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Kilts and bagpipes return to Farmington this weekend

It is a testament to the popularity of kilts and bagpipes, perhaps, that the Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games will return to the Dakota County Fairgrounds on Saturday. Organizers know things could very easily have gone a different way.

As the economy struggled in recent years, many similar events have disappeared from Minnesota's cultural calendar.

"We hear stories about so many festivals, especially those that reflect European ethnicity, that have folded their tents and gone away," said Liz Michaelson, one of the event's organizers. "It's very gratifying (to still be around)."

There was some uncertainty about the Scottish Fair when it first came to Dakota County 10 years ago. The event had been held for years at Macalester College, but space concerns there forced organizers to look for another location. They settled on the Dakota County Fairgrounds, and they have been coming back every year since.

This year Michaelson hopes to draw 4,000 people.

The space seems to work well. Michaelson said native-born Scots who have attended have said the location is very much like the venue that would be used in Scotland for a similar event.

This year's fair will bring back many familiar events. Large men in kilts will throw heavy things -- metal weights, bales of straw and the telephone pole-like caber -- at the annual highland games, and competitors will come from across the country for bagpipe, harp and dance competitions.

"There's so much going on," Michaelson said. "There's a lot of audience participation."

Along those lines, visitors to this year's fair will have a chance to take a picture with the fair's version of a Scottish princess along the lines of Merrida from the Disney movie Brave.

"Every little girl seemingly wants to be Princess Merrida," Michaelson said.

There will be nonstop music in the fair's pub tent. The fair has partnered with Northeast Minneapolis brewer Northgate, which makes an English-style brown ale.

Vendors from as far away as New York will sell crafts and traditional Scottish foods, including hamburger made from long-haired highland cattle.

"It's a very lean meat," Michaelson said.

There is still a little uncertainty heading into this year's fair. The late departure of Minnesota's snows might mean some soggy ground. But Michaelson was still optimistic that a few days of nice weather could help clear things up.

In the end, though, the fair is here. And that's a pretty good start.

The Scottish Fair will take place from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Dakota County Fairgrounds.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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