Moab’s third Celtic Festival is shaping up to be the biggest yet, with 35 clans convening from across the country this weekend to celebrate their heritage with traditional food, drink and revelry, and battles of physical strength and musical prowess.
The “Celtic world” is beginning to buzz about the late-season festival, which runs from Friday, Nov. 4, through Sunday, Nov. 6, said Scots on the Rocks Moab Celtic Festival Board President and co-founder, Dan Lamont. Held at the Old Spanish Trail Arena, 3641 S. U.S. Highway 191, the festival has grown every year since 2014, when 16 clans gathered for the inaugural event.
“They come to see the beauty, and of course they come to have fun,” Lamont said.
Celtic festivals are held all around the country all year, giving not only people of Celtic heritage, like Lamont, but also entire communities an opportunity to immerse themselves in the ancestral culture and traditions of Scotland.
Though there are definitely larger Celtic festivals in the U.S. – like the one in Estes Park, Colorado, where 37 pipe and drum bands took to the field in September – the spirit of the games isn’t about size, Lamont said.
“Back in the 10th and 12th centuries, when people in Scotland and Ireland and Wales fought against the British, they didn’t fight alone,” Lamont said. “They would have one main family that would protect other families. As time went along, the society of that clan got bigger and bigger.”
Today’s Celtic festivals celebrate that spirit of kinship and brotherhood, offering a chance for those of Scottish ancestry to meet fellow clan members, and share traditions with their wider communities.
Scottish ancestry isn’t even necessarily a requirement to belong to a clan, Lamont added, noting that in 2002, a clan from California successfully petitioned the Lord of Lyons in Scotland to register Clan Inebriated, which heartily welcomes anyone willing to adopt its creed: “To drink, to friends, to fun.”
“We’re here to show that we’re family, and want to have fun and watch over other families,” Lamont said.
Moab Celtic Festival festivities officially begin on Friday evening, with receptions for the heavy athletics competitors and headlining band the Wicked Tinkers at local hotels. Attendees will then be invited to head out to the Old Spanish Trail Arena for the tattoo, where the musicians playing the festival will entertain with short sets.
The games begin the following day. A highlight of the festival, the Highland Games are essentially a satisfying show of big, strong men throwing big, heavy things, Lamont said.
The real spirit of the Highlands will be invoked at noon on Saturday during the opening ceremonies, when all five visiting pipe and drum bands, including several from Utah, will follow the Senior Drum Major onto the athletic field for “Mass Bands.”
It’s a thrilling experience, he said.
“To see and hear that amount of bagpipes and drums all playing together is very impressive,” Moab Celtic Festival Senior Drum Major Craig Stevens added.
Stevens said he drives 12 hours from his home in California, where he is a drum major with the Gold Coast Pipe Band in Camarillo, to lead the Mass Bands for the festival in Moab.
His band plays from February through October, and the festival in Moab is his final event before taking a rest over the winter, he said. The all-volunteer Gold Coast Pipe Band plays at ceremonial events such as funerals for military veterans and public safety officers, as well as community events like Memorial Day ceremonies and Christmas parades, he said.
Guests can expect to see the band members in kilts, some which meet standards worthy of the royal regiments in Scotland, Stevens said. He will march onto the field in full uniform, right down to his baldric sash, emblazoned with names of police officers killed in duty in his home county.
The games, the music and the festival itself celebrate just such deep loyalty, Lamont said.
“Now, will I walk up to the Stewarts and tell them I’m better than them? You better believe it!” he said. “But I can do that because they feel the same way.”
Scots on the Rocks to welcome more athletes, bands and clans than ever before
What: Moab Celtic Festival’s Scots on the Rocks
When: Friday, Nov. 4, through Sunday, Nov. 6
Where” Old Spanish Trail Arena, 3641 S. U.S. Highway 191
Admission: $20 for three-day pass
For more information, go to: www.scotsontherocksmoab.com.
We’re here to show that we’re family, and want to have fun and watch over other families.