Celtic Junction Arts Review

Representing CJAC and Reflecting on 15 Years

Adrienne O'Shea

Adrienne O’Shea, Get Up Your Irish!, March 9, 2010 at Celtic Junction for Photo by Carillon RoseMeadows

Through the incredible power of the community around Celtic Junction Arts Center (CJAC), I’ve been raised learning music, dance, and Irish culture for the last 15 years, and as a result, I have had the opportunity to share the beauty of this place with people from around the world. Participating in performance and production on and offsite with CJAC, teaching both music and dance, and being part of the inaugural Youth Advisory Committee have given me so much experience. Recently, I had the pleasure of representing the Celtic Junction Arts Center at several music and culture events in Ireland. 

Adrienne O’Shea at her graduation in Limerick, January 2024

As a young woman independently stepping out into the adult world for the first time, this opportunity excited me and gave me some trepidation. I understood it was time for me to step up, after all, I was also in Ireland to attend my graduation from the University of Limerick to receive my Master of Arts in Traditional Irish Music Performance – the same day I turned 23. While I felt very excited to embark on this “grown up” adventure, facing the end of my college years and the beginning of my adult life while standing on my own without the constant hum of my familiar community gave me some level of anxiety. Still, I understood this was a chance for me to honor the place and people who had raised me by representing them well and sharing the amazing efforts of this community.

Your Roosts Are Showing  logo

The first event I attended was Your Roots Are Showing, a folk music conference hosted in Dundalk on January 17 through 21 of this year. I felt hesitant heading into this conference; I felt young, underqualified, and out of place. I wasn’t an agent or manager, I wasn’t a showcasing musician, and in a highly folky scene, I was one of the few traditional musicians. I felt like my place was limited and that I lacked the experience to be able to contribute meaningfully, so I went home the first day feeling discouraged. Returning the next day and for the days that followed, I felt a development in my approach to the conversations we were having and in the speakers who presented. We discussed the interpretation and delivery of songs, newly written and traditional, and what that can mean on your artistic journey. Presentations were given on visas and the strife of trying to tour in the United States. Panels discussed the importance of teaching and education in our musical spheres, and my eyes lit up. I knew, finally, that was what I wanted to talk about.

I shared the beauty of Celtic Junction, home to O’Shea Irish Dance, the Center for Irish Music, and CJAC’s Education program all under one roof, emphasizing how fortunate I was to grow up in an environment that values growth and learning for all ages. Instead of just being a commenter in that discussion, I felt like a contributor, and people responded enthusiastically to my description of CJAC. I felt like my life was an example of what was possible; some of my feelings of being inexperienced and out of place faded, replaced by a sense of pride and belonging. What we have here in the Twin Cities is unique, and I didn’t meet a single person who had something comparable. Attendees took time to tell me that this community was special and that they could see how much it meant to me in how passionately I spoke. I was proud to share this place, which we are fortunate to experience every day, with a global audience of experienced people who were amazed by our achievements.

Niamh Parsons interviewing Keynote Speaker Peggy Seeger at “Your Roots Are Showing” Photo by Adrienne O’Shea

On the last day of the conference, Niamh Parsons, a traditional singer I’m fortunate to have a friendship with, interviewed Peggy Seeger, the keynote speaker of the conference. Growing up a singer, I have been a longtime admirer of Seeger’s work as a musician, songwriter, and activist – as well as her wealth of knowledge and experience regarding traditional and folk songs. I have studied her work and the work of her family since I was a teenager, so getting to hear her speak was a dream of mine. She and Niamh sat down to a lively, touching, and hilarious conversation about her journey through life and the importance of song in it. She was humble and fierce all at once, managing to say something that touched every person in the room. 

Following her talk, I had the privilege of meeting Peggy and speaking with her. Upon her request, I sang her a few songs and traded verses of others. She was generous and sharp, offering advice and engaging with me genuinely and enthusiastically. I felt like I was floating. I was extremely grateful and humbled to be given the opportunity of a lifetime to share that experience with her, I hope to do it again soon. 

The following week, I attended Temple Bar TradFest in Dublin as a representative of the Celtic Junction as a venue. Having attended this event as a teenager with my father, I was familiar with TradFest and the city, but I wasn’t sure how I’d be perceived without my parents by my side. I was no longer a teenager playing hooky and tagging along to hear great music; I was representing my family name and community business; making connections and finding people to share our resources with. As opposed to Your Roots Are Showing where I was an unknown, at TradFest I had a reputation to uphold.  

Trad Fest

I arrived at the welcome reception in a blur after driving back from Limerick that day. I was flustered, tired, and overwhelmed. However, when I walked in, I was greeted warmly and kindly, and I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I loved talking to everyone and I felt like they met me openly for who I was on my own. I was in the company of people who knew what I stood for, and they engaged with me about traditional music, touring possibilities, my new album, and the ways that connection and collaboration strengthened us in the US.

Aoife Scott

That weekend, I was privileged to hear the amazing music of Aoife Scott, Francis Black, Julie Fowlis, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, the Friel Sisters, Aoife O’Donovan, Eileen Ivers, and many more. Intentionally or not, every gig I attended was headlined and carried out by strong and demanding women in traditional and folk music. They radiated confidence and warmth, commanding the stage and the music they were playing. From songs written about their own lives, to incredible tunes, to the familiar lilt of songs in Irish I knew from childhood, each performance delivered a unique and special energy from the performers to the audience. I am very fortunate to know and love many of those women, and seeing them perform with such authenticity and genuine spirit was deeply emotional for me.

While much of my work that week had been about representing the collective of the Celtic Junction Arts Center, attending these performances felt like a tangible way to give back to my community. These women showed me the kind of musician and leader I want to be in my own career, and how that work is not selfish, but rather contributes positively to the whole. I aim to show my love and pride of being raised in such a nurturing environment by venturing beyond our CJAC community as a humble representative of all the good that can come from investing in culture, education, and the arts.

Adrienne O'Shea CD Release Concert
Adrienne’s 2023 CD Release Concert at Celtic Junction Arts Center. Photo by Carillon RoseMeadows

What I would like to share with this amazing community is that the effort to build the Celtic Junction these past 15 years has been worth it. As an adult, I keep coming to new realizations about truly how special it is. The sacrifice and efforts of everyone –  from the Center for Irish Music to the Irish Fair of Minnesota to the Eoin McKiernan Library to O’Shea Irish Dance – have had a tangible impact on me and other children being raised in it. Investing in them and building a future for them genuinely changes lives. That week I got to realize a sliver of the immense privilege I have received from having grown up here. 

Next Generation at CJAC
Next CJAC generation. Photo by Natalie O’Shea

Reflecting on the past 15 years, the hard work it’s taken to build the Junction has been worth it. For the young people coming along with and behind me, I would share the following insights… Lean into your community, into your love, into hard work for something bigger than yourself. You have no idea how it might be valued and recognized not just by the people around you, but truly by people all over the world. I hope to be a representative and leader in this community for a long time to come, and to try to give back some of what I have been given, here and abroad. Here’s to the next 15 years, and the wonderful people and experiences yet to come.