The current president of the Columbus Scottish Festival was only 12 when his parents brought him to Clifty Park to attend the first festival conducted in August 1992.
“I remember the intense sound of the pipers when they all got together,” Justin Booth said. “And I reveled at watching big guys in kilts throw what I thought were telephone poles.”
A quarter of a century later, the two-day Scottish festival — continuing today — has become one of the longest running festivals in the Columbus area.
About the same age today as Booth was 25 years ago, Kaytlin Kahleigh Shoup of Columbus said it was the animals, clan tents and Scottish merchandise that grabbed her attention.
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“It reminds me of the medieval times,” Kaytlin said while looking down a row of 25 clans and Scottish societies. “There’s so much here you don’t see anymore.”
The Scottish festival usually attracts about 3,200 annually to the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds, clan group chairman Jim Ramsey said.
But if the forecast of sunshine and temperatures in the mid-70s prevails today, the festival president is optimistic as many as 5,000 might show up this weekend for the silver anniversary celebration.
The appeal is far and wide.
Based on collected data, about 70 percent of festivalgoers come from outside Bartholomew County, Booth said.
“This time of year, there is a Scottish festival held every weekend throughout the Midwest,” festival committee member Julie Jordan said. “There are a lot of people who follow their favorite performers and athletes.”
The festival was able to further attract larger out-of-town crowds by making Saturday’s Highland dance, Highland games and bagpipe/drum performances competitive, bagpipe judge Mike Kutsko said.
“I just judged a guy from St. Louis,” Kutsko said during the morning solo competition. “It’s really neat to hear the high caliber of musicianship.”
Most competitive musicians and athletes in Columbus this weekend are looking to accumulate points in their national standings by attending several different competitions, Booth said.
But while the festival has been widely lauded for attracting out-of-towners, there are still too many in Bartholomew County who underestimate the event because they’ve never attended, Jordan said.
“When I try to tell people about it, they don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Jordan said. “They think it’s like one bagpiper and one sheepdog.”
So in a gesture to attract Bartholomew County’s large running community, the Highland Hustle 5K Run/Walk was added for the first time this year, Booth said.
The hope is that if enough local people attend, some assumptions such as those Jordan mentioned might change, the festival president said.
“We keep telling people you don’t have to be Scottish, and you don’t have to wear a kilt,” Booth said. “But you can bring your dog and family and find something everyone enjoys.”
Much more was added to attract the largest crowd possible for this year’s milestone festival, including a second entertainment stage to provide greater quality, the festival president said.
Musical acts include the nationally known Celtic rock band Seven Nations and the more traditional Finnegan’s Men, as well as the Milwaukee-based Dublin O’Shea and the Sprigs from Chicago.
But the act grabbing much of the attention this year is the Budabi Brothers, who mix flying knives, juggling torches, dangerous acrobatics and quick wit to entertain their audiences, Booth said.
“The jugglers may not be strictly Scottish, but I was sold when I saw how they interacted with the crowds on their YouTube video,” Booth said. “We wanted them for the kids and families because we pride ourselves in making sure there’s something for everybody.”
Over the past 25 years, one of the biggest traditional crowd-pleasers has always been watching the sheepdogs at work.
But while festival patrons may enjoy watching humans compete in the Caber Toss, Braemar Stone Put and Sheaf Toss, they don’t like the distance and silence necessary for competitive sheepdog herding, Booth said.
By featuring demonstrations only, kids and parents will be able to get much closer to Trump, Reb, Tam and Twix as they maneuver their woolly friends through obstacles, Booth said.
Dog owners Paul and Leigh Anne Tucker, as well as Jim Valley, will also be on hand to talk about the dogs and their training, as well as answer questions, Booth said.
If there is one thing that has allowed the Scottish festival to grow over the years, it has been scores of volunteers such as Kevin Konetzka, who has been involved in the event for the past 20 years.
The long-time Columbus Animal Care Services manager used his vacation time this year to put in more than 60 volunteer hours to the festival, performing chores such as mowing, erecting tents and transporting items held in storage.
But Konetzka, who said at least eight others made similar efforts, insists he has no regrets.
“I love doing this because it’s a great event and a family atmosphere where we try to make it fun for everyone,” he said.
That’s exactly why Kaytlin’s father, Robert Shoup, brought his daughter to the Scottish festival Saturday, he said.
“I absolutely love that the people here are so nice and friendly,” Shoup said after having his photograph taken with a World War II Scottish living historian. “This is just great.”
Where: Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Cost: $12 for adults; $3 for youth ages 6-12 in advance; free for children younger than 6.
8 a.m. – Grounds open.
9 a.m. — Highland Hustle 5K run/walk, all on 4-H fairgrounds.
10:30 a.m. — Dublin O’Shea band.
11 a.m. — Children’s area opens.
Noon — Mass pipe band performs. Beer garden opens.
12:40 p.m. — The Sprigs perform.
3:30 p.m. — Car show trophies.