She has worked several jobs within the festival since she started in 1996. Her favorites are handling instrument check in and driving the shuttle for out-of-town guests from the hotel to Fair Park where the festival is located.
“I love the musicians! They are so fun and lovely,” she said.
Once, members of Altan, an internationally-known Celtic band, wanted to go to Café Brazil for breakfast, so Roberts personally escorted them.
And by the way, Roberts makes sure it is pronounced correctly: Celtic is with a hard “c,” like “cake.” For sports teams, use a soft “c.”
She takes her job at instrument check-in seriously and enjoys getting to visit with the artists.
“These players entrust us with their precious instruments. We keep them in a secured, secret location when they aren’t being used. One time a fiddler showed me his beat up, scratched fiddle and said it belonged to his grandfather who taught him how to play,” she explained.
Roberts knows them by sight, if not by name, because she also serves on the performance committee that selects the acts who play at this three-day celebration. This year there were close to 50 submissions for 22 spots.
“Everybody wants to play NTIF. We bring in bands from the region, all over the nation and from overseas,” she said.
The NTIF is the second largest of its kind in the nation and the largest run by volunteers – 600 of them.
Roberts, an East Dallas resident since 1971, thoroughly enjoys being a part of the North Texas Irish community and encourages anyone to join the Southwest Celtic Music Association (SCMA) who puts on the festival.
“It is truly a family. We all love the music, the culture, we want it to continue and thrive. Some people I don’t see except for at the festival, but I have made friends for life. And no, you don’t have to be Irish,” she said.
But does it help? She just smiled.
Her forebears came from Roscommon, Ireland and settled in the Roslindale area of Boston.
“I was a ‘Rossie Rat!’” she laughed.
Growing up among Irish relatives gave her deep roots and abiding love for her ancestral country. A move to Texas in her college years found her in Austin in 1964 where she met her husband, Donald. He was not Irish.
Her parents were suspicious.
“When I brought him to Boston to meet everyone, my Irish grand-dads pinned him in a corner and asked him ‘who his people were.’ I had to explain to him they meant what was his national lineage. They were OK with him being half Scot, but the other half was English and that made them scowl!” she said.
But Roberts is adamant that she “picked a good one.” They will be married 45 years in May. He helped her raise their three sons, Chris, Brian and Colin and endured three years of her formidable medical troubles.
“He took care of everything and never complained,” she said.
Volunteering at NTIF became a family affair when Donald joined up two years after she started. He takes off two days of work from his job as an architect with Booziotis & Company to help build the stages. Their sons have all helped over the years and all are artistically inclined.
Her granddaughter, Ava, is showing an interest in Irish dancing.
Their sons come by their artist bent honestly, as Roberts has a deep vein of creativity herself. She enjoys crocheting, creating art infused glass and formerly ran her own professional photography business.
Roberts wants everyone to enjoy all that NTIF has to offer.
“People think it’s a drunken extension of the Greenville Avenue parade, but it’s not. It’s dedicated to music, culture, animals… it’s a family kind of place. And besides,” she adds with a wee smile, “everybody is Irish at the festival.”