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Don Penzien is the founder and Director…and sometimes acknowledged as “the heart and soul”…of CelticFest Mississippi. He is a Michigan native with strong roots in Irish culture and an affinity for Celtic music, and upon relocating south he found Mississippi sorely lacking as per it’s appreciation of the Irish and Scottish traditions native to many of the state’s founders. So in 1992, he rallied interested parties from around the region to join forces in organizing what has evolved into a much revered celebration of Celtic music, dance, and heritage. CelticFest Mississippi is a festival of volunteers, relying on donations of time and talent from its directors and staff as well as many of its performers. CelticFest has garnered a reputation as a ‘musicians’ festival’, a favorite among its performers, and an increasingly rare gem featuring traditional Celtic music. Although Don recently relocated to North Carolina (where he works as Professor of Anesthesiology at Wake Forest), he
continues to serve as the Director and Performer Coordinator for CelticFest.

Don also has long been a top-flight performer of Irish traditional music. He frequently is on the road playing concerts and festivals with Gailfean (featuring All-Ireland winners Brian Conway, John Whelan & Máirtín de Cógáin), The Máirtín de Cógáin Project, Jil Chambless, Ed Miller, and Beirt le Chéile (featuring Megan Irby). He’s performed in the past with Captain Mackey’s Goatskin & String Band (Jimmy Crowley, Máirtín de Cógáin & Valerie Plested), and Legacy (Plested & Justin Murphy). Along the way, he’s shared the stage with the likes of Randal Bays, Tim Britton, Siobhan Butler, Donie Carroll, Sean Clohessy, Pauline Conneely, Tony DeMarco, Kevin Doyle, Mike Dugger, Shannon Dunne, Bridgette Fitzgerald, Jim Flanagan, Rose Conway Flanagan, Ken Fleming, Brian Hart, Shannon Heaton, Heather Martin Bixler, Martin O’Connell, Patrick Ourceau, and Caitlin Warbelow.

It was the never-ending traditional music playing at the Irish pub he frequented while earning his Ph.D. (clinical psychology) in Athens, Ohio that inspired Don to play. It was back then that he began his exclusive use of the “DADGAD” guitar tuning with tips from such notables as Zan McLeod and Daíthí Sproule. Widely recognized for his reserved backing style, Don’s dexterous work on guitar provides solid, driving rhythms to traditional tunes as well as perceptive and sensitive accompaniments to songs and airs. When called upon, he also adds whistle, bodhran and vocals to arrangements.

And if there’s an Irish trad. tune session anywhere nearby, odds are, you’ll find him there.