Blending jazz, Celtic, world music, and the booming bass of the bouncing Mufas, the Spaniards from Andalusia pulled in the crowd and never let them go, as their several attempts to leave proved - encore followed encore until time finally caught up and they had to leave. But they stayed around themselves, to dance with the crowd as the following groups lit up the stage.

Another rare treat followed Rare Folk as the enthusiastic crowd experienced "the definitive bagpipe version" of  Queen's We Will Rock You, as well as a reggae number in amongst the City of Rome Pipe Band's more typical repertoire. But perhaps the highlight of their set was the stirring rendition of Amazing Grace, sung with depth, beauty, and grace (naturally) by one of the band's two female drummers.

With the rising crescendo of their supporting acts, the Isle of Skye's Peatbog Faeries didn't disappoint with a performance of pure quality and infectious energy, before Folkmondo wrapped up the night's proceedings with a strong set of their own.

It's over now (unfortunately), but that may be just as well, since the body can take only so much stimulus in such a concentrated period of time. Yet again, Montelago has given us something to remember and something to look forward to, and as it has done over the past 10 years, it delivered ... in spades. 

Except that now Maurizio, Luciano and the rest of the organizers have raised the bar across the board - from the headliners to the supporting acts, and the magnetic novelty of Mortimer Pub (a big success). Makes one want 2013 to come along as soon as it possibly can.

gach Montelago clocha sneachta!

Monday, 6 August 2012

2012 Montelago musical moments

Not all in perfect focus, but you get the idea ....

Click on the photo to enlarge

Mortimer Mc Grave and friends:

New Road:

Rare Folk:

City of Rome Pipe Band:

Peatbog Faeries:

2012 Montelago community and their capers

Click on the photo to enlarge

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

So ... who else is playing?

We've covered the Peatbog Faeries, the City of Rome Pipe Band, Mortimer Mc Grave, and Rare Folk in previous posts (click on them to read each particular post), so who else makes up the excellent programme of 17 concerts. Here's a run through:

La Corte di Lunas - from Friuli Venezia Giulia, formed in 2005 as a celebration of "joy, music, and fun." Now an 8-piece band with 2 albums under their belts, these days they entertain with a fusion of precious Renaissance melodies, lost stories from far away, and the purest of modern rock. Second Montelago appearance (2010).
At Montelago 2012: Sat 4th main stage @ 21:15.

New Road - a recently-formed band playing classic Irish reels, jigs, hornpipes and other dance music. What sets the band apart amid the landscape of traditional music are their individual technical skills, the energy of their arrangements, and the wealth of experience of the four talented multi-instrumentalists.
At Montelago 2012: Fri 3rd Mortimer Pub @ 16:00; Sat 4th/5th main stage @ 2:45.

Rondeau De Fauvel - recalling the myth of Fauvel, a legendary creature with the appearance of a donkey from a satirical poem of 1316, the 6-piece group from Vicenza paints haunting medieval tunes along with poetry, dance, and magic.
At Montelago 2012: Fri 3rd Mortimer Pub @ 18:30; Sat 4th/5th main stage @ 4:00.

Montelago Celtic Project - returning to the place of their "birth" (2007) and led by the group's founder, multi-instrumentalist Fabio Emidio Zeppilli (composer and arranger of all their music), the marchigiano group's repertoire with its Irish, Scottish, Galician and Basque roots "creates an eclectic blend of energy, releasing emotion and unearthing new feelings".
At Montelago 2012: Fri 3rd Mortimer Pub @ 20:30; Sat 4th Mortimer Pub @ 15:00.

Furor Gallico - named after the description that the ancient Romans gave to the Celtic warriors who were prepared to die defending their people and land, the folk metal group from Milan blend metal riffs and growl-and-scream vocals with folk melodies of the violin, flutes, Celtic harp and bouzouki.
At Montelago 2012: Fri 3rd/4th main stage @ 1:00.
Web site:

Cisalpipers - the six-piece band from Emilia-Romagna synthesizes the sounds of the Emilian bagpipes, Scottish bagpipeswhistles , drums and percussion into a unique style that travels between classical and pop, world music to ethnic, and always with the underlying foundation of tradition. Second Montelago appearance (2009).
At Montelago 2012: Fri 3rd/4th main stage @ 00:00; Sat 4th Mortimer Pub @ 17:00.
Web site:

EtnoarmòniA - this four-piece band from Le Marche, formed in 2010, delves into a journey from Ireland to Galicia and the heart of the American continent, weaving wandering melodies that on their way have been influenced, mutated, and contaminated by man, territories and the cultures of the planet.
At Montelago 2012: Fri 3rd main stage @ 21:00; Sat 4th Mortimer Pub @ 11:30.

Folkomondo -  formed in 2008, the six-piece band combines songs of the folk tradition with modern rhythms, taking us through the streets of European folk from Ireland to Italy, to Spain, France, Greece, and yet still further, to create something new from old and forgotten roots.
At Montelago 2012: Sat 4th Mortimer Pub @ 20:15.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Rare Folk

One of two foreign (i.e. non-Italian) bands appearing at this year's festival, Rare Folk is perhaps flying somewhat below the radar in terms of the relative publicity they've been given, but they may just be the big surprise of this year's festival.Well-known in their native Spain - and even more so in their Andalusian home - but relatively unknown outside of it, they're making just one appearance on their trip to Italy ... at Montelago. 

Formed 20 years ago in the Tomares province of Seville, and with 5 albums under their belts, the group's folk label is a very loose one, combining as they do elements of Celtica, rock, jazz, and both Eastern and African rhythms. Indeed, such is the progressive, experimental nature of their "folk" music that the press coined the term "Freestyle Folk." Over time the group has earned its reputation as being among the best exponents of the new Spanish folk music, and is one of the leading bands on the experimental music scene.

Rare Folk's breakthrough album Green in 1998 widened their audience, and since then their special sound has filled stages from Mexico to Ireland, and England to Portugal, sharing billing with artists such as Hevia, Berrogüeto, and the Wolfstones. As part of the festival's Saturday night crescendo, it'll be a performance you don't want to miss as they take the main stage at 22:00.

Rare folk is:

Rubén Díez - flute and low whistle
Mangu Diaz - mandolin, bouzouki, darbuka and programming
Munné Marcos - electric guitar
Oscar Valero (Mufas) - bass
Leslie Jordan - violin
Fernando Reina - drums

For more info see the band's web site at

Monday, 23 July 2012

Mortimer Mc Grave & Friends

There may be some better-known international names appearing on Saturday night, August 4th, but in these parts, there aren't any many much bigger than Mortimer Mc Grave. One the many projects of organizers Maurizio Serafini and Luciano Monceri, their act of energetic Celtic rock is never the same from one to the next, and the invention and daring have made it one of - if not the most - popular in the region. Appearing in their fourth edition of the festival, it's one they couldn't miss - a tenth anniversary.

So, come Friday night midnight, expect "an earthquake that will shake the Marches and all of central Italy from coast to coast for at least two hours, with devastating effects - you won't be able to stop dancing." Joined by a host of musical friends to commemorate the event, it may just be the roof-raiser of the festival...

To prepare yourself for the onslaught, check out some of these clips:

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Other (more-or-less) concurrent music festivals

As many will know, summer is festival season in Italy. Le Marche is no different, with medieval pageantry and food celebrations smothering the calendar from June to September. Music is also well-represented, so for those Montelago adherents that are looking to pepper their trip to Le Marche with a smorgasbord of musical styles, here are some of the more prominent that are happening nearby at more or less the same time.

Musicamdo Jazz - while it started back in June, there are still 3 concerts left on the calendar on Sunday 15th July (Camerino), Monday 23rd July (Macerata), and Friday 27th July (Corridonia). For more info see

San Severino Blues - now in its 21st year, the 2012 edition features 8 concerts (5 of which are free) in 5 towns from July 13th - August 24th. Appearing this year are guitar wizard Eric Johnson (22nd July) and the Royal Southern Brotherhood Band (28th July) featuring Devon Allman (of that family, yes) and Cyril Neville (of that other family, also yes). For more info see

Macerata Opera Festival - held in Macerata's magnificent Sferisterio arena with one of Europe's largest outdoor stages, this is one of Le Marche's - and even Italy's - leading opera festivals. Running from July 20th - August 12th, this year's edition features La Traviata (Verdi), La Bohéme (Puccini), and Carmen (Bizet). For more info see

Rossini Opera Festival - held annually in Pesaro, Rossini's birthplace, this year's edition runs from 10-23 August, featuring three of  the composer's works. For more info see

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Nearby attractions

The Montelago Celtic Festival is a destination in and of itself, in magnificent Apennine surroundings where breathing Italy's cleanest air is simply part of the deal. But if you're interested in seeing more, there are plenty of options.

In the vicinity

Within the municipality of Serravalle di Chienti, the Varano Vault (Botte dei Varano) is an underground duct constructed by the powerful lord of Camerino, Giulio Cesare Varano, between 1458 and 1464 to drain the Colfiorito plain. During reconstruction of the vault following the earthquake of 1997, another duct built in travertine was discovered parallel to the Varano Vault, dating back to Roman times. Visits to the archaeological sites can be made by arrangement with the town of Serravalle di Chienti.

According to legend, the apostles Peter and Paul sought refuge on a cold and rainy night in the ancient Roman town of Plestia on the alpine Colfiorito plains. The only person to offer help was a young woman, from whom the apostles - out of respect - accepted only bread but not lodging. They then moved off to spend the night on nearby Mount Trella. When they were far enough away, God's wrath descended on the town, and a tremendous earthquake and heavy rain caused widespread death and destruction. When the apostles came down the next morning, they found but a few survivors, amongst whom was the young woman. In remembrance the Church of Santa Maria of Plestia - built in early Romanesque style - was erected on the ruins of the town. The church is located off the SS77 not far from the festival site near the town of Colfiorito.

The Paleontological Museum in the town of Serravalle di Chienti contains the oldest fossil record in Italy of the migratory and evolutionary events that occurred at the end of the Pleistocene era. Amongst the fossil displays from the archaeological excavations in the villages of Colle Curti and Cesi, are remains from the ancient hippopotamus (much like its modern descendant), the rhinoceros, and the African elephant. The museum and archaeological laboratory can be visited Saturday and Sunday from 10:30-12:30 and 16:00-18:00, and on other days by appointment through the municipality of Serravalle di Chienti.

A bit further away (but still readily accessible)

For lovers of nature, mountains, and classic Italian villages, there are so many options that if I really got started I wouldn't be able to stop. So keeping it to just one trip suggestion, take off for Visso just over half an hour away (around 30km/19 miles) in the heart of the Sibillini mountains, part of the central Apennines. 

After visiting the impressive 14th-century Church of Santa Maria and sampling the town's traditional salami and cheeses, head on another 25km (15 miles) to the magnificent Piano Grande and the village of Castelluccio, where the area's renowned lentils are grown. One of the best-known hikes among many in the area is Lago Pilato, two glistening mountain tarns reputed to be the burial place of Pontius Pilate. Not far off is Monte Sibilla, home to the cave of Le Marche's very own Sybil, wose legend reputedly spawned Wagner's opera, Tannhäuser. then of course there's Valnerina ...

Just 45km (28 miles) and 3/4 of an hour away is probably the big dog of nearby tourist attractions - Assisi. I could go into why you should go there, but since there's a gazillion sites with information about it, I'm going to acquiesce in favour of those sites. Suffice it to say, even if you're not religious, it's well worth the trip.

A bit more off the beaten track but still in Umbria, Bevagna is a gem of a town undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Just half-an-hour from Assisi and about the same distance from the festival, Bevagna is a classic central Italian medieval town of some 5,000 inhabitants, with replica artisan workshops demonstrating the centuries-old techniques employed to make bells, paper, and other products. In addition, more and more Roman ruins are being discovered, dating back to several centuries before Christ, and if you like a little tipple, Bevagna can offer tastings of the delectable Sagrantino wine - favourably comparable to Italy's superior reds such as Barolo and Montalcino - whose epicentre is at Montefalco just 15 minutes away.

OK, so now we've scratched the surface, do some digging yourselves...

Friday, 6 July 2012

City of Rome Pipe Band

It is fitting that one of Montelago's inaugural performers in 2003 makes an appearance at the festival's 10th edition. In 2012 The City of Rome Pipe Band (CRPB) makes its third appearance at the festival - having performed in 2004 as well - and its nothing short of the genuine article as far as Scottish pipe and drum bands go, with 12 pipers, 8 drummers, and its own officially registered "City of Rome" tartan.

The band was founded in 2000 on the shared passion for the bagpipes of three pipers, one of whom was Simon Emslie, who was not only a Rome resident at the time, but also a member of the internationally renowned grade one Vale of Atholl Pipe Band. Their first concert was performed in May, 2001, in front of the Colosseum, heralding the arrival of Italy's first ever Scottish pipe and drum band.

Since then, CRPB has grown in number and stature, featuring musicians from four continents, and performances in Switzerland, France, and naturally Scotland, where they have participated in the World Pipe Band Championships three times. Among the highlights of their performances was the rendition of the Scottish national anthem for the Six Nations rugby match played between Italy and Scotland in Rome in February, 2002, an event that has since become a fixture on the band's calendar every two years.

It's not often you'll have the opportunity to be foot tapping and emotionally transported by the stirring sound of a full pipe band - made up of Italians - in the surrounds of the Apennine peaks of central Italy, so don't miss it - August 4th at a quarter to midnight.

Sample tracks can be found on the Montelago Celtic festival web site at, with more info on the band's own site at

Friday, 29 June 2012

The man behind the smiling Montelago mask - part 2

(This post continues from its part 1 prequel, which can be read here.)

As significant and unique an undertaking as the Montelago Celtic Festival is, it's but a single bow in Maurizio Serafini's quiver. This is a man of many talents and interests, with a passion and a drive that invariably brings to fruition everything he decides to give a go.

As a performing artist in his own right, he recently launched his fourth group with long-time friend and co-organizer of Montelago, Luciano Monceri. Their first project was (and still is) Ogam, an acoustic group blending sounds and spirit through strings, air, and melodies from cultures spanning the globe. Then followed Mortimer McGrave and Friends, whose Celtic rock continues to be Maurizio's and Luciano's most popular outlet. The most recent musical intiative is The Storm, a band that defies categorization, merging the sounds of the sax with the bagpipe, the harp with the guitar, and the snare with the bongo in a fusion of celtica, jazz, hip-hop, tradition, and a host of other sounds from a diverse range of genres and cultures. The band is named after the 1984 album The Storm by Irish group Moving Hearts, whose piper Davy Spillane Maurizio counts as one of his many influences.

In between the band work, Maurizio and Luciano launched Vincisgrassi, a cabaret-type comedy group named after a type of lasagna particular to the Le Marche town of Macerata where the two of them grew up and went to school together. Performing in the region's dialect, their skits were eventually combined by popular demand into a 2011 film Succo di Marca (The Juice - or Gist - of Le Marche).

Now for most mere mortals, running three bands and a cabaret group, and organizing central Italy's biggest Celtic festival might constitute a rather full - if not overflowing - plate, but for Maurizio it doesn't end there. His early involvement in the Province of Macerata's Terra di Teatri initiative has more recently evolved into a collaboration with the Province of Ascoli Piceno in the form of the Festival dell'Appennino. In its second edition this year, some twenty diverse cultural events take place in the region's most evocative locations. Maurizio is heavily involved in the organization of at least six of them, amongst which was a seven-day Franciscan pilgrimage from Assisi to Ascoli Piceno, and a dramatic production entitled San Giorgio, il drago e i cavalieri del lago (St. George, the Dragon, and the Knights of the Lake), whose candle-lit set lit up Lago di Gerosa near Montemonaco like a fantasy.

These "pastimes", it bears pointing out, are just the main ones - there are others, all with a flavour of exploring and resurrecting culture, history, and tradition.

In his spare time (!!!!!), Maurizio cultivates a lifelong passion for travel, which in the past 20 years or so has taken on a distinct Asian flavour, sparked by a 1991 visit to Myanmar, where his "discovery" of the Bhuddist philosophy ignited a desire to learn more about it. Following this trip, a local event centred around Giuseppe Tucci - a pioneering archaeologist from Macerata who spent many years in the 1920s and 30s studying, teaching, and researching in India, Nepal, and Tibet - prompted further interest on Maurizio's part, and the more he learned the more he became fascinated by this extraordinary individual. In his inimitable way, the fascination turned into a passion, and numerous trips followed to Nepal and Tibet tracing Tucci's steps in the Himalayas. Aside from the Tucci interest, Maurizio has also travelled from Sikkim to Libya, and Pakistan to the Andaman Islands.

All in between organizing the Montelago Celtic Festival, naturally. It begins to make one wonder about what one could be doing instead of taking those afternoon naps, doesn't it? 

What's important to Maurizio in all of this, is to do something of value, but not to hold on to it - once it's done let it go, as Bhuddist philosophy suggests. "Everything is both important and unimportant.When it's finished I go for a walk in the mountains and let it all go. But it's not just about Bhuddism - Christianity too has some aspects that I find interesting. Of course, people play a big role in my life, and for me, everything regarding people revolves around respect - if I respect someone, I can do something with them, but without it, there's not much possibility."

Meeting and spending time with someone like Maurizio is energizing, and it also prompts a bit of introspection, to see if we're doing as much as we could be doing. And isn't that what it's all about?

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The man behind the smiling Montelago mask - part 1

The Montelago Celtic Festival's first shoots may have sprouted in 2003, but its roots had been gestating for some time before that. Indeed, its seed was planted some 20 years previously when a 21-year-old Italian traveller was taking a rest near a Scottish cliffside castle overlooking the deep, brooding waters of the fingers of the North Sea "somewhere near Inverness." As he sat in the spiritual silence, the air of bagpipes drifted into his realm from within the stony chambers of the castle ... and proceeded to change his life.

So enchanted was Maurizio Serafini with the experience that he - already a musician of various influences - took up playing the bagpipes himself. His commitment and determination - trademarks of his life - did the rest, with self-teaching and occasional learning trips to Scotland turning him into an accomplished practitioner of some repute.

But Maurizio is not just a musician that likes to travel - like most of his fellow marchigiani, he loves his homeland of Le Marche, and with a university background in the performing arts, he'd become involved in Macerata province's Terra di Teatri (Land of Theatres) initiative, where " theatre" means "anywhere capable of hosting a show - abbeys, piazzas, castles, parks, ..." and "show" means anything from music and dance to drama and film. (Convention is  not a feature of Maurizio's life.) Having already established himself as a preeminent Celtic performer, discussions with the province's then-director of culture led to the original idea of today's festival.

Hosted by the province on the alpine plain of Montelago not far from the festival's current location, the first edition in 2003 was a big success, attracting some 7,000 enthusiasts, who cleaned out the food provided within short order, prompting an all-hands-on-deck search for whatever comestibles could be found from establishments nearby. Maurizio's coup - first time out - was nabbing renowned Galician band Berrogüetto, whose performance remains one of his favourites over ten years of top-class acts.

As much as it's been a challenge attracting eminent groups, Maurizio's done an amazing job on a very limited budget, also bringing in Australian Celtic fusionist Mark Saul in 2006, Spanish virtuoso Hevia in 2009, and - his personal favourite - Celtic/world music group Kila from Dublin in 2010. This year he's done it again, with the Isle of Skye's cross-genre Celtic dance favourites the Peatbog Faeries topping the bill.

Maurizio's own bands Ogam and Mortimer McGrave routinely take the stage at Montelago, offering ambience and "music for the imagination" (Ogam) on one end of the spectrum, and rousing Celtic rock (Mortimer) on the other. This year he's chosen to rock, taking the stage on Friday 3rd August at 10pm.

After its promising beginnings, the festival has grown into an event keenly anticipated by the growing Montelago community, but where to from here?  "I'd like it to become a focal point for travellers and tourists coming from within and outside of Italy as they plan their trips here," says Maurizio. "For the Germans, Dutch, English, Americans and others making trips to this area, I'd like the festival to be the fixed point around which their other travel ideas are centred. And then also the new generation - I'd like to pass this on, for them to embrace it and take it forward."

After all he's accomplished with the festival to date, seems like he's got it truckin' down the right road - may the journey continue...

(The second part of this post can be read here.)

Monday, 25 June 2012

Montelago 2012 - getting there

For those with their own means of transport

From the Adriatic coast
Get off the A14 motorway (autostrada) at the Macerata/Civitanova Marche exit
Follow the SS77 highway (superstrada) towards Macerata/Foligno until the end of the dual carriageway, then continue on the single-lane SS77 until the plain of Colfiorito, and follow the map below.

From the Tyrrhenian coast:
Find your way to Foligno in Umbria, then take the SS77 towards Macerata until the plain of Colfiorito, and follow the map below.

(Click on the map to expand)

For those looking for a lift

The dedicated Celtic bus from the Adriatic coast:
Two buses from Civitanova Marche on the Adriatic coast to the gates of the festival at €4,20 round trip according to the following schedules:

Going there (4th August):
Civitanova Marche (Piazzale Cristo Re)               15:00                 17:00
Piediripa (in front of the Banca delle Marche)      15:30                 17:30          
Tolentino (Motel 77)                                        16:00                 18:00
Taverne di Serravalle (festival entrance)             16:40                 18:40

Going home (5th August):
Taverne di Serravalle (festival entrance)            11:00                 15:00
Tolentino (Motel 77)                                       11:40                 15:40
Piediripa (in front of the Banca delle Marche)     12:15                 16:15
Civitanova Marche (Piazzale Cristo Re)              12:45                 16:45

Space is limited (50 people per bus) so reservations are essential. Send your request to by 18th July with your name and surname, point of embarkment, number of people, and time. Your reservation will be confirmed by email.

Please note also that luggage space on the buses is limited, so bulky bags and camping gear can not be accommodated.

For more details on the Celtic bus, go to (in Italian).

By bus from Florence, Siena, and Perugia:
The RomaMarche bus line offers fares to Colfiorito from Florence (€19 one-way, €35 return), Siena (€15 one-way, €28 return), and Perugia (€6 one-way, €11 return) on the following schedules -

Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th August: Florence 16:45, Siena 17:15, Perugia 18:45, all arriving at Colfiorito at 19:40.

On Sunday 5th, buses depart from Colfiorito at 9:20 (arriving in Perugia at 10:40, Siena at 11:50, and Florence at 12:40) and 20:10 (arriving in Perugia at 21:20, Siena at 22:20, and Florence at 23:30).

For more information, go to

By train:
Book your tickets to Foligno (Umbria), and in the square right in front of the station, buses depart at various times coordinated with the train arrival times. Closest stop for the festival is Fonte delle Mattinate, just 2 km from Taverne and the festival.

For more information, go to the festival's transport page (in Italian) at