Annual Scottish Festival returns Sept. 10-11 after 2-year absence

NEVER let it be said that Scottish Festival organizers are unprepared for those without a taste for bagpipes, Scottish country dancing, sporty European car displays, sheepdog trials, haggis, clan histories, Celtic tunes, muscle-powered Highland athletics and more.

No sweat. Organizers figure those folks at least should have at least a subtle taste for one thing more, and that’s reflected on one of the festival’s whimsical, promotional Facebook posts as follows: “Invite your friends, tell your co-workers, (and) bribe that one family member with great-tasting whiskey!”

Indeed, whiskey tasting is their shot at part of the spirits of the weekend event returning Sept.10-11, rain or shine, to the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, 750 W County Road 200S, Columbus.

“That’s one of the things that I think I love the most about the Scottish Festival,” said Mary Jean Holwager, who became a member of the organizing committee soon after she attended her first such event in 2015. “There really is something fun for everyone.”

That includes the youngsters, who can make shields with the help of one of the vendors. Plus, there’s plenty of shopping for everything from jewelry to — what else? — kilts.

Yet Holwager and the rest of the team acknowledge they are a bit more excited than usual for the cultural gathering that attracts people from areas such as Indianapolis, Bloomington, Cincinnati and elsewhere — enough that the Columbus Area Visitors Center remains among the sponsors. In 2020, the festival was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, insufficient sponsorship caused a second cancellation.

Mike Bostelman, president of the festival’s board, mentioned that some aspects of the event are slightly different than in years past. For instance, there will be no pipe band competition. However, three to four pipe bands, including the local Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums, are expected to stroll the grounds and play throughout the weekend.

Plus, several contemporary bands also are slated to entertain, though organizers hadn’t finalized a complete event schedule at press time. Currently traditional Scottish rock band Highland Reign of Indianapolis, Celtic folk group Dublin O’Shea of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and local ensemble Laughing Jack, playing everything from Irish tunes to sea shanties, have been confirmed. Local residents likely may have caught Laughing Jack performing at such places as the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza.

“This is such a neat, overall, cultural event,” Bostelman said. “I think it really brings a lot to our community.”

That includes world records in the Highland Games, which adds a peculiar and novel twist to the gathering with hulking athletes, sometimes from as far away as the mother country itself, competing in events such as the caber toss. In that, kilt-bedecked participants toss what look like scaled-down telephone poles. And, in the sheaf toss, they hoist with the help of a pitchfork a burlap bag filled with hay over a goal post-style bar.

The competition and demonstrations still attract onlookers who are new to such an experience and sometimes amazed at the feats of strength. In 2019, Scott Verbus established a world record at the local festival when he tossed the sheaf 17 feet, 3 inches in the standing weight category in the men’s master lightweight division, age 40-49.

But perhaps what people may notice most of all at the festival are the sounds of bagpipes. Holwager, who plays bagpipes with the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums, understands.

“It’s a powerful instrument,” she said. “And it’s enticing.”

About the event

What: 29th Annual Columbus Scottish Festival

When: Sept. 10-11 with a detailed schedule coming at scottishfestival.org

Where: Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, 750 County Road Road 200S

Admission: Adult Sept. 10, $15; adult Sept. 11, $15; adult both days, $25. Children 5-12 each day, $5. Children 4 and under, free