It's a peculiarity of American culture that from time to time we like to try on a different culture, see how it fits -- for better for worse, it's pretty much guaranteed that there's no "American Fest" anywhere in Scotland. Whether that says we're accepting and diverse or just that we're leeches, the way we celebrate other cultures is a distinctly American pursuit, and we come at it from a distinctly American angle -- one of inclusion, giant turkey legs and, of course, plenty of good old American kitsch. To that rule, the Longs Peak Scottish Irish Festival this weekend was no exception. Photos by Olivia Lewis.
Take, for example, Alex Hernandez (which is not the world's most Scottish last name), who was representing the Celtic Army, an organization whose job it basically was to fire a series of cannons once an hour. Cannons that shot bowling balls.
Did I mention there were cannons that shot fucking bowling balls? Because that was awesome.
Hernandez got involved with the Celtic army when he was in high school, when his best friend at the time happened to have a father who was into cannons. "So he was like, 'hey, you wanna shoot some cannons?'" Hernandez related. "So you're a junior in high school -- what would you do? I was like, 'yeah, yeah I wanna shoot some cannons.' And, pardon the pun, but it was a blast."
And he's been doing it for more than 20 years now; aside from making an appearance every year at Scottish Fest (and he was repping Scottish Fest like it was no joke -- the whole Celtic Army was sporting matching, kilt-based uniforms), the Celts occasionally participate in cannon competitions "anywhere there's a lot of land," like in New Mexico or Wyoming, and the organization works occasionally with the Boy Scouts as well. "We're an educational organization," Hernandez noted. "Really, our goal is to teach people about these kinds of weapons that people once used."
Whit Young was also on a mission to educate, but with a substantially more low-key display: probably the most intricate diorama I've ever seen in my life, which was the centerpiece of an entire exhibit about the Battle of Bannockburn, a decisive Scottish victory over the English in the 14th century (I'm not going to go over the whole thing here, but you can read about it in this Wikipedia entry on it). There was also an exhaustive history of the battle that included a remarkably well done, 15-or-so-minute movie that screened in the diorama room every three times an hour or so.
Young said the diorama takes about two days total to break down and reassemble to take it to the festival -- and he travels from Utah to do it; aside from another festival in his home state, the diorama doesn't appear anywhere but the Scottish festival. To make the diorama, Young painstakingly assembled everything by hand. "It's taken years," he said. "You know, there was a kid that came through the other day, and he asked me, 'did you paint all these [figurines] yourself?' I said, 'You can show me a machine that'll paint these, let me know.'"
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Why do it? Young said it was for a couple of reasons. One, the guy just really likes war history. Two, the Scottish blood in him runs deep. "I have some Scottish ancestry," he said. "Not all Scottish, but maybe that DNA is a little stronger in me."
And three: Freedom. "You know," he explained, "all this is really to teach people about freedom, and how, once lost, it's very hard to regain."
And freedom, well, that's about as American as it comes.