Scottish-American culture and character will be on display through lively music and dance, unique athletic contests, fascinating storytelling and more during the 12th annual today through Sunday at in St. Charles.
“It’s just a fantastic weekend,” said Tartan Day Chairman Vickie Struckmann. “Just come down and wander.”
“I look forward to this every year because it’s a wonderful thing to celebrate freedom and liberty and the connection between Scotland and the U.S. independence,” said native Scot Ken MacSwan, a member of the musical duo Duddy Breeks.
With good weather, organizers expect about 35,000 people to wander the grounds during the three-day event. There will be plenty to see and do. Musical headliners Highland Reign, a Scottish-American folk rock band from Indianapolis, and Mother Grove, a high energy group that mixes original rock with “rocked up” traditional songs, perform tonight, tomorrow and Sunday on the Tilted Kilt Stage in the Miller Tent.
Other highlights include Pictus, which blends drums, bagpipes, Irish whistle and more with percussive dance, storytelling and humor; Celtic music from Duddy Breeks; the 42nd Royal Highlanders with their mix of pipes, fifes, drums and dance; the John Ford Highland Pipe Band; the St. Louis Caledonian Pipe Band; all-girl drum and bugle group The Kilties.
Disney will have a booth promoting their new film Brave, about a Scottish girl who wants equal treatment with the boys.
Also on the agenda is Dance Caledonia, the only strictly dance group at the festival.
“They are going to do performance, and they are also going to do instruction and audience participation,” Struckmann said. “We really try and do as much of that as possible.”
In addition, there will be a demonstration of Scottish Heavy Athletics, with competitors in such events as the caber toss, open stone put, 56-pound weight throw and more. If anyone really wants to try one of these events, Struckmann said, the athletes will offer instruction as well.
“The guys who want to get out there and throw stuff, we try to get them involved too,” she said.
Living history will be part of the festival, with the 8th Missouri Civil War Re-Enactment Troop and the 42nd Royal Highlanders camping on the grounds.
“Our mission and our goals are mainly educational, and trying to involve as many people in the Scottish culture as possible,” Struckmann said. “But it’s Scottish-American, not just Scottish.”
“Scots in America through Time” offers a look at the role Scots played in the development of the United States.
“We try to enlighten people on the Scottish influence in America,” said Struckmann, who is a proud member of the Clan MacGregor. “It’s much more than people realize.”
Duddy Breeks Offers Celtic Tunes
The duo Duddy Breeks, featuring Thayne Bradford and Ken MacSwan, will play two sets of Celtic tunes Saturday afternoon. The band’s unusual name is meant to convey an easy familiarity.
“It’s just an old Scottish lowland term for your old worn-out trousers,” MacSwan said. “Especially if you’re in the corporate world, you get home after a hard day’s work and you put on your old pants, you know? And your old slippers or your old shoes – your duddy breeks – and you get comfortable. It’s all about being comfortable. ‘Duddy’ means worn out, and 'breeks' being breeches or pants.”
MacSwan, a native of Glasgow, Scotland who moved to the United States in 1963, said the music is good, healthy fun.
“It sort of taps into you,” he said. “It gets your corpuscles going. Certainly for me, being from Scotland anyway, all that stuff gets the blood running.”
Bradford, who plays the fiddle, guitar and banjo, comes from a background playing bluegrass and Appalachian music. But that’s not too far a stretch for what he does now.
“He loves Irish and Celtic and Scottish material because it’s all in the same roots,” MacSwan said. “All the stuff from Appalachia and such came over with the Scots and Irish. We play different reels and things, but a lot of that music is common to both Scots and Irish because of the Celtic tradition going way back.”
MacSwan plays guitar and octave mandolin, which he describes as a “mandolin on steroids.” Both of them, he added, “will sing a song if we’re forced into it. We’re really musicians who can sing now and again, rather than singers who play music.”
There is a sense of history in much of what the pair performs.
“Our songs are pretty old,” MacSwan said. “They go back anywhere from 50 to two or three hundred years.”
Still, it touches listeners.
“The wonderful thing for me is to be playing and singing this stuff and these little kids at these festivals will jump up,” he said. “They can’t sit still – they’re jumping up and down and spinning around. To bring glee to a child is a wonderful thing. And people can really get off on this stuff, because there are a lot of good rhythms and things going on that work just as well today as they did 200 years ago. It’s definitely a loving tradition, and we’re carrying it on.”
The sets Duddy Breeks plays will be mostly love songs.
“Love songs hold up over the years,” MacSwan said, chuckling. “It’s just as fresh now. The words might sound a little odd.”
But mostly, this is “good music to dance to,” he said. “I always tell people to just pretend you’re at a Grateful Dead concert. Let your hair hang down, do whatever you want to do and just have a good time. The object of the music is to make you happy and put you in a different time and place.”