The Middle Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival will be coming once again to Sanders Ferry Park on Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville on September 9 and 10, 2023. This festival brings together families to learn about, appreciate, preserve, and celebrate all things Scottish and Celtic traditions. It features Scottish Highland athletic competitions, a kid’s cultural activity area with mini games and crafts, a Celtic Market with unique vendors, a village of Scottish families, continuous live music, Scottish bagpipers, traditional Celtic dancers, and entertainment on three stages.
Live Celtic bands playing both classical and contemporary music will be on hand on two stages. Bands include Kilmaine Saints, Nosey Flynn, Tuatha Dea, The Sternwheelers, The Crossjacks, Doon the Brae, Colin Grant-Adams, The Secret Commonwealth, Clare Cunningham and Kris Colt. Other entertainment includes Glengarry and Sinclair Highland Dancers, Nashville Irish Music School, Nashville Irish Step Dancers and Scottish Country Dancers. The entertainment schedule can be found here.
Both days there will be a full slate of solo piping, drumming and pipe band competitions in the designated Piping and Drumming area of the park. Solo pipers compete in what is called a “piobaireachd”, pronounced pea-brook, or classic form competition. The tune begins with a simple melody called the ground which then builds into more complex movements through each variation to culminate in a flourish. Pipers also perform what is called “Ceol Beg” in Gaelic, which consists of marches, strathspeys and reels. Competitors are judged on the ability to stay in tune, play with precision and expression, and keep proper timing.
Drummers compete with sets of marches, strathspey, reels, hornpipes and jigs. They are normally accompanied by a solo piper. Drummers are judged by their musicality, dynamics, precision, and time keeping. There are three levels of pipe band competition, each playing a medley of types of music. They are judged on musicality, and the ability to stay in unison and keep correct timing.
Athletic events are also an important part of the Festival. The roots of the founding of games are said to go back to 2000 B.C. as means of developing the skills needed to be a warrior, but the first written reference of them, as noted by scotsman.com, is that during the reign of King Malcolm III (1057-1093 A.D.)… he summoned men to race up Craig Choinnich near Braemar in order to find a royal messenger. The games are said to have become a way of choosing the …ablest men for the clan chieftain’s household…”
The athletic events pit both male and female amateur athletes in the Stone Put, Caber Toss, Hammer Throw, Sheaf Toss, and Weight throws. The Stone Put is similar to a shotput, although it was originally a large rock. Hammer Throws are judged on distance and speed. A Caber is a wood pole that is 19 feet six inches in length and weighs about 175 pounds. Competition is done in a kilt by both sexes. A sheaf is a burlap bag filled with straw and tossed above a competitor’s head with a pitchfork over a pole. The person throwing the sheaf the highest without hitting the pole wins. Weights thrown vary between 14 and 56 depending on the sex of the individual in the competition and the class they are in.
There will also be a parade of clans, clan booths, merchant booths, traditional foods, and a Kids Zone with highland games for kids, crafts, story time and more.
On Saturday there will be two special Scotch tastings for those over 21 for a fee of $50 additional to entry ticket charge. Tickets must be purchased in advance. The tastings will include Glenfiddich, Grants Blended Scotch, The Balvenie and Monkey Shoulder. Times are 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Activities will begin at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 9 and run until 5:00 p.m., then begin again on Sunday, September 10 at 9:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. Tickets start at $7.00 and go up to $150 for weekend packages. They can be purchased here. Only a limited number of tickets will be available at the gate, so pre-purchasing tickets is advised. Children ages five and under do not require a ticket, ages six through 12 require a child pass, and ages 13 and up require an adult-level ticket.