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Thousands flock to Highlanders Festival

This article first appeared in The Tartan on October 5th 2010 //

Travis Handy
thandy@radford.edu

The sound of bagpipes filled the air Saturday Oct. 2, as hundreds of students, parents and local residents gathered under a beautiful blue sky to celebrate Highlanders Festival’s fifteenth year.

Radford City Mayor Dr. Bruce Brown was on hand at the festival, and was quick to show his excitement about the event.

“The Highlanders Festival is a great partnership between Radford University and the City of Radford,” Brown said. “It’s a great weekend for parents to come down for Parents’ Weekend and get a little taste of the highlands. We’ve ordered up some beautiful weather for it, and you can reconnect with some good friends.”

The festival took place in conjunction with Family Weekend, Welcome Back Weekend and the Appalachian Folk Arts Festival. In the fifteen years since the festival appeared, it has evolved into more of a campus-wide event, offering more opportunities for people to interact with the campus community. The first Highlanders Festival took place on the grounds of the Dedmon Center and approximately 3,000 people attended. Last year, attendance was estimated close to 10,000 people.

The events are organized in a partnership between the university and the City of Radford, and representatives from both are pleased with the collaboration.

“The partnership with the City of Radford is another example of the university and city working together,” said Writer and Information Officer Bonnie Erickson. “Each benefits from the partnership and it’s a unique opportunity to showcase our historic city and our historic university.”

City representative Laurie Buchwald agreed. “I am always excited to bring back festival favorites such as the sheep herder, the food and craft vendors, and the athletic games.” Buchwald said. “I think the Highlanders Festival Steering Committee and Radford Highlanders Festival Weekend are a great example of how positive town and gown relationships can be.”

This year, an emphasis was placed on having an entertaining or educational activities. The day’s early events included a Pancake Breakfast downtown at the Farmer’s Market, as well as a 5K Fun Run and the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure at Bisset Park. A parade comprised of Radford University sports teams and student organizations, pipe bands and antique cars moved along Main St. and up Tyler Ave. to Moffett Quad. The parade also featured public safety and law enforcement vehicles and appearances by Radford High School cheerleaders.

The main events were held on Moffett Quad, and included live music from The Tartan Terrors, a Celtic rock group making their first appearance at the festival, as well as three pipe and drum bands, which are a popular staple of the festival. The day’s entertainment ended with a performance by Enter the Haggis, a Celtic group from Toronto, Canada.

The pipe and drum bands attending this year were Appalachian Highlanders, Virginia Highlands Pipes and Drums and Warpipe. Warpipe’s captain, Burt Mitchell, says this is the tenth year his band has participated.

“It’s always a celebration of the finest time of the year,” Mitchell said.

The group is from Roanoke, Va. and they take part in many festivals and parades in the region. Mitchell was impressed with the entertainment, especially The Tartan Terrors and Enter the Haggis.

“Festivals this small generally tend to go for the amateur local things,” Mitchell said. “But not here. Radford has always brought in the top world-class bands.”

Spectators enjoyed watching competitors take part in the heavyweight games. One of the contestants was Justin Smith, a junior at RU who was competing for the first time.

“I believe I did really well for my first year,” said Smith, who competes in track and field for the university. “I have good experience at throwing and many of the events here were throwing events. My favorite would have to be the rock throw because it’s exactly like the shot put, and I believe I won that event.”

It was also a perfect day for people to bring pets along.

“My favorite part was getting to walk around with my dog, Sugar, and looking at all the unique vendors.” said senior Diane Young. “There are never enough fun events I can take my dog to. I also loved getting to show off Sugar’s tricks in the dog show.”

The Family Weekend Dog Show was held at the Bonnie Hurlburt Student Center.

Outside Peters Hall, there was an area roped off for a sheep herding demonstration. Jesse and Meg, both border collies, showed off their skills at herding the three sheep inside the pen. Shepherd Steve McCall was happy to show onlookers what his dogs could do. McCall chatted cordially with visitors, stopping occasionally to signal to the dogs to round up the sheep. At one point when he wasn’t looking, the sheep wandered away.

After signaling to Meg, he joked and said “Everybody thinks these sheep are deadheads and they want to stay here in one spot, but they’ve been watching for me to turn my back all day.”

The Music Therapy Club held a drum circle outside Pocahontas Hall. “I think the drum circle was a great opportunity, not only for RU’s music therapy students to demonstrate one aspect of music therapy, but also for the community to come together through music,” said club president Jessica Juhasz.

Visitors were invited to take up an instrument and join in the circle.

“It was very heartwarming for me, personally, to see the excitement on all of the faces of the children who participated,” Juhasz said.

Many students were enjoying the festivities with their families. Pat Fields, mother of RU senior Sarah Fields, said this was her third time attending the Highlanders Festival, and she enjoys it every time.

“My favorite thing is always the Celtic music,” Fields said.

Floyd native Cynthia Mahar was also attending the festival for her third time. When asked what her favorite part of the festival was, she was quick to answer: “Enter the Haggis.”

Mattea Day, another local resident who is a student at New River Community College, said, “The Highlanders Festival has proven for years to be a wonderful venue for cultural celebration and exposure for student organizations, local businesses and artisans. Plus, eating real Irish scones and seeing men in kilts only comes once a year.”

Erickson knows the festival only comes once a year, and recognized its importance.

About the planning process, Erickson said, “Yes, it’s a lot of work but when it all comes together, it’s a great sight to see and enjoy.”

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