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Festival celebrates region’s Celtic heritage

Rebekah Wilson • Aug 26, 2013 at 12:41 PM

The Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, hosted by the Upper East Tennessee Celtic Society, returns Sept. 6-8 for its 19th season and brings with it jousting, Celtic music, food, Scottish heavy athletics, a Best Knees in a Kilt Contest, dancing, herding and various workshops.

“Our goal is to educate as well as to entertain the public about their Celtic heritage,” said Justine Kinch, the Celtic society’s events director and a board member.

The festival begins at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 6 at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton with a torch light ceremony, during which participating clans will march in kilts and tartans to honor their ancestors and to display their colors for family and friends in attendance. The ceremony is free to the public.

Day attendance on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7 and 8, not including the Saturday evening concerts, is $7, but by bringing a can of food for Second Harvest Food Bank, patrons may enter for $6. Those dressed in traditional Celtic attire will also receive $1 off admission. Children 12 and younger get in free. Tickets for Saturday’s concert are $12. Weekend passes are available for $20 and include all music, events and workshops. Tickets are available at the festival entrance.

Events will take place at the park’s indoor and outdoor theaters as well as its amphitheater. A complete schedule of events is available online at www.uppereasttncelticsociety.org.

Lords of Chivalry live jousting, one of the most popular events from last year, returns with fully armored knights carrying shields and lances and charging each other at full speed atop some of the world’s largest horses.

“The ground thunders,” Kinch said. “You can feel the ground move, and when the lances break, the pieces go flying.”

The jousting will be held from 11 a.m. to noon and from 2 to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday in the outer field.

Another display of brute strength and control at the outer field will be the Scottish heavy athletics, in which men in kilts throw massive logs in a caber toss, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The Best Knees in a Kilt Contest, to be held from 3 to 4 p.m., Saturday in the indoor theater, gives women over the age of 18 an opportunity to blindly judge men in kilts by their knees. Three female judges will be selected at random from the audience.

The Saturday night concert will begin at 6 p.m. in the outdoor theater and feature Sigean, My Three Kilts, Maidens IV and Uncle Hamish and the Hooligans.

Sigean is a traditional Irish group from Bristol, Tenn., that plays Celtic jigs and reels as they once were and still are heard throughout the green hills of Ireland.

My Three Kilts describes itself as Celtic pub punk band and blends traditional instrumentation with punk rock.

Maidens IV is a lively group of four dancing ladies with powerful vocals, fiddling and percussion.

Uncle Hamish and the Hooligans is a five-man Celtic rock band that blends modern influences with traditional Celtic instruments like whistles, flute, Highland bagpipes and mandolin.

Among the food and souvenir vendors will be a new chef selling Irish corned beef and haggis sausage sandwiches.

There will be Scottish country dancing as well as dancing by the Irish Sky Step Dance Team.

Bill Coburn will be herding sheep and ducks with his working border collies.

Among the featured workshops are learning to play the Irish penny whistle, weaving with Tim Flint and an indoor children’s area with living history interpreters.

People are welcome to bring lawn chairs and pets. The pet entry fee is $2, and pets must have documentation of rabies vaccination and be friendly around other people and animals.

Proceeds from the Celtic festival support the Upper East Tennessee Celtic Society.

Plenty of parking will be available both on site, at surrounding medical facilities and at Elizabethton High School.

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