25th annual Columbus Scottish Festival makes it a plaid world

Maybe you’re accustomed to hearing bagpipes as mournful and longing.

If so, Kirk MacLeod suggests you’re in for a surprise when he and his four mates from Celtic band Seven Nations rock the Columbus Scottish Festival with original, edgy tunes Sept. 10 and 11 at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds. The headlining music group will present two 45-minute shows as part of an expanded entertainment segment of the 25th annual celebration featuring sheepherding demonstrations, athletic competition, whiskey tasting and more activities.

In short, it will be a world gone plaid. And with a substantial impact. Local economic estimates showing that the event generates about $300,000 for the local economy, according to organizers.

“For me personally, this never gets old,” said bagpiper and lead singer MacLeod, a British native who formed the globetrotting group nearly 25 years ago in New York City. “I’m just still so grateful to have an audience who wants to listen to our songs.”

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That includes tunes about everything from love to finding a ray of hope amid struggle. And who knows struggle quite like the determined Scottish?

Scottish native and Columbus resident Fay Stewart was among festival founders in 1991, along with the late Barbara Stewart and a group from Indianapolis.

“I can say on that first year, we weren’t quite sure show things actually were going to go,” Stewart said. “It was seen as something of a shot in the dark.”

Stewart said he loves that organizers this year have enhanced some of the offerings with a second entertainment stage. For example, a sword and knife demonstration has been added. And Renaissance jugglers also will perform.

While festival coordinator Justin Booth acknowledged that that group is hardly exclusively Scotland-focused, neither are parts of the gathering’s music or its Pam Price European Car Show.

“Since they perform at a lot of Renaissance fairs, even though it might be considered a little bit of a stretch, we thought they’d be a lot of fun for kids and families,” Booth said. “And it gives people something a little different.”

Also different this year is the Highland Hustle 5K run/walk and the bagpipe band and solo contest, a renewed element, with nearly 100 soloists already registered from all over the Midwest. Booth said organizers have been careful to build on event funds slightly in order to spend a little more for this 25th anniversary year.

“So we’re especially hoping that people come out this year as we try to give them a little more bang for their buck,” Booth said. “Last year, I actually expected better attendance than what we had because it was absolutely gorgeous.”

Last year’s event drew about 4,000 people — the best of recent years was nearly 5,000 in 2013 — with visitors coming from areas as close as Cincinnati, Ohio, and as far as the Carolinas and Florida. A variety of food vendors give the festival a distinctly Scottish taste, with the added culture of Highland dancing, always among the more popular draws.

Also, vendor tents allow attendees to buy everything from T-shirts to kilts.

Moreover, visitors can research their own Scottish roots by chatting with representatives at the numerous Clan and Scottish Society tents on the grounds. And besides the whiskey tasting, a beer garden also will be available. Plus reenactors will bring history to life.

Although the event no longer features actual sheepdog trials, an adjusted sheepherding demonstration appears to be even more popular with spectators, Booth said.

“In the past (trials), handlers had to make sure their dogs were not too distracted,” Booth said. “Now we have (demonstration) couples who bring their own dogs with the idea of interacting with our visitors.”

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25th annual Columbus Scottish Festival

Where: Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Cost: $10 in advance for adults ($12 at gate); $3 for youth ages 6 to 12 in advance or at gate; free for children younger than 6. Advance tickets available by mail:

Columbus Scottish Festival, P.O. Box 2573, Columbus, IN 47202-2573

Information: scottishfestival.org.

SEPT. 10

8 a.m. — Grounds open at County Road 200 South in Garden City.

9 a.m. — Highland Games athletic competition begins.

10 a.m. — Highland Dance competion begins.

10 a.m. — Children’s area opens with all-day activities.

11 a.m. — Beer garden opens.

11:10 a.m. — Headlining musical act Seven Nations performs.

4:15 p.m. — Parade of vintage cars.

5:30 p.m. — Ceilidh doors open for a light buffet, entertainment and dancing. Tickets are $10 to $20 for this event.

SEPT. 11

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.