Stornoway was alive with the sound of music and an undeniable community spirit this weekend as HebCelt made a welcome return to the picturesque Isle of Lewis, with record attendances of 19,500 on Lews Castle Green.
From Wednesday 12 – Saturday 15 July, the internationally acclaimed festival attracted crowds of all ages with over 35 musical performances, a host of cultural activities and a packed fringe programme of events for the whole family. The festival arena saw an increase in attendances of more than 8% compared to last year, while overall attendances across the programme as a whole across the town rose 6% since 2022.
HebCelt 2023 festival-goers enthusiasm was palpable across the weekend, with thousands of all ages embracing the warm atmosphere. There were much-enjoyed spells of sunshine on Lews Castle Green, as festival-goers donned wellies and their biggest smiles, dancing, singing and celebrating the culture of the Hebrides.
Iconic Scottish duo The Proclaimers brought proceedings to a triumphant close last night, delivering a spectacular set. With their infectious energy and timeless hits, from the beloved I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) to heartfelt ballads such as Sunshine on Leith, the pair demonstrated why they are revered as one of Scotland’s most celebrated musical acts.
Home-grown talent Peat and Diesel headlined Friday night with an electrifying performance, while Thursday saw West Coast favourites Skerryvore close the show, wowing crowds with a stunning set bursting with energy and spirit that had the entire crowd bouncing.
The entire musical lineup across the festival was second to none, with notable acts such as award-winning power trio Talisk, The Corrs’ very own Sharon Corr, electronic celtic fusion band Niteworks, celebrated folk band Kinnaris Quintet and the energy fuelled Heron Valley all elevating the HebCelt 2023 Main Stage to new heights.
The equally impressive lineup at The LWP Islands Stage and Isle of Harris Gin Cèilidh Tent welcomed the likes of neo-trad trio Project Smok, Gaelic songstress Kim Carnie, Orkney’s Fara, Scottish singer Hannah Rarity, Argyll singer-songwriter Abigail Pryde, Icelandic trio of siblings Blood Harmony, piping sensation Malin Makes Music and Orkney party-starters The Chair from Thursday to Saturday, all of whom left a lasting impression on crowds with their outstanding performances.
The festivities first kicked off on Wednesday with the An Lanntair programme, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the Hebrides with a diverse range of performances and artistic collaborations. From the mesmerising Wave Waulking by Catriona Macdonald at An Lanntair, which intricately explored the artist's bi-island identity, to the Hebridean Pipers Concert at Breasclete Hall that celebrated the proud tradition of piping in the region, the programme, which ran across the four days, proved itself to be a hub of creativity and a vital contributor to the cultural landscape of HebCelt.
This year, the festival’s fringe programme added an extra layer of excitement to the four- day event, extending audience engagement far beyond the stages. Bursting with a diverse range of games, performances and events, the range of activities on offer – from Highland dancing to family ceilidhs – brought the streets and venues of Stornoway to life. The Lewis Pipe Band and the Lewis and Harris Youth Pipe Band officially opened the arena in style, as crowds followed them from The Porter’s Lodge to the festival gates, while street performers entertained crowds in the town.
Once again this year’s festival used PlusZero’s innovative technology, with the Islands Stage in the main arena partly powered by zero-emissions energy across the three-day event. The Harris-based clean power start-up, whose technology is powered by green hydrogen, also fuelled some additional facilities – topping last year’s record-making carbon savings.
HebCelt Festival Director, Graham MacCallum, said: “We are so grateful to everyone who joined us for HebCelt 2023 and contributed to the magic of the four days. The positive energy and unwavering enthusiasm for the music and culture of the island has been incredible to see and truly humbling to be a part of. Stornoway once again proved to be the perfect location for a Scottish festival, both in terms of its beauty, and its crowds, which are some of the best in the world. We’re incredibly proud to have once again made a step forward on our sustainability goals, while seeing record-breaking attendance figures across the weekend. The HebCelt team would like to extend a big thank you to the sponsors and partners of the event and to the musicians, crafters, performers, vendors, volunteers and crews who made HebCelt 2023 possible.”
Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events said: “HebCelt continues to attract both new and returning visitors, as well as a wealth of artistic talent to a picture-perfect Stornoway backdrop each year. Its continued success is testament not only to the wider local community who provide a warm Hebridean welcome, but to the fantastic team who make this much-loved festival happen each year. Events such as HebCelt provide a vital means to generate and distribute additional positive economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts, and having them in our calendar further strengthens Scotland’s place as the perfect stage for events. I would like to extend my congratulations to everybody involved – all of whom have played an instrumental part in creating cherished memories of music, culture and community for many.”
HebCelt is backed by EventScotland, National Lottery through Creative Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and was crowned Event of the Year for the third time at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards 2022.
HebCelt took place on the Castle Green of Lews Castle in Stornoway between 12 – 15 July 2023. HebCelt 2024 will take place 17 – 20 July.