Celtic Festival Missoula and the Highlander Beer Evolution


Five years ago, Robert Lukes revived the 1910 Highlander Beer brand that is now brewed as a Scottish Red Ale at Great Northern Brewery in Whitefish.

Three years ago, on the 100th anniversary of Highlander Beer, Bob and Shannon Lukes took the Scottish Highlander feel and melded it with the Irish, creating Missoula’s culturally rich Celtic Festival Missoula.

The celebration became a music, dance, and food extravaganza with Highlander Beer, one stage, four acts, non-profit donations, and plenty of Missoula volunteers.

This summer, Saturday, July 28th is the third year running of Celtic Festival Missoula. It is larger than ever with two stages, ten bands, major corporate sponsorships, and triple the amount of big-hearted Missoulians to volunteer. Highlander Beer is still on tap and a major sponsor.

The Lukes and MT Diva Foundation, the non-profit entity that puts on the event, seem determined to keep cultural tradition alive whether in a beer trademark, or a lost Irish festival called An Ri Ra that moved to Butte years ago because it became too large for Missoula.

A drummer from Celtic Dragon at the Missoula Celtic Festival.

Shannon puts her soft, balled fist on her chin, smiles, and says, “It takes a lot of work to coordinate this festival and a lot of money to put it on. It is all volunteer and business sponsorship driven and because of the generous sponsors, Missoula gets a free festival and concert for the community.”

The proceeds then go to a charity – last year it went to the University of Montana Friends of Irish Studies program and children with medical needs.

Teary-eyed, Shannon relays a story of a mother and daughter who sought her out in the crowd of 4,000 people at the festival last year. The mother said to Shannon, “Thank you! Thank you for doing this and don’t ever stop. I enjoy sharing this with my daughter. Sharing this cultural experience.”

Shannon reiterates, “I can’t tell you enough, this would never happen if it weren’t for the business sponsors and the volunteers. There is no way it would come off. Often times there is a quick, ‘thank you for our sponsors’, this needs to be so much more than that!”

From each business showcased, Shannon receives $2500 to put toward the Festival. In all, there are over fifty sponsors. Shannon asks that we all take the time to recognize who they are and support the Celtic Festival Missoula sponsors.

Pipers play at the Missoula Celtic Festival in Caras Park

This year, Shannon set up an additional stage with dancing, bands, and entertainment running consecutively to spread it out and entertain more people. The additional stage will be in Caras Park’s grassy area on the east side of the bridge.

According to Shannon, adding the stage was easy because Missoula Parks and Recreation were “very accommodating and really good to work with.”

The music and entertainment schedule is as follows:

Mountain FM Stage

  • 12:00 PM Opening Ceremony, Celtic Dragon Pipe Band & Shining Thistle Pipe Band
  • 12:15 PM Malarkey
  • 1:00 PM Shining Thistle Pipe Band
  • 1:30 PM Missoula Irish Dancers
  • 3:15 PM Tra le Gael
  • 5:30 PM Celtic Dragon Pipe Band
  • 7:45 PM Turner Sisters
Rockin out at the Missoula Celtic Festival

Community Medical Center Stage Schedule

  • 2:15 PM Montana Shamrockers
  • 4:00 PM An Dochas & The Haran Irish Dancers
  • 6:15 PM Screaming Orphans
  • 8:30 PM Young Dubliners

If you go to the Celtic Festival website you can register to win one year of DirecTV or one keg of Highlander Beer.

We hope to see you at Caras Park the last Saturday of July!


Read more of Leisa’s stories about the Missoula music, drama, and theater scene.


Missoula writer Leisa Greene Nelson

Call her a big city girl at heart, finding and satiating that appetite in the city of Missoula. Born in Butte and raised in Missoula, she is fascinated by people and looks for interesting characters to write about.  Everyone has a story to tell, or not, but the people and places in Missoula are unique.

Moving fast in life (for that big city feel) Leisa’s passions bounce around music, theater, food, art, family, and  friends that’s supported by an IV line of dark roasted coffee. Single and a recent graduate from the University of Montana with a BA in Creative Writing, she learned what it was like to be a co-ed in her 40s.

She currently works as an Office Manager at Inter-State Studio and Publishing, working on school photos and yearbooks. Her personal life and nightlife is where she discovers and creates creative non-fiction stories. She has four supportive, loving children:  Dustin, Michael, Jalynn, and Mark (adopted through marriage to Dustin) who are all artistically creative in writing, theater, dance, and singing.  Leisa likes to think she moves faster than they do.