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