Ballston Spa

Irish 2000 Festival discontinued after 23 years

Organizers cite declining attendance
The Schenectady Pipe Band performs at the 23rd annual Irish 2000 Festival at Saratoga County Fairgrounds on Sept. 14, 2019.
The Schenectady Pipe Band performs at the 23rd annual Irish 2000 Festival at Saratoga County Fairgrounds on Sept. 14, 2019.

BALLSTON SPA — For the first time in a decade, an annual Irish music festival that draws thousands of people won’t take over the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in the middle of September.

The Irish 2000 Festival, a regional three-day celebration of all things Irish held for the last decade at the Balston Spa site, has come to an end after 23 years, due to declining attendance and vendor support, organizers announced Tuesday.

“As we head into a new year, the Board of Irish 2000 would like to share some sad news. 2019 which was the 23rd year of our event will also be its finale,” the board wrote in a Facebook post.

Dozens of people reacted to the post with sadness and thanks for the times they had enjoyed at the festival.

The annual event began at the Altamont Fairgrounds in Albany County, but moved to Ballston Spa starting in 2009. The organizers took a survey after the 2019 festival asking whether it should stay put or move back to Altamont; Ballston Spa won, 55 percent to 45 percent. On Tuesday, they acknowledged that the surveys done in recent years have been undertaken in hope of finding ways to improve, because business was not good.

“Over the last 9 years we have seen decreased alcohol sales, decreased attendance overall and decreased interest from craft vendors,” they stated. “Competition has vastly increased for special events and a lack of major corporate sponsors and a desire to keep prices affordable has made it hard for us to stay financially stable.”

In 2019, organizers tried to revive Friday night events, spent more than they had in a decade on bands and increased the marketing budget, but failed to significantly increase business. “As a result we don’t have enough reserves to run our event in 2020,” they wrote.

“So our board has made the difficult decision to not move forward with our event,” the post continued. “It’s a sad day for us as we have put our heart and soul into this event. Some of us have been working on it since year one and it’s difficult to imagine what September will be like without it.”

A decision to move the Great American Irish Fest organized in Utica to the same weekend — Sept. 18-20, 2020 — was disappointing but wasn’t part of the local decision-making process, they said. “While disappointing and surprising to us it had zero bearing on our decision which was made for business reasons well before that announcement was made,” the post said.

Irish 2000 had been one of the largest events held at the fairgrounds apart from the county fair itself. It isn’t yet clear whether any other event might be drawn to the mid-September weekend when Irish 2000 has rented the 30-acre grounds.

“Thank you for choosing the Saratoga County Agricultural Society’s Fairgrounds for the Irish 2000 Festival. We will miss you and your great Irish music,” Frank D. Griffin, a board member of the Saratoga County Agricultural Society, wrote on Facebook on behalf of the board, which operates the fairground.

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