Sponsored by the Scottish St. Andrew Society of Greater St. Louis, the festival kicks off with a Friday-night "calling of the clans" torchlight ceremony, featuring more than 40 Scottish clans and associations in full regalia. The ritual is followed by a ceilidh (pronounced "kay-lee") sing-along under a tent, for which visitors are advised to bring lawn chairs.
Festival performers include traditional Scottish singer Ed Miller and fiddler John Taylor, autoharpist Alex Usher, Alex Sutherland and His Cronies, and ceilidh band Duddybreeks. The special celebrity guest is actor Jim Byrnes, a St. Louis native who was a regular on TV's Highlander and Wiseguy series.
Many will be excited to get their first look at Scottish lifting and tossing games of competition. Eight contests derived from Scotland's annual Highland Games are so physically demanding that competitors often wear weight belts and occasionally lose their kilts as they smack violently into the ground. "It always happens at one event, sooner or later -- someone gets de-kilted," says Festival co-chairman of athletics Joe Moore.
The games include the caber toss, in which 17- to 20-foot logs weighing 80-120 pounds are lofted and flung; the sheaf toss, in which a 16- to 20-pound filled burlap sack is stabbed with a pitchfork and thrown over a high bar; the Scottish-hammer throw, featuring a 16- or 22-pound lead weight mounted on a 3-foot pole; the heaving of a 30-pound shot put called the Braemar stone; the hurling of a 28- or 56-pound weight hanging from a chain for distance; and the throwing of the 56-pound weight over a high bar.
Each contestant must compete in all events. "What people don't talk about is that this is also an endurance event," says Moore. "We're having eight events, and we're going to do it all day long. By the time you get to the end of the day, you're tired and hurt" -- but less hurt, probably, than the TV-news cameraman who found himself looking straight up at a 30-pound sheaf filled with dry lima beans falling straight down. Moore says he witnessed this accident at one Midwestern event and that the hapless man was "laid out like a dead fish," though he recovered.
The St. Louis games will feature local son Bill Bangert, a former world-class Highland Games athlete who still competes in heavyweight contests at age 77!
As far as the wearing of kilts goes, Moore reports that it promotes a salubrious feeling of freedom. "I don't know why women want to wear pants, to be completely honest," he says. "If I could wear my kilt every day, I would."