How often do you get to see an amazingly muscled young man in a skirt lift a telephone pole and heave it end over end? Or watch nimble dancers decked in tartans leap around sharp swords crossed on the ground? Or bite into a scrumptious Scottish meat pie and laugh as the juices roll down your chin?
If your curiosity is piqued, pack your plaid and head to General Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton on May 10 and 11 for the 26th annual Kentucky Scottish Weekend. During this rollicking celebration, clans gather to compete, eat, dance and frolic, and non-kilt wearers are welcomed to attend.
“This type of celebration dates back to Scotland and their Highland Games,” said Jessie Andrews, president of the board of Kentucky Scottish Weekend (KSW). “Clan chiefs would institute athletic games to determine which person was the strongest in his or her clan. Those are still held today in Scotland and also include piping and drumming competitions, Highland dance competitions and athletic games. For our weekend, participants come from all across the country.”
And that two days is crammed with activities, including Scottish bagpipes, pipe bands, Highland and country dancing, athletic games, live Celtic music, a Saturday night blowout, British car show and a Sunday Parade of Tartans. All the while, vendors will offer authentic Scottish food and gifts.
Be sure to arrive early (gates open at 8 a.m.) on Saturday to catch the Heavy Athletic Events. That “heavy” is literal, as qualified individual amateur athletes wearing kilts compete in traditional Scottish tests of strength: weight, hammer and stone throws, and the caber toss, or telephone pole throw. (Should you miss Saturday’s muscle mania, clans don their respective tartans at noon on Sunday to challenge one another athletically.)
Anyone with a sense of humor can enter two crazy contests that same afternoon. Since Scottish men wear kilts, the Bonniest Knees Contest is for gents, while the ladies can compete in the Welly Toss to test their ability to “give their man the boot” and throw a Wellington boot as far as possible.
Canines get competitive when Allen Miller’s border collies clarify what the term “working dog” means. Forty years ago, his father, Harold, began using these brilliant animals to assist in daily farm work and to demonstrate the art of herding, and Allen continues the tradition.
Band and solo piping and drumming competitions are traditional at Scottish festivals around the world to give serious musicians an opportunity to measure themselves against others at their level of expertise and to gain valuable tips from the judges, who rank among the best pipers and drummers in the world. You’ll see them on Saturday, along with their dancing counterparts.
One of the oldest forms of folk dancing, Scottish Highland dancing birthed both modern ballet and square dancing. Early on, when only men danced and competed, kings and chiefs used Highland games as a means to test strength, stamina, accuracy and agility to select the best individuals for their services. Later, Scottish regiments used Highland dancing as a form of training, and today, many of that country’s military divisions incorporate Highland dancing and piping into their regimen.
A perennial favorite at KSW, Scottish-born balladeer Alex Beaton croons songs from the old country in a rich baritone that has made the U.S. Army veteran the most popular folk singer in North America. Sharing billing with Beaton will be MacTalla Mor, an exciting Celtic roots band using traditional instruments, and Kentucky Wild Horse, a traditional band that specializes in old-time, bluegrass and swing music that embraces the Scotch-Irish musical heritage still prevalent in the Appalachians.
On Saturday night, Beaton hosts and headlines a traditional ceilidh (pronounced KAY-lee), a Gaelic word meaning “sing-a-long.” That meaning has broadened today to mean a variety show with a Celtic theme, and KSW’s will include top-grade musicians, dancers and a pipe band.