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November 13, 2019

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International Celtic Festival in Las Vegas is no longer a pipe dream

Celtic Festival announcement

Steve Spatafore

Eighty pipers and drummers stride up the Strip to mark the announcement that the Las Vegas International Celtic Festival will hit town in April 2011.

Las Vegas International Celtic Festival

A Celtic parade on the Strip. Launch slideshow »
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Pipers take center stage on the Las Vegas Strip.

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State Sen. Dennis Nolan (in kilt), Mayor Oscar Goodman, and showgirls help promote the 2011 Las Vegas International Celtic Festival.

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Celtic bandleader on the Strip.

The mayor of Las Vegas went kiltless Saturday night while appearing with his showgirls of magic on the Strip.

This would not be news, except everyone nearby was wearing the famous Scottish skirts.

It was the usual pinstripe suit for the mayor, but he was warm to the Scottish Highland spirit as 80 bagpipers and drummers strode a section of the Strip closed to vehicular traffic for the official announcement of the Las Vegas International Celtic Festival. This steeped-in-tradition event is to be staged at a half-dozen Las Vegas resorts, parks and pubs from April 14-17, 2011. A year away, yes, but the marketing push already has started, with the rare closing of the Strip as the sun set on a Saturday night.

The bemused expressions of the hundreds of pedestrians watching the procession waddle from Rue de Monte Carlo to New York-New York — expressions unlike those of motorists who were miffed to learn traffic had been stopped for 20 minutes for a piper-drummer parade — revealed the challenge of staging the event in Vegas.

For those amazed that Las Vegas could fill an 80-piece pipe-and-drum processional, these were not local pipers and drummers. These were champion players, the six-time world champion band from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and the U.S. champion Scots Pipe Band of Orange, Calif. The Colour Guard was from the 42nd back Watch Highland Society of San Diego.

For those of us who can't discern great bagpipe playing from the drone that emanates from the instrument while packing it into a crate, overriding question is, "What is this all about?"

"I had to educate myself, too," Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson, also a member of The Unkilted. "When I first heard about this, I thought a tattoo was something you put on your forearm."

But not in this context. As a highlight of the festival, a series of military tattoos will draw musicians and marchers from all four branches of the U.S. military. As the event news release helpfully informs, the original purpose of a military tattoo was to remind soldiers that it was time to get back to their barracks. Today they are ceremonial displays of structured marching and music-making.

One of the event's sponsor hotels, such as the Orleans, Mandalay Bay or MGM Grand, will host the tattoos, and Christenson said the first time he saw a performance, "I got goose bumps."

Highland Games, too, are part of the event, and coincidentally the annual Las Vegas Celtic Gathering & Highland Games was set this weekend. You can't have any Celtic festival worth its kilt without the caber toss and hammer throw, along with ancillary piping, dancing and quaffing of meads and ales. At next April's event, a competition of 90 pipe bands is scheduled (and how to judge this contest is doubtless worth a story), as are nighttime celebrations not so foreign to Las Vegas. Pub crawls, specifically. Oh, and a kilted golf tournament is on the schedule, so expect many regretful jokes about remembering to mark your balls.

State Sen. Dennis Nolan, the event's executive director, originally conjured the idea to organize a Vegas-ized version of the larger Celtic and Scottish gatherings known to draw thousands of revelers. That was two years ago. With a few templates already in place, such as the 10-day National Finals Rodeo and NASCAR Weekend, tourism officials in Las Vegas realized staging events tied to a particular cultural celebration would not be hard. In this instance, the competitions themselves bring scores of visitors to Las Vegas.

"When you have 90 pipe bands, that's about 2,700 people right there," Christenson said. "Then you count the friends and family, and you have a large base of visitors."

The LVCVA and Vegas Events will treat the festival as a citywide celebration in its expanding effort to market all the groovy facets of Las Vegas. As it has showed with the NFR, simply providing a facility for the rodeo show is just the beginning.

"We want this to be a civic event, definitely," Christenson said. "We have done this type of event before, many times."

Many details are to be announced, such as which hotels and how many will buy into the event as host properties. New York-New York, whose faux Brooklyn Bridge served as the site of the official news conference after the Strip parade, is on board. Officials will later announce where the Highland Games, military tattoos and pub crawls will take place.

As Saturday's event dissipated, many of the kilted officials posed with Goodman's showgirls. Even wearing skirts on the Las Vegas Strip, they looked right at home.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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