Thousands of Scots, Celts and Americans will once again be descending on Floyd Lamb Park, Tule Springs next April, as the Las Vegas Celtic Society has confirmed that the Las Vegas Highland Games have been approved, and will run again on April 13th and April 14th in 2019.
The weekend-long event, which has been operating for several years now and attracts increasingly larger crowds year on year, is a celebration of all things Celtic. That includes eating, drinking and music, as well as some of the most unusual sporting events you could ever hope to see!
The group which organizes the games are a charity whose sole purpose in life is to promote all things Celtic within the south of Nevada. Throwing the annual Highland Games in Vegas is the most high profile activity they involve themselves with – and takes almost a full year of planning – and they’re connected to both the St. Andrews Society of Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Pipe Band; the latter of whom will be expected to take the stage at some point over the weekend and entertain the crowds.
The society formed back in 2004 as nothing more than a group of friends with similar interests, with the intention of staging a one-off celebration of Celtic dance and music with a little athleticism thrown in. It was much more popular than they anticipated, and so by popular demand they’ve been persuaded to continue staging the Games ever since.
The success of the Highland Games and the festival that’s been built around it may seem like a stunning piece of good fortune for both the audience and the organizers, but anybody who considers it to be surprising just isn’t familiar with the luck of the Irish! The idea that those with Celtic blood are naturally lucky has been with us ever since the early days of the gold rush. There’s a whole industry built up around the idea of Irish good fortune; hence the existence of Rose Slots; an online slot website that takes its theming and imagery from Irish fairytales and legends. You’ll likely see Irish imagery, leprechauns and lucky heather in various Vegas casinos; everybody knows they’re associated with being blessed by fate. When a group of Celts puts their mind to something and works hard at it, luck tends to do the rest. That’s why the Games are still happening some fourteen years after the society formed.
As for the Games themselves; they market themselves as “the most fun you’ve ever had with bagpipes”; although we suspect that for a lot of people, it’ll be the only fun they’ve ever had with bagpipes. The organizers go to great lengths to explain that it’s not purely about the physical games; the food and the music is just as important. There’s a stage open all weekend featuring authentic music from Celtic acts; so expect to see steel drums, mandolins and plenty of folk singers. If the music particularly speaks to you, you may even want to enter the Highland Dance competition, which takes place on the second stage. It’s open to all ages, and the best dancer wins. Last year they estimated that as many as eighty people chose to get up on the stage and take part.
Competition is equally as fierce among musicians at the Games; teams of bagpipers and drummers are invited to come to Vegas specifically to take part in direct competition with each other, all approved and sponsored by the Western United States Pipe Band Association. There’s also an equivalent competition for solo pipers and drummers who want to do battle one on one, all of which happens within the dedicated competition arena.
Then, of course, there’s the physical competition itself. The Highland Games that are played in Vegas are very similar to the principles of the Highland Games that take place in Scotland, and can trace their roots back for centuries. The idea of Highland Games is specifically Scottish, although the Celts can be traced back to both Ireland and Scotland and are historically viewed as one people. If you’ve never encountered them before; expect to see a lot of power displays! Events you’ll have seen at the summer Olympics are here; for example the shot put and the hammer throw, but these games take throwing heavy objects a step further! That means sheaf tossing, throwing weights and most impressively of all, the legendary caber toss. Reserved only for the strongest of competitors, caber tossing is physically lifting a log of wood the size of a telephone pole, and seeing who can throw it for the longest distance.
Specific entertainment and attractions are also available for children; there will be a Children’s Glen area in the athletics fields containing bounce-houses and similar games to keep the youngest members of the audience occupied.
Tickets to the event are $15 per day for adults, $10 for seniors or those with military ID, $5 for children aged between 5 and 12, and free for children under five. They can be ordered in advance from the Las Vegas Celtic Society website, or simply bought at the gate on the day; although the Society historically offer discounts to people who buy online and in advance. Tickets are expected to go on sale early in January, so those interested would be best advised to check the site just after New Year.
Alternatively, you could get in free by volunteering! Everybody involved in the planning and operation of the Games is a volunteer, and the Society is constantly looking for new faces to join the team. There’s an application form for potential volunteers on the Society website, and they would be delighted to hear from you.
In any event, there’s only one place that any self-respecting Vegas dweller with Celtic blood will be on that weekend next April; sitting in a lawn chair at Floyd Lamb Park, wearing their best kilt, sampling the taste of the old country from the food vendors and watching the bands; as well as keeping an eye out for flying cabers!