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Highlander festival: the only way to enjoy men in kilts and bagpipes, unless you’re at a Dropkick Murphys show, Warped Tour, or in Scotland.
The culmination of traditional music, food and crafts is absolutely amazing, and you can’t help but realize how cool this festival is.
The music is definitely a highlight because the people behind Highlander Fest pick up Celtic, Appalachian and modern musicians as well as a mix of everything in between. Highlander Fest celebrates the beautiful mix of culture our home, the New River Valley, actually is.
The music could have gone in many different directions, depending on how much effort the is put into booking musicians. But in the end, each band was perfect for the themes of the festival, and fantastic musicians to boot.
Beggars’ Circus was the first band playing. It is a simple band: three main band members who are all multi-instrumentalists.
Tim Summers, Michelle Lawrence-Walker and Mary Beth Coffey take traditional Celtic tunes and play them live for you; no gimmicks, no modern twists, just well played, beautiful Celtic tunes. Celtic music doesn’t mean strictly Irish music. Beggars’ Circus has learned a wealth of traditional music from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Galacia and many more countries.
Each song features a different instrument from each of the three members including a bodhran, bouzouki, pennywhistle, hammered dulcimer, fiddle, bagpipes, and that doesn’t encircle the usual instruments such as guitar, flute, etc. Currently the band has three CDs, received airplay on radio stations in Virginia, Washington D.C. and North Carolina.
It’s unfortunate that this band hasn’t been seen more often around Radford because due to their extensive knowledge of a massive amount of Celtic songs, they can literally play for hours. When you get the chance, go see them; their shows make you feel at home with the Celticss.
Two of the groups in the line-up are traditional in possibly the truest sense of the word,those being the Virginia Highland Pipes and Drums, and Warpipe.
These two groups are honestly what the Highlander Festival is about. When people think Highlander Festival, they think of bagpipes, funnel cakes, and tons of kilts. The Virginia Highland Pipes and Drums bring a bit of history and tradition with them every time they perform at the Highlander Festival.
They are the main event for the day because watching them is such a spectacle on its own; the timed marching and classic renditions of “Amazing Grace” and “Scotland the Brave” definitely capture audiences. They took center stage in the large blocked-off part of Moffett Quad and everyone was absolutely silent, waiting for their next move.
While the Virginia Highland Pipes and Drums are certainly important, there is also Warpipe, the other bagpipe band that was there. Warpipe is everything VHPD is, but they add a modern twist to the traditional tunes. Both bands were stunning in both presentation and musical ability. Most people couldn’t march and blow an unearthly amount of air into those bagpipes while playing accurately.
Take the great music of our common ground, Appalachian bluegrass and combine it with traditional Celtic music. You’re wondering, who in the world would do such a thing? Celtibillies would, and they’re darn good at it too. The band has been together since 1994 and hasn’t changed a thing.
The Celtibillies style is similar to Beggars’ Circus in manner of instrumentation, but they put their own spin on Celtic music, much like the Dropkick Murphys do to Punk and Scottish music. The endearing thing is the Appalachian influence you absolutely cannot ignore in their music, which makes it even more relatable than the band itself.
The charm in “Rocky Road to Dublin” seeps out of the guitar and the rolling bass; you just can’t get around the multi-voiced chorus and sea-chanty feel it has. The aim of their music is to completely enrapture you in that familiar country sound while simultaneously throwing you a curve ball and shoving you off to Ireland.
The band was initially formed as a contra dance; meaning their music typically accompanies folk dancing. The audience was fortunately able to see the Celtibillies perform with a dancer to go with the music, and that was just the cherry on top.
Scythian was last to play for the evening, and it was no surprise to see them closing out Highlander Festival. Scythian probably has the most acclaim out of the bands to play the Highlander Festival, and there’s good reason for it: they’re the most accessible and they are a good, old-fashioned rock band (with a Celtic twist of course).
Scythian is very similar to the Dropkick Murphys, but that description would underplay their talent. Scythian’s songs have a diverse range of influences and sounds, which makes it easy for you to fall in love with them.
Their songs may not be the “most traditional” or folk-like, but they live up to the hype their Facebook creates for them. The multi-instrumentation was a highlight of their set because they mixed up from traditional guitar-bass-vocals-drums, adding subtle tones and tweaks to songs that would otherwise be boring. Scythian played wonderfully, and deserved to close out Highlander Festival. Be on the lookout for them – the tickets will definitely be worth it.
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