The bagpipe (or a'pìob mhór if you happen to speak Scottish Gaelic) was initially used by early Celtic nations as a weapon of war — the pipers marching into battle on the front lines and often taking the first shots. The skirl of the bagpipe can be menacing, but today the sound generally instills a more nostalgic feeling, a longing for the old country, for those who hear it.
"People like the sound of the bagpipes," says Dale Pederson, president of Tucson's Celtic Festival, "for a certain amount of time." Whether you're the kind of person who enjoys the shrill sound of the bagpipes, or are scared away by them — the Tucson Celtic Festival has something for you. Beyond the piping performances and competition, the festival brings an array of bands that span from modern Celtic rock, like their headlining band Enter the Haggis, to bands that play more traditional and melodic Celtic music. "Music is a big thing (in the Celtic tradition) so we have to cover all the bases." says Pederson, who is himself of Scott, Welsh and Norwegian descent.
Going hand in hand with music are the various folk dances that will be showcased at the fest. Tucson's Seven Pipers Scottish Society will be performing traditional Highland Dances, including the "Highland Fling," the "Sword Dance" as well as a few National Scottish dances. These intricate and stamina demanding dances were historically danced in order to pass on legends and celebrate victories in battle.
And although music and dance play an integral role in commemorating the Celtic tradition and culture, there is much more to the festival beyond the stage.
Friday night is the Celtic Pub Night, where patrons are invited to partake in whiskey tasting, pub trivia, and indulge some good eats from Tucson's food truck roundup. The Celtic New Year will be celebrated on Saturday night, featuring the headlining band as well as performances from the fire dancers out of Tucson's acrobatic studio Cirque Roots.
"It'll be a real ceilidh," says Pederson, which means party in Scottish Gaelic.
It's true, the Celt's know how to throw a good banger, but even that isn't all this festival is about. In fact, what initially drew the festival's president in were the Highland Athletics and Games.
"It is one of the few sports that your competitors are actually your best friends," says Pederson.
The games are made up a range of activities that are designed to show off the contestant's strength, stamina and agility. The most known of the sports being the caber toss, "caber" meaning rafter or pole in Gaelic. The point of the game is to hurl what resembles the trunk of a good sized tree, a log of up to 175 pounds, so that it makes not only distance but also lands at a specific angle. A perfect toss has the log landing pointing at exactly 12 o'clock in relation to the thrower. Not an easy feat, though athletes are encouraged to try their hand at the games and are able to sign up before the festival online.
For families with children, not to worry, the event even has something to offer for the wee lads- with a "Castle Quest" life-size board game, craft tables, a jumping castle, storytelling, and even a petting zoo.
The Celtic festival gives Tucsonans the chance to experience and celebrate the rich folklore and deep-rooted heritage that is shared by many.
Celtic influence reached throughout Eastern and Western Europe, from Ireland to Italy and dates back for more than 25 centuries. Based on the span of Celtic influence, Pederson says, "There's a good chance that everyone has a wee bit of Celt in them!" Whether you're a Celt, or just whiskey fan, this is one weekend gala you won't want to miss.
Festival Pub Night will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, and is $5 per person. On Saturday, Nov. 2, the festival will go from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. with the Celtic Fire Concert going from 6 to 10 p.m. and the Fire Dance Performance at 7 p.m. On Sunday, Nov. 3, festival hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the Closing Ceremony at 4 p.m.
The Celtic Festival takes place at the Rillito Raceway Park located at 4502 N. First Ave. For more information about the festival and to purchase tickets, call 909-7299 or visit tucsoncelticfestival.org.