Nothing against your San Gennaro feasts or your Columbus Day picnics or your Cinco de Mayo celebrations, but it’s a safe bet that no other cultural celebration rivals St. Patrick’s Day in cross-cultural appeal.
Seriously, where else do revelers experience such a burning desire to wrap themselves in a particular color (green), seem so determined to attempt speaking with an accent (ideally, a lilting brogue) or dance dances they have no clue about how to dance (reels, jigs and that whole “Riverdance” thing)?
But if you’re still not buying any of this, consider as a sort of experiment a field trip to this weekend’s 48th annual Southern Nevada Sons &Daughters of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Parade &Festival in Henderson.
The festival begins Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Henderson Events Plaza, 200 S. Water St., and will feature a parade, a car show, a carnival, performances by Irish musicians, singers and dancers, Irish food and drink, and contests.
Dona Brown, spokeswoman for Southern Nevada Sons &Daughters of Erin, said this year marks the St. Patrick’s Day festival’s 10th year in Henderson. In addition to providing Southern Nevadans with a weekend’s worth of Celtic-flavored fun, the event — along with an annual golf tournament — is the primary way in which the nonprofit organization raises money for its charitable activities.
Proceeds from the event will again go to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for childhood cancer research.
“It’s an extremely important organization,” Brown said. As part of the local group’s fundraising effort, a head-shaving event — in which people have their heads shaved to show support for children with cancer and to raise money pledged by family and friends — is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday on the festival’s main stage.
“We’ve got a lot of beautiful barberesses. Is that what you call a female barber?” Brown said. “But they’re just adorable.”
The festival’s signature event is the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. This weekend’s parade will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and travel along Water Street from Ocean Avenue to Victory Road.
Brown said more than 100 units are registered to march this year. This year’s grand marshals are Jason Feinberg and Monica Jackson of KVVU-TV, Channel 5’s “Fox 5 News This Morning.”
The festival’s car show will run from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. The carnival, with rides and midway games, will run from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Food and drink, including food and drink with an Irish twist, will be available Friday through Sunday.
This year’s entertainment lineup will include Las Vegas’ Bogtrotter’s Union, which will take the stage several times Saturday and Sunday. Lead vocalist and banjo player Marshall Lytle said this marks the band’s first time playing at the Henderson festival.
“We tend to describe ourselves as Celtic folk punk,” he said. “We take a lot of elements of, like, Americana and your typical folk punk … and then we also incorporate a lot of the Irish traditional under it, and we kind of get a little gypsy swing going on, too. …
“We’ve been playing together as Bogtrotter’s Union for going on two years now,” Lytle said. (“Bogtrotter” is a derogatory term for an Irish person that dates back to the 17th century.)
“We started in October of 2012, but we’d been playing together before that. We’re all good friends who know each other and work well together, so why not start a band?”
Also scheduled to perform both Saturday and Sunday are students from the Carrolier Academy of Irish Dance in Las Vegas. Shelley Locklier, the academy’s co-founder, said this will be their third year at the event.
Dancers this year will range in age from 4 to 15, said Locklier, who, like co-founder Debbie Carroll, performed Irish dance professionally before opening the school. Students “absolutely love performing,” Locklier said, and the academy’s program is “very competitive,” so students enjoy performing for audiences at the St. Patrick’s Day festival.
For younger students and newcomers, dancing at the festival also can be a confidence-builder, Locklier said, and response from the festival’s audiences are “very genuine.”
The festival’s entertainment lineup also will feature contests, including a shillelagh toss for kids, and Irish whisky-tasting and kilt-wearing contests.
“It’s like a fashion show-slash-contest,” Brown said of that last one. “I want everybody in the contest to wear the craziest (kilts) they can. You can mix your polka dots with your stripes and put your purple hair on.”
Winners receive “a prize,” she said, “and you get to strut yourself onstage.”
Henderson spokeswoman Nicole Johnson said many families each year visit the event more than once, stopping by for the parade and also beforehand or afterward to take in the festival’s other offerings.
Unlike some of the valley’s other St. Patrick’s Day events, “it’s family-friendly,” Johnson added. “We have things for kids, like the carnival and all the activities.”
Johnson said the celebration each year draws more than 50,000 guests. Why do even those who aren’t Irish find St. Patrick’s Day parties so appealing?
“I think it’s (because) the Irish really have a good time,” Brown said. “It’s kind of a free day. You can just let your hair down and have a good time.”
Contact reporter John Przybys at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0280.