by Chris Haise
On Saturday, June 4th Wauwatosa’s Hart Park will be alive with the sights and sounds of Scotland as Scottish Fest-Milwaukee’s Highland Games begin their annual festival that celebrates Gaelic and Celtic culture.
The 79th edition of the Highland Games offers visitors and participants many opportunities to explore, participate in and learn about Scottish culture in a fun and family friendly environment.
The fair grounds open at 9:00 AM and admission is $10.00 and children under 12 get in free, and if you bring a non-perishable food item before 10:00 AM, admission is only $7.00. The festival takes place rain or shine.
Among the highlights of this year’s festival are the band and dance competitions. These perennial favorites fill the air with the beautiful sound of bag pipe as pipers compete all day for honors.
Hart Park stadium is the venue for the band competition that includes solo pipers as well as full pipe bands. Make sure you find a spot early for the Massed Bands performing at 5:00 PM.
Another artistic showcase featured at this year’s Highland Games is the dance competition. The Tosa Room hosts the Highland Dance competition where dancers compete against one another for prizes and recognition.
The day long competition features dancers of all skill and experience levels and provides spectators the opportunity to watch dance favorites such as the Scottish Jig, Highland Fling, Scottish Lilt, and Sword Dances.
The Scottish Jig is an energetic dance featuring lots of fist shaking and skirt flouncing among female competitors. The Jig is one of the few dances that has its own costume rather than the standard Highland or National outfits.
The Highland Fling is probably the most recognizable of the national dances, where the dancer’s arms and movements are said to resemble the antlers of a deer. With quick and precise steps, the Fling truly shows the talent of the dancer.
The Lilt, a four step dance with many recognized variations, is a simpler dance and is very graceful and heavily influenced by ballet. This dance is rarely danced by the most advanced dancers.
Sword Dance is the ancient dance of war of the Scottish Gael and dates back to the Middle Ages. It is thought that the Sword Dance was danced by warriors prior to battle.
While the pageantry and costumes are incredible, spectators are often left in awe by the rhythm and precision of the dancers. Awards are presented in each event and age group, with some cash prizes.
Along with dancing and piping, there are many great events and exhibits for the kilted visitors to explore. The Cultural Area of the festival hosts a very special treat this year, as the Highland Games welcome the Tosa East Players.
The Tosa East Players will present Shakespeare On Love before they head off to Scotland for the 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest annual arts festival. The August festival has more than 50,000 performances on 300 stages featuring theater works, opera, spoken word, and everything in between, and the Tosa East Players are very honored to be invited to this world renowned event.
Festival goers will also be treated to demonstrations involving some of Scotland’s most iconic industries, including shepherding. The shepherding demonstration takes place in the afternoon. Clydesdale horses, which originated in Scotland, will also be on display.
The breed of sheep and dog being shown at the Milwaukee Highland Games are Scottish Blackface and Border Collie, respectively. Littledale Farms, a member of the Scottish Blackface Breeders Union, showcase the classic Scottish sheep they breed in Richland Center, WI.
One of the favorite annual events of the Highland Games are the Heavy Games. Here, athletes show their mettle in a series of difficult challenges that are often worth the price of admission on their own. The Heavy Games include the caber toss, stone put and Scottish hammer throw.
In the caber toss, a long tapered pole is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically, then runs forward, attempting to toss it in such a way that it turns end over end with the upper end striking the ground first. Competitors are judged on how closely their throws approximate the ideal toss.
The stone put is similar to the shot put, except the steel shot is replaced with a large stone of varying weights. Competitors are judged on distance.
The Scottish hammer throw is very much like the modern hammer throw, except the ball is attached to a stiff shaft. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one’s head and thrown for distance over the shoulder.
The Heavy Games often draw much of the attention, however, there are countless great activities that allow festival goers to immerse themselves in the majesty of Scottish and Gaelic culture. You can learn to play Cricket, shop with many unique vendors, and, of course, there is no shortage of delicious cuisine and drink.
There are numerous food vendors including Highland Glenn, McBob’s, La Coppa Gelato, Steve’s Lemonade, and Culinary Twist. There is also be an eating competition, with the Haggis Taco Eating Contest being held at the food court at 2:00 PM.
With the help of Griddlers Cafe, the Scottish Fest will put on this truly unique event where Haggis, a traditional and ancient Scottish pudding that combines sheep offal with oatmeal, onions, salt and spices, is reimagined as a classic taco that the competitors will mass consume.
With the pageantry of the physical events, a tent for the kids, interactive ancient weapon demonstrations, and the World’s Only Haggis Taco Eating Contest, the 79th Scottish Fest-Milwaukee Highland Games will have something to offer everyone.