Arkansas Scottish Festival to offer bonny good time

By Donnie Sewell Published April 12, 2012 at 4:18 a.m.
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— The echoes of bagpipes coming from the campus of Lyon College is something the Presbyterian school’s neighbors are most likely familiar with - the campus is home to the Lyon College Pipe Band. But come Saturday, those echoes should be even louder.

The campus is also home to the Arkansas Scottish Festival each April, bringing pipe bands from across the nation to compete against each other. The 33rd annual event begins today with a concert by the Lyon band at 7 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 775 E. Boswell. The events will continue through Sunday.

This year, in addition to the Lyon band, four bands will compete for the Southwest Pipe Band Championships title, including the Northeast Arkansas Caledonians from Jonesboro; the Wolf River Pipes andDrums from Memphis, Tenn.; the Baton Rouge Caledonian Pipe and Drums from Baton Rouge, La.; and the Alabama Pipe and Drums from Birmingham, Ala.

Kenton Adler is the piping competition director for the festival, overseeing the band and solo piping competition for the festival. He’s also a member of the Lyon band and works in information services for the school. He recently spoke about some of the highlights to expect at this year’s festival.

◊Get there early on Saturday if you want a good parking space. Adler said that if the weather the state has had throughout the early part of the week holds up for Saturday, he would not be surprised to see 10,000 people or more on campus for Saturday’s events. Admission to the festival is free. The festival will officially open at 8 a.m. with solo piping competitions in Couch Garden. The festival will close at 5 p.m. Saturday and reopen at 8 a.m. Sunday.

◊Be ready to listen to a lot of piping throughout the weekend. With five bands competing in this year’s festival, that translates to somewhere between 80 and 100 pipers and drummers. Adler said there are 30 solo pipers and seven solo drummers signed up for individual competitions as well. The official opening ceremonies will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday and will feature a parade of the clans and massed bands in Couch Garden. The band championships will follow at 2 p.m.

◊Don’t be surprised if you hear “Scotland the Brave,” a popular patriotic Scottish tune, multiple times throughout the weekend. The song is considered an unofficial national anthem for Scotland. When asked how many times a festivalgoer may hear the tune this weekend, Adler chuckled. “At least once,” he said. “I’ll estimate that over the weekend, there is a pretty good chance of 20 to 30 times.”

◊Need a break from the pipes and drums? You can take a break in the shade of the entertainment tent and listen to folk and Celtic music performances by Colin Grant-Adams and Celtic Breeze. Grant-Adams is a Scottish immigrant who now calls Glasgow, Ky., home. The folk singer has more than 40 years of experience performing throughout Europe and the U.S. Celtic Breeze is based in Mountain View. The six-piece band plays traditional Scottish, Irish, Welsh and American folk tunes.

◊About 20 Scottish clans will be at the festival this year. Representatives for the clans will be on-hand to discuss the clans’ family histories. It can be a good place for those interested in their family genealogy to start.

◊Wonder what a caber isand why you would toss it? Imagine cutting a utility pole in half, picking it up and throwing it as far as you can. That’s essentially what caber tossing is like.

This year, the festival is bringing in some pros to demonstrate heavy athletic competitions that include caber tossing, sheaf tossing, weight for distance and other popular athletic competitions, Adler said. “I’ve been told it’s going to be some seriously big dudes,” he said.

◊You won’t leave hungry. There will be several Scottishthemed food vendors, including ones who will sell heritage meat pies, Adler said. There will also be other typical festival fare such as hot dogs and hamburgers. And several student-group vendors will have food available, he said.

Saturday night, if you’ve purchased a ticket for the feast, you’ll get to enjoy some traditional Scottish food, including roast beef, tatties and neeps, and other dishes. Don’t expect haggis, however. Adler said that is usually more of a Burns Dinner dish.

◊The Iona Worship Service will be held at 9 a.m. Sunday in the entertainment tent. The Rev. Emmett Powers, interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Batesville, will lead the service.

◊Think you have the best knees? Then you might want to compete in the Bonniest Knees Contest at noon Sunday. But don’t be too sure of victory. Adler is the defending champion and has won the contest three of the last five years, and he said he has plans to repeat his victory.

“Bring your game,” Adler said when asked what advice he’d offer to other competitors. “They should be prepared for some stiff knee competition. I spend the year grooming my knees for this competition.”

Adler won’t share his secrets, but he said aloe vera plays a prominent part in his preparations.

◊The festival will also include Highland dancing demonstrations, children’s games, sheepdog demonstrations and a British car show by the British Motoring Club of Arkansas throughout the weekend. For a full schedule of events, go to

Staff writer Donnie Sewell can be reached at (501) 918-4527 or

Zoned editions editor Donnie Sewell can be reached at 501-918-4527 or

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