The Irish Festival just keeps getting better.
Extended hours, growing attendance, more vendors, and a new music stage built to take in the city's skyline are planned for this year's ninth annual Irish Festival.
The three-day event at International Park, the festival site for the second consecutive year, will take place tonight from 6 to 1 a.m., tomorrow from noon to 1 a.m., and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. at the gazebo area of the park on the east side of the Maumee River.
The extended hours will allow bands to play longer, said Sue Brown, a member of the Toledo Irish American Club, which presents the festival each year. Last year's festival closed at midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Organizers also expect greater attendance due to last year's success in holding the festival for the first time in International Park. The festival had been held at the Franciscan Center at Lourdes College.
Some 5,000 people are expected throughout the weekend, about 1,000 more than last year, said Ms. Brown, who is also the festival's volunteer chairwoman and co-chairwoman of entertainment.
Another change includes International Park's large peninsula as the new location for bands and vocalists to perform, Ms. Brown said. Last year's musicians performed on an elevated area on the gazebo. Organizers hope the eye-level peninsula will provide a more comfortable alternative, and a view of the city skyline as a backdrop to performers.
Traditional Irish music will be performed by groups and vocalists such as the New Barleycorn, Norman Payne, Brigid's Cross, and Mossy Moran. Step-dancers from the Heinzman School of Dance will perform jigs and reels on another nearby stage.
Throughout the weekend, vendors will sell Irish food, such as soda bread and corned beef dinners, and international food. A children's corner will feature games, storytelling, and face painting. Some 15 vendors - five more than last year - with displays and items for purchase will be on hand, including Irish art, a glass cutter of Waterford crystal, and Celtic works of pottery and jewelry.
A Celtic Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday. Throughout the weekend, organizers also plan to provide baskets to collect donated canned good and boxed-food items.
The festival is a major fund-raiser for the 270-member Toledo Irish American Club, which raises money from the weekend event for its scholarship fund and local charities such as St. Patrick's Soup Kitchen, where the collected food items