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Thousands flock to Sumner County for Middle TN Highland Games and Celtic Festival

The Tennessean (Nashville) 9/14/2022 Katie Nixon, Nashville Tennessean
The Graham family enjoying the day's festivities. © Katie Nixon The Graham family enjoying the day's festivities.

Thousands of local and out-of-state visitors flocked to Sumner County for the annual Middle Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival.

Families gathered at Sanders Ferry Park in Hendersonville for the two-day festival on Sep. 10 and 11 to learn, preserve and celebrate Scottish and Celtic traditions.

Live Celtic bands, athletic events, Scottish artisan and food vendors, tartan parade and more kept the more than 6,000 estimated visitors on their toes each day. Last year’s games brought roughly 4,500 festivalgoers to Middle Tennessee.

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Kinship groups – a staple of the weekend-long festival – provide a sense of shared identity and descent for families, some of which trace their lineage back several hundred years and share similar names with nearby cities and counties such as Davidson, Henderson, Montgomery and Stewart.

“I’d say well over 50% of the people out here are wearing some form of tartan and it’s just kind of a family recognition thing and the families,” Middle Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival President Richard Trest said.

“I saw one that had ‘since 1720’ or something like that, so some of these clans have been an official family clan for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

“And everybody knows each other so it’s a lot of nice fellowship,” Middle Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival Finance Director Debbie Trest said.

First held at The Hermitage in 2015, the event transitioned into the local parks after a few years of continually rising expenses, moving to Percy Warner Park last year following a brief hiatus due to the pandemic in 2020.

Looking toward 2022’s games, the event planning board began their search for just the right fit as a lot of space is needed to accommodate the thousands of visitors and potentially dangerous athletic competitions.

And Sanders Ferry Park fit that mold, offering wide open fields suitable for caber, hammer and sheaf toss competitions and ample grounds for visitor parking and vendors.

Some festivalgoers in attendance this year traveled from as far as Connecticut, with some traveling as far as from Scotland in previous years.

New to the games this year and a favorite of the Trests’ were the pipe and drum band competitions that saw local and out-of-state bands travel to compete in solo piping, drumming and pipe band competitions, including local bands Nashville Pipes & Drums and 17th Lancers, Knoxville Pipes & Drums and pipe bands from Chattanooga, Memphis, Louisville, Atlanta and St. Louis.

In addition to the pipe and drum band competitions, more than a dozen Celtic Traditional and Celtic Rock bands and solo artists performed at the festival including the likes of Flatfoot 56, Tuatha Dea, Barrenhart and more.

Scottish and Irish dancers from Glengarry & Sinclair Highland Dancers, Nashville Irish Step Dancers and Nashville Irish Music School performed for festivalgoers as well.

Total costs for this year’s games added up to about $150,000 and the hope is that the festival will only get bigger and bigger, Richard noted, as he hopes to one day add a Celtic Music Festival to the lineup.

“There’s a lot of really good Celtic bands and some of them won’t come here because they’ve been doing every year at these ones out on the west coast and stuff, so it’s very hard to attract the big Celtic bands,” Richard Trest said.

Caber toss – a favorite among festivalgoers – hammer toss, sheaf toss, open stone and weight over bar competitions entertained guests as they cheered on the athletes’ undeniable strength.

Amateur athletes competed in men’s and women’s categories for ages under and over 40 in the traditional, heavy Scottish athletic events. Awards were presented to the top three scores in all classes.

As adults tasted scotch and cheered on the caber toss, kids enjoyed a myriad of events and activities in the festival’s Kid Zone that included character visits, story time, athletics and dance classes, face painting and other fun activities and crafts stations.

Dozens of food and artisan vendors were available throughout the weekend to satisfy patrons’ pouch pie and argyle needs. Ice cream, crepes and BBQ were just a few of the food options available along with assorted leather, jewelry, pottery and other crafts.

Interested in helping put together the next Middle Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival? Contact for more information.

Katie Nixon can be reached at or (615) 517-1285.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Thousands flock to Sumner County for Middle TN Highland Games and Celtic Festival

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