Legend has it that St. Patrick himself once turned water into wine.

But transforming the Patron Saint of Ireland's holiday into something other than an occasion of mass intoxication?

Even a miracle worker like St. Pat might take a pass.

"Look, I like a drink. But there are crazies who go out on St. Patrick's Day and give the Irish a bad name," says Jackie Kelly of Cherry Hill.

Kelly, her husband, John, and other organizers of Philadelphia's first-ever "Sober St. Patrick's Day" say it will offer families, folks in recovery, and fans of traditional Irish music and dance a chance to celebrate in a booze-free milieu.

"It's going to be a great party, with a great vibe," Katherine Ball-Weir says while standing in the WHYY Public Media Commons.

The festivities will be held in the facility at 150 N. Sixth St. in Center City beginning at 4 p.m. Sunday. (For tickets, go to www.soberstpatricksday.org.)

Ball-Weir, of West Chester, is board chairwoman of the Delaware Valley chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann ("a gathering of musicians in Ireland"), an international organization that promotes traditional Irish culture.

The CCE chapter is presenting the sober bash with assistance from Frank Daly, a Northeast Philadelphia resident who owns American Paddy's Productions, a company that stages Irish music concerts and special events.

Because it will immediately follow the city's venerable St. Patrick's Day Parade, the party will be an opportunity for families to continue enjoying Irish music without having to go to a bar, Ball-Weir says.

"It's just another way to celebrate," says Daly, noting that the party is not a political statement about alcohol.

"Our parade very much falls in line with this whole Sober St. Patrick's Day theme," says grand marshal Kathy McGee Burns - only the fourth woman to hold the position in the parade's 240-year history.

"There is no drinking allowed in our parade," the Lafayette Hill resident adds. "And if [participants] are drunk or boisterous, they're not invited back."

The first Sober St. Patrick's Day was held in New York City in 2012. Belfast, Northern Ireland, and American cities such as Richmond, Va., and Caspar, Wyo., followed; Dublin will make its debut along with Philadelphia this year.

"The appeal is simple: People want to have a rip-roaring time and enjoy what the day is really about - which is to celebrate the depth of Irish culture," says William Spencer Reilly, founder and chairman of the New York event.

"We're not against people having a couple of drinks," Reilly adds. "We're against people getting wasted and making us look stupid."

In Philadelphia, the lineup of musicians and entertainers at the WHYY Public Media Commons will include the Emerald Isle Academy Dancers, award-winning fiddler Dylan Foley, and John Whelan, an esteemed player of the button accordion.

Whelan, who helped organize the first New York sober celebration, compares the events to the family-friendly First Night celebrations that have become alternatives to late-night New Year's Eve bashes.

"This is about taking back St. Patrick's Day," Whelan says from his home in Connecticut. "The holiday has become so diluted and so commercialized . . . [as if] the whole purpose is to go out and get as drunk as possible."

The participation of serious players of traditional and mostly acoustic Irish music has helped make the events work, Reilly says.

At least 500 people attended last year in New York; the WHYY space holds 300.

"It's not about beer, beer, beer, drink, drink, drink into a stupor," Kelly says. "It's great music and good clean fun."

My kind of party.

kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

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