Before we quiet down in Orange County on Monday and commemorate the fallen, there will be a whole lot of noise coming from the estimated 10,000-15,000 attendees of Scottish Fest on Saturday and Sunday.

Scottish Fest is the largest Scottish/Celtic festival in Southern California, according to organizers and the OC Fair & Event Center, and it promises to be one exciting, uproarious, imaginative time, with activities and events for all ages and five stages of music and entertainment.

Started in 1932 as the Highland Games, Scottish Fest has evolved into a Celtic festival so popular and expansive, it now fills the 150-acre OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

The amount of lively fun to be had makes it a potential hootenanny gone wild, with nothing left out: piping and drumming contests, Highland dancing to include reels, flings, jigs and sword dances, among others, Highland games, clan genealogy, musical acts galore, whisky tastings, 50 vendors full o’ Scots/Celtic goodies, gifts, clothes, crafts, etc., and of course, haggis, meat pies and bangers will be on the menu.

So break out the kilt, the mini kilt or other Celtic costume, even the armory … or just roll out in your regular shorts and T-shirt for a day or two full of age-old pursuits that work the body in the form of dance, music, sport and movement.

Throwing the Weight at the Highland games. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jaena Imboden.

The Highland games, aka heavy athletics, hail from the days when Scottish warriors did physical training with weighty items at hand, like a blacksmith’s hammer, stones and logs.

At Scottish Fest you can watch or take part in the following events: Throwing the Weight, the Hammer Throw, the Farmer’s Walk, Putting the Stone, the Sheaf Toss and – whoa! – the Caber Toss, when contestants attempt to heave a log end-over-end so as to land in a straight line from the contestant. Probably not your average weekend pursuit.

Yet you might find that you’d like it to be.

Jon O’Neil, athletics director for the Scottish Fest and a Masters competitor and professional athlete in a number of sports, encourages novices not to be intimidated. “If you’re worried that you’re not going to be any good, and you’re a little timid to come out, I would encourage you to come out anyways. That’s kind of what the novice class is for – people who have never done it before,” he said.

He explained how the environment is inviting. “The judges, the other athletes that are around tend to kind of help out and give pointers and stuff. So people shouldn’t be worried about coming out because they’re not going to be throwing as far as other people on the field.

“That’s kind of the whole point – the inclusiveness of the Highland games. Come out, give it a try, you’ll fall in love with it and want to continue on and to train and move up the rankings … the Highland games, it’s such a big family. They want to see everybody improve and have fun and enjoy what they’re doing.”

Hmm, maybe time to drop the burrito and pick up the log? But, please, don’t try this in flip-flops!

The Caber Toss at the Highland games. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jaena Imboden.

Among other events in heavy athletics is the Hammer Throw, which has its roots in mining granite in Scotland. The blacksmith’s hammer is twirled around one’s head multiple times and then let go to see who can send it the farthest.

The Hammer Throw at the Highland games. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jaena Imboden.

One thing to know: You cannot compete in just a few events. “Unlike track and field where you can just throw discus or just throw shot put,” O’Neil explains. “Doing the Scottish heavy athletics, you have to throw all of the events. So, it’s like a decathlon, basically. You have to do everything.”

It’s not too late to sign up to compete in the Highland athletics at Scottish Fest. Go to to learn more, where you’ll find the link to entry forms.

Are there prizes? Yes, my dears. Professionals compete for prize money, while the amateur classes win fun stuff from Kinda Fit Kinda Fat, a clothing line that aims to encourage those trying to get slimmer and fitter to enjoy the journey of getting fit, while not feeling bad about themselves on the way.

Women compete against each other, too, of course – so, ladies, pick up that stone or log or pitchfork and have at it.

Putting the Stone at the Highland games. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jaena Imboden.

For the whiskey enthusiast, there are tastings – but spots are filling up quickly. You can sign up here.

Scottish Fest

Where: OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, May 28; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, May 29

Tickets: One-day admission is $30, $26 for seniors (62+), $5 for children 12 and younger, free for children under 5

Two-day admission: $40, $32 for seniors (62+), $6 for children 12 and younger, free for children under 5

Free for military and first responders with ID. (Not all family members included.) Free for military of all nations with ID.

Parking: $10 on site


The piping, drumming and dancing competitions have been booked, but the listening and watching should not disappoint, as most of them are world-class performers.

At the fest, you’ll find 55 clan booths that can help you trace your genealogy – then you’ll know what tartan to look for at the vendors. Whether it’s a kilt or just a beautiful wool scarf, you can wear it with pride. Or, with Scottish accent, prrryde! Here’s the clan page and the Vendor page.

The music schedule features plenty of different genres, from folk to rock to bluegrass to country to funk to world to jazz, always with a Celtic twist of fiddles, pipes, harps and other instruments.

You can go to the schedule to plan ahead which bands you want to see the most. Each band plays multiple times, so if you plan ahead, you can catch most of them. Saturday night’s headliner is Bad Haggis.

Love British automobiles and motorcycles? There’s a car show – open to any British-built car or motorcycle – with an emphasis on classics, but newer vehicles are also welcome. You’ll need to email the organizer. Find his email address under “Vintage Cars” at the bottom left of

1962 Austin Mini Cooper. Credit: Photo courtesy of Bartley Smith.

For the kiddies there are free-of-charge inflatable obstacle courses and bouncy castles. They’ll love seeing all of the costumes – women in flowy gowns and men in suits of armor, people on stilts, etc. There are sheep herding demos that may fascinate both kids and adults. On a big field, the shepherd shouts and whistles to the dog who runs around to herd the sheep to where they to need to be. Yet another artform that might seem lost to us city folk, but which is still alive and well in the Scottish country.

And that’s what is so lovely about this festival. It brings back the beauty of not just Scottish and Celtic culture, but also that of humanity over the ages.

A Highland dancer. Credit: Photo courtesy of Krisztina Scheeff.

Jen Reoch, chieftain of operations, says, “We have so many different events happening. We’re bringing people back together, finally … it’s a chance for us to come back and celebrate Scottish culture and enjoy it, and we’ve always emphasized the fact that you don’t have to be Scottish to come and have fun. I think that’s what is most important – just bringing the community together.

“We have a very diverse crowd that comes. We really enjoy that fact, because it’s a chance to just come and have fun, and drink, come party in a family-friendly environment, listen to really good music, and just enjoy the culture.” I’ve never known anyone who didn’t love a man in a kilt – Scottish, or otherwise.

Sunday the festival features a salute to veterans and the fallen at 11:45 a.m. Bring military ID or first responder’s ID for free entry. And that’s military ID from any nation – Scottish Fest wants to let those who have served their countries into the festival free of charge. (Just those with the ID, not family members.) More info here.

One more caveat: Previously people have been able to camp. No camping this year, sadly.

Yet, thousands of people will be dressing up, dancing, marching, throwing heavy stuff, piping, playing and communing once again, and that’s the main thing.

J.Q. Norian is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at

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