We went to the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Festival this past Saturday in Estes Park, Colorado. We both have some family connections to Celtic lineages, but would have gone if it had been an Icelandic Festival. We like outdoor events and we’re always curious about how they are managed, since we have run large events and know the challenges.
The music was great and all related to the theme of the event with a variety of bands, singers, and individual musicians. The food was terrific and some was related to the theme with some vendors selling meat pies, haggis, scones and other food familiar in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Other vendors fell back on American favorites with corn on the cob, barbecue, sweet potato fries, even deep fried Oreos. Local high school students directed parking around the nearby school grounds, collecting $5 per car to support their band. This well-managed effort made it clear that the money was for that purpose and I would wager that it quells any complaints about parking fees. Most of us would rather contribute to the local school than an unidentifiable entrepreneur.
The dog shows, pipe and drum bands, dance contests and color guards were terrific. We especially enjoyed the Scottish terrier bounding over six inch jumps in the agility course and a somewhat reluctant bearded collie dodging in and out of agility gates, who seemed more interested in getting petted by the crowd around the fence, which he diverted to frequently.
We spent much of our time in the music tents where groups like Brigadoon, Giants Dance, and The Black Irish Band Albannach entertained standing room only crowds with traditional music. The tattoo of drums, wail of bagpipes and trills of flutes in spontaneous jam sessions floated through the air at every turn, connecting the various venues without intention as individual musicians connected with friends throughout the grounds. I like ethnic events that stick to their theme and are not tempted to do something very out of line. We saw very little other than Scottish and Irish (Celtic) culture at the event.
Plenty of people wore kilts of all kinds – beautiful tartan plaids with all of the traditional gear that goes with both men and women’s skirts. Some preferred working kilts made of camouflage material, leather, and other utility cloths. I wore my best jeans being a mixed breed and a bit too tight to spring for a full Scottish outfit when we visited that beautiful nation a few years ago (my Scots ancestry at war internally about whether to dress the part or save the money). The great mix of individuals and their obvious pride in their heritage makes people watching a great part of this event.
Like all outdoor events we visit, there are some things we hope will improve from year to year since this is an annual event, providing the opportunity to learn from previous years. We stood in line almost 20 minutes to buy a ticket, stood in line 30 minutes to buy food, and watched others stand in line even longer to get a beer. It seems unlikely that event managers were caught by surprise by the size of the crowd, given attendance in years past, but still they didn’t seem to make some simple adjustments that might have improved the flow. The Program Guide, sold on the grounds for $5, is colorful and has lots of ads, but is in need of professional graphic design and editing. The schedule was confusing, especially since venue names were not clear and no map of the grounds was provided. We, and others, simply wandered around feeling lost, often arriving at the closing moments of a performance we wanted to catch and no idea if or when it would be repeated. The grounds lacked recycling containers so glass, plastic and paper all went with the food waste and other trash, the containers for which were too few and far between which meant that litter was everywhere. Most surrounding communities in Colorado recycle at every event so I think the lack of it gets noticed. The restrooms, on the other hand, were a real success. Portajohns, marked as being for men, women, or unisex, were readily available throughout the grounds with no lines.
We try to get to this particular festival every three years or so and we will definitely take part again. The entry fee of $25 per adult seemed reasonable for the quality and quantity of music alone. Plenty of concessions sell appropriate Celtic clothing, jewelry, icons, coats of arms, shortbread, and more, making it easy to find just the right souvenir of the day.
Any celebration of culture and community presents an opportunity to keep traditions alive. Think about the event that you could be doing that might benefit local schools and nonprofits, while celebrating cultural traditions on which your community was founded. Preparing an interpretive plan for that event ensures that it
stays thematic and generates the kinds of rewards your community is looking for. Let us know if we can help.
P.S. More photos HERE.