Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games 2022 an Outsider’s Review

by Clayton Edwards

The Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games has been a tradition in East Tennessee since 1981. Back then, it was the Gatlinburg Scottish Festival. In 2010, the festival moved to the campus of Maryville College, the home of The Scots. This year, it moved to Townsend, Tennessee which is nestled in the verdant embrace of the Great Smoky Mountains. This new location afforded a view that many well-traveled festival-goers compared to the hills of Scotland.

I’ve never been to Scotland nor can I trace my ancestry back to one of its many clans. So, I guess you could say that I was an Outsider there on several levels. That didn’t stop me from having two days of fun in the sun while absorbing the traditions and culture on display.

Scot or not, the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games is a great time. Even a surprise thunderstorm Saturday afternoon wasn’t enough to dampen the mood. Beer flowed, food was served, and thousands of visitors witnessed athletes competing in games rooted in time-honored traditions. All the while, the sounds of bagpipes and drums drifted on the wind.

Before I get into some of my favorite parts of the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival, I have to talk about the overall vibe of the event. On Saturday, temps climbed to the high 80s and humidity made the air sticky. Usually, if you combine that kind of heat, roughly 10,000 people, and abundant alcohol, things can get dicey. Not at the Scottish festival, though. I saw nothing but smiling faces, families enjoying time together, and many heavily-sunscreened Scots delving into and learning more about their heritage. The overall air of community and comradery made everything else that much better.

Food at the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games

You can’t rightly dig into a culture without sampling its food and music. Luckily, the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games had plenty of both.

While there, I sampled a fair bit of food from Scotland and England. Scotch eggs – boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, rolled in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried – were, by far my favorite dish. Also, British-style meat pies pair well with a cold beer. But, haggis was the star of the culinary show for me and many other festival-goers.

It’s Not a Scottish Festival Without Haggis!

Even those who don’t know much about Scottish culture know about haggis. The national dish of Scotland is traditionally prepared with a sheep’s liver, heart, and lungs minced with beef or lamb suet (saturated fat) and oatmeal with a blend of seasonings. Traditionally, they pack the mixture into a sheep’s stomach, boil it, and roast it.

Due to FDA regulations on organ meats, it’s a little different in the US. They have to take the stomach and lungs out of the equation. The result is a dish that has a nice spice to it with just a hint of the metallic flavor of liver. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s almost like a meatloaf that didn’t quite hold its shape.

Scottish Music – Traditional and Contemporary

The Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games had more music than you could shake a stick at. The grounds boasted three stages for Celtic-themed contemporary music. Additionally, traditional pipe and drum bands from around the region gathered at the festival to show their skills and celebrate their heritage.

Bands like Piper Jones Band and Four Leaf Peat dig into the Celtic tradition to bring fresh music. Bagpipes, flutes, massive drums, and strings come together to create the kind of music that compels you to move. At the same time, Scottish-born songwriter and folk singer Colin Grant Adams brought traditional, contemporary, and original folk songs about Scotland’s history and rolling hills.

Piper Jones Band at the Celtic Festival in Tuscumbia, AL

However, it was the mass bands that truly caught my ear. There was something special about the combination of the setting, and the performance of the kilt-clad musicians that transported me away from East Tennessee for a few minutes at a time.

More than anything, I think this clip shows what the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival is all about. The mass bands are playing at the peak of their combined ability as the senior drum major leads them off the main field is just a backdrop to a sweet family moment in which time-honored traditions are passed down to a new generation.

Feats of Strength

Hundreds of years ago, games like the caber toss and hammer throw were feats of strength. Warriors would compete in these feats of strength to show their fitness for battle. Today, athletes train hard to compete at Scottish Festivals like the one in the Smoky Mountains. They’re not joining any clan armies or marching into battle. Instead, they’re showing their strength along with their respect for their ancestors’ traditions. Also, winners bring a little extra glory to their respective clans.

Tips for Enjoying a Scottish Festival

Taking in the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival & Games was the perfect way to spend a weekend. If you get a chance to check out a celebration of Scottish heritage, whether you’re a Scot or not, do it.

For those of us who aren’t of Scottish ancestry, there’s plenty of fun to be had. The music is always great and sets the mood perfectly. Then, there is all of the food – from haggis to shortbreads and other sweet treats – to try. Sitting in the shade and watching some top-tier athletes throw heavy objects could be a weekend in and of itself.

However, if you are of Scottish heritage, be sure you stop by your family’s clan tent to learn a little about your ancestors and history.

No matter who you are, remember to stay hydrated! Climbing temps combined with a festival atmosphere and $4 beers, make it easy to forget that you need water.

For those in East Tennessee, the Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival will be back this time next year. Don’t miss it.