Part of the way in which the Irish Celts of old marked the beginning of the harvest season with the feast of Lughnasadh was to call a sacred truce and hold athletic contests resembling the ancient Olympics, known as the Tailteann Games. Depending on where they’re being held, the Scottish Highland Games happen anytime between spring and early autumn; but it seems fitting that August is the customary time for Hunter Mountain’s annual International Celtic Festival, which this year is finally debuting its own Highland Games. The tests of strength and skill will include the Stone Put, Weight for Distance, Hammer Throw, Weight over Bar, Sheaf Toss and the infamous Caber Toss, which involves burly men in plaids chucking what appear to be sawed-off telephone poles around like straws.
This Saturday’s competition, billed as the “first annual,” is officially sanctioned by North American Scottish Games Athletics, and you need to be screened if you wish to compete. Less strenuous to enter are the Keg Rolling and Beer Stein Holding Contests, for which you can sign up on the spot. Missing from the schedule this year, sadly, is the lassies’ favorite: the Bonniest Knees Contest; you’ll have to pick out your own favorite braw laddie from amongst the many kilted Highlanders in attendance.
The most perennially popular spectacle at the Celtic Fest is, of course, the mass march down the mountainside of a hundred or so bagpipers playing in unison: an experience guaranteed to make your heart swell with pride and your eyes water with instant nostalgia, no matter where your ancestors came from. The march begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by boisterous music from the Narrowbacks in the Main Bar until 9 p.m. Two stages will host live music all day long, provided by Off Kilter, Barleyjuice, Andy Cooney, the Little Creek Band, the Canny Brothers and the Donny Golden Dancers.
The gates at Hunter open at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 6. Admission for the International Celtic Festival costs $16 at the door, but tickets can be purchased in advance for $13 at www.huntermtn.com.
One week later, on Saturday, August 13, the German Alps Festival returns to Hunter Mountain. Before the gates open for the fest at 12 noon, runners and walkers will compete to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in the Spitz Blitz. This challenging race climbs 1,600 feet in 1.7 miles along the Belt Parkway ski trail – also echoing the legendary beginnings of the Tailteann and Highland Games, in which ritual processions bearing the first fruits of the harvest to Lugh’s altars atop sacred mountains appear to have evolved into uphill footraces.
The rest of the day’s offerings derive from Saxon rather than Celtic culture, however: bratwurst and beer and lots of German music, including performances from Die Schlauberger, Alex Meixner and his Band and the HSV Bavaria Schuhplattler Dancers. And it wouldn’t be a proper Alps Fest without the Orange County-based 18-time Grammy-winner, undisputed polka king Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra; this year they’ll be joined for a 4:15 p.m. performance by “progressive metal” guitarist Chris Caffery of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
And as essential to a modern German festival as racing pigs are to a county fair is the Dachshund Derby, making its third appearance at Hunter next Saturday. Picture up to 40 wiener dogs loping along as fast as their stubby legs will carry them; that particular bit of fun begins at 1:15 p.m. All proceeds will benefit a local animal shelter; preregistered doxie-owners get free admission to the festival with their $10 donation. Admission to the Alps Festival costs $12 at the door general admission, $9 in advance. Kids under age 12 get in free, along with anyone who shows up in an authentic German costume (we assume that is meant to suggest dirndls or lederhosen, not Nazi military regalia, which would put a serious damper on most attendees’ sense of festivity).
Hunter Mountain is located at 64 Klein Avenue in Hunter. For advance tickets and more information on both festivals, including how to register for the Highland Games, Spitz Blitz or Dachshund Derby, visit www.huntermtn.com.