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N.H. Highland Games and Festival Goes Virtual

Courtesy NH Scot

The New Hampshire Highland Games and Festival, like so many other events this year, is going virtual. Usually filled with music, shopping and games such as the caber toss, the festival kicked off Thursday with a virtual musical performance. It runs through Sunday.

For more on how the festival is making the transition to the virtual world, we turn to Terri Wiltse, the executive director of NHSCOT, the organization that puts on the New Hampshire Highland Games and Festival. She spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello.

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I imagine you didn't want to go virtual, but the pandemic is sending a lot of things the way of virtual reality. What tipped the balance for you? How did you make the decision to go virtual?

I think we had to make the decision not to hold the games in person. There were too many issues [with] how many people we could fit on the shuttle buses and we didn't feel we could hold the games and keep people safe within the guidelines. So then you say, okay, well, if we can't hold the games and everyone is disappointed that we couldn't, what can we do? How can we get together and honor this tradition we've had for the last 44 years. 

And so is there a part of this festival that you will really miss not being able to do in person?

I think it's really seeing the people, because many of these people you only see once a year. We draw a crowd of 35,000 from all over New England and beyond and even our friends from Scotland that we bring over to teach stone-lifting and be judges at our events or even musicians that we bring over from Scotland. It's fun to see them. They're familiar faces and it's good to catch up. So we'll all miss that.

There is a caber toss happening in person for amateurs. This is the game where, they kind of look like a telephone poll but it's a piece of a tree, and participants try to heave it in a certain way. That is happening. It's not going to be live-streamed as some other things might be on the website. Is there anything about this festival that you just had to abandon because it just couldn't translate to the virtual world?

I don't think so. We really did sit down and come up with all of the aspects of the games that we wanted to touch on, including the people and the fun that they have. The whisky tasting, obviously, is a little more difficult. But we have seminars, so we do have video of people tasting the whisky and we have fantastic instructors from Laphroaig, Simon Pearce, who comes. So we have some video footage of him. 

In addition to those events, there's a pipes and drums competition. How's that going to happen virtually?

All of the competitors for the pipe and drum competition had to submit videos online. Then we had to do a lot of technical stuff through Google Docs to get the judges their folders to watch the videos and judge them. So the band one competition started last weekend and the lower levels of competition will be this weekend. 

I wanted to ask you a question about money because this may have affected those who come to sell goods at the marketplace at the Highland Games and Festival. What happens to those people? Are they finding a different way to sell?

Some of them are fortunate to have websites and they've been able to at least sell some of their goods that way. Some can't. I can at least help the ones that have websites. We are having a virtual shopping village over the weekend and we'll be promoting visitors to our website and visitors to go shop and buy Scottish goods. We hope that this helps them because we know they really are hurting.

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Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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