Considering the headlines that dominate news pages these days, who could blame us for craving a bit of escapism? Luckily, an avalanche of September festivals offers ample excuses to wear kooky costumes or to (attempt to) speak in charming accents, to relive the past or to leap into the future. Sometimes we just need a few blocked-off streets or patches of green to catapult us out of familiar surroundings and demand we get lost in the sights, sounds and tastes of another time and place.
Some festivals draw repeat attendees who share such a passion for re-enacting and re-creating it seems more a way of life than a weekend hobby. (Some of these participants seem, sadly, to have been born into the wrong century.) Other fests prove more laid-back—a mix of cultural authenticity and comical distortion. But common denominators? The beer’s usually a-flowin’, the people watching superb.
The season kicks off September 5 and 6 with the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival in The Plains, Virginia. I first attended this lively event a few years back (having just returned from 16 months in Scotland), with expectations, in hindsight, a bit too lofty. (Yes, silly me, I thought I would actually meet some Scots and hear some of those dreamy, melodic accents.) Instead I did find some authentic culture (cuisine like tasty yet feared haggis and steaming meat pies) sprinkled with a bit of stereotype (or perhaps slightly-fudged cultural truths, like the presence of England‘s Newcastle beer) and a few unexpected oddities (a parade in which kilted Americans showcased their plaid-clad “Dogs of Scotland”). But the atmosphere carried charm all the same. I watched proud Virginians sport their family tartan, sheepherders demonstrate their craft, Highland dancers do their joyous jigs and bagpipers echo the captivating drone of their instruments up into a piercing blue sky and out into the rolling Virginia hills. It’s Scottish culture with a twist, but a highly enjoyable day in the countryside all the same.