The return of the Colorado Scottish Festival | AspenTimes.com

The return of the Colorado Scottish Festival

The Scottish Festival started as a small picnic among St. Andrew Society of Colorado members in the early 1960s, as a way to celebrate their Scottish culture.
Snowmass Tourism/Courtesy photo |

Schedule of events – 2016 Colorado Scottish Festival

FRIDAY

-Piping competition, 5:30 p.m. at Base Village

-Thistle Club VIP reception (ticketed event), 5:30 p.m. at Ice Age Discovery Center

-Hot piping and drumming contest, 8 p.m. at Base Village

SATURDAY

-Solo piping and drumming, 8:30 to 11 a.m. at Base Village

-Whiskey tasting (ticketed event), 10 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Ricard Brasserie & Liquor Bar at Base Village

-Mid-day ceremonies, 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Base Village

-Children’s athletic events, 12 to 1 p.m. at Snowmass mall

-‘Bonnie Knees’ contest, 1:30 to 2 p.m. at Snowmass mall

-Pipe band competitions, 2 to 3:30 p.m. at Base Village

-Free concert featuring The Titan Terrors, 6:15 to 8:30 p.m. on Fanny Hill

SUNDAY

-Solo piping and drumming, 8:30 to 11 a.m. at Base Village

-‘Kirkin o’ the Tartans’ and blessing of the animals, 9 a.m. at Base Village

-Whiskey tasting (ticketed event), 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Ricard Brasserie & Liquor Bar at Base Village

-Mid-day ceremonies, 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Base Village

-Children’s athletic events, 12 to 1 p.m. at Snowmass mall

-Pipe band competitions, 2 to 3:30 p.m. at Base Village

In the early 1960s, a few members of the St. Andrew Society of Colorado in Denver organized a little picnic as a way to celebrate their Scottish heritage.

Within a few years, what started as a small gathering with some bagpipe players and food evolved into something much greater.

By 1970, the popularity of the picnic manifested into a full-fledged Scottish festival with paid entry, according to John Thornton, a longtime member of the St. Andrew Society of Colorado.

The St. Andrew Society of Colorado is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1963 with a mission to support and promote Scottish culture, tradition and history throughout the state.

The organization provides money to other Scottish groups across Colorado and scholarships to highland dancers, bagpipers and drummers to attend workshops and competitions in the U.S. and abroad.

The St. Andrew Society of Colorado’s primary fundraising event is its Colorado Scottish Festival, which the volunteer group organizes and hosts every year.

In its first several decades, the festival took place at Highlands Ranch in Douglas County, where it drew between 10,000 and 12,000 people each year, Thornton said.

After more than 50 years on the Front Range, the Scottish society decided it was time for a change of scenery.

Last summer, St. Andrew Society of Colorado relocated to Snowmass Village and hosted its first festival in the mountains.

Thornton, who has directed the festival for the past 25 years, called the transition to the Western Slope a “wonderful” decision.

“We love the mountains,” he said. “It’s an absolutely phenomenal setting — much better than a flat, open park.”

Although the weekendlong festival scaled back in size and number of attendees when it moved to Snowmass, the change in venue allows the Scottish society to reach a new audience, said Thornton’s wife, Susan, who serves as the St. Andrew Society of Colorado’s piping and drumming chairwoman.

Not to mention, “(Snowmass) is more like being in Scotland,” said Susan Thornton, who has played the bagpipes in the Scottish Festival for more than 20 years.

Other festival performers, like pipe band major Lise Nelson, also expressed their delight at the festival’s move to the mountains.

“The first thing that comes to mind is we will not be competing in 102-degree heat,” Nelson said. “When you are encased in wool from your toes to your head, that gets to be really important.

“Plus, Snowmass is so gorgeous, it’s a pleasure to play there.”

The 2015 Colorado Scottish Festival, which took place in the soccer and baseball fields in Snowmass, attracted approximately 2,000 people, said Snowmass Tourism groups and events manager Dave Elkan.

But this year’s festival will occupy Snowmass’ commercial core, Base Village and mall, Elkan said, adding that he expects more attendees this time around.

What’s also new this summer is that the festival is free for all to attend and enjoy.

Unlike last year’s festival, which required purchasing tickets for admission, the only fees associated with the 2016 Scottish Festival are for whiskey tastings and VIP admission.

The slew of free activities that are scheduled to take place throughout the festival weekend includes bagpipe and drumming competitions, Irish dancing, Celtic vendors and music, a genealogy station and, of course, a series of Scottish athletic games. (See sidebar for a schedule of events.)

“It’s really fun to pull off a world-class event with only a few volunteers,” John Thornton said, adding that the St. Andrew Society of Colorado has been home to the largest all-volunteer Scottish festival in the U.S. for several years.

While the nonprofit’s mission is to promote Scottish culture, it is an inclusive organization that is open to all.

The Colorado Scottish Festival not only encourages attendees of all nationalities, but it also is composed of participants who represent different nationalities, Susan Thornton said.

“We want everybody to come and have a good time,” she said.

“(The St. Andrew Society of Colorado) put their heart and soul into this event every year,” Elkan said. “It’s an iconic, long-lasting, well-run festival with amazing talent and an incredible cultural event for someone to get to experience here.”

erobbie@aspentimes.com


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