How Ed Ward Created The World's Largest Celtic Festival In Milwaukee

Nov 19, 2018

Editor's note: This interview with Ed Ward first aired in Nov. of 2019. Ward died on Oct. 13, 2019 at the age of 74.

Ed Ward has experience in the Peace Corps, the military, politics, law and investing, but it's in the not-for-profit world that he made his mark as a successful entrepreneur.

In 1981, Ed turned his passion for Irish music into a venture that now requires 4,500 people to run and has 125,000 annual customers. It has been the guiding force in a global movement that he inspired, shepherded, and grew — and it will have a lasting influence on Milwaukee. The venture is called Irish Fest and it’s arguably the world’s most influential Celtic music festival.

Ward, a musician himself, has been responsible for nurturing new musicians from all over the world, discovering new groups, and inspiring other cities to follow the Irish Fest lead. He and his colleagues host a breakfast each year during Irish Fest that attracts as many as 100 organizers and would-be organizers of other Celtic festivals. Clearly, Ward's life’s work has been a gift to music lovers everywhere.

Here are some tips Ed Ward has for other big event entrepreneurs:

  • Make an event that's not just fun, but quality, operated well, and financially stable. Employees, volunteers, and visitors want to be associated with an event that has a strong guiding vision.
  • Treat your volunteers well and engage them every way you can.
  • Go experience other festivals to get inspired and find ideas to tailor your own festival needs.
  • Focus on scouting out good music. “We were always going places, listening to music, looking for new bands. We realized that to be on the cutting edge, we had to go out and find it,” says Ward.
  • Be diligent in expanding partnerships, artist outreach, and connecting with government officials