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Becci Himes of the Houston Celtic Festival and Highland Games talks about the challenges and satisfaction of organising this major event.

Many people who attend a Highland Games - either in Scotland or overseas - will be unaware of the hard work that's gone on behind the scenes to make the event possible. Becci Himes, vice chairman of the Houston Celtic Festival and Highland Games, talks about what goes on behind the scenes to make this festival, held in Houston, Texas, possible.

What year was the festival established?
The first Houston Highland Games was presented on 25 April, 1971 at the Alief High School Stadium by the Heather & Thistle Society. Heather & Thistle presented and managed the Games until 1981 when the Houston Highland Games Association was incorporated as not for profit organization and took over operations of the Festival.

What makes the festival different to other Highland Games in the US?
The Houston Highland Games Association decided in 2001 to incorporate the music and customs of all the Celtic nations, not just Scotland. We wanted to show the relation between our Celtic brothers, our influence on each other, and how widespread the Celtic culture is. This year for the first time we have an exhibit from Galicia, the Celtic region of Spain, along with representation from Ireland and Wales. We maintain all the elements of the traditional Scottish Highland Games, but have expanded to further educate the general public. Also, we focus particularly on the influence of Scot and other Celts on the history of the state of Texas.

What’s the Scottish scene like in Houston?
The ex-pat Scottish community in Houston is quite large due to the oil & gas industry. It is estimated that 75,000 British ex-pats live in Houston with 50,000 of them being Scots. For the Scots-American, some of us feel there would be no Texas today without the influence of the Americans of Scottish and Scots-Irish descent. Over forty percent of the original 300 Steven F. Austin colonists were of Scottish ancestry and over half the counties of Texas are named for persons of Scottish descent.
Houston is home to St. Thomas Episcopal School who have produced National Champion highland dancers, World Champion pipers and not the least of all, five times World Champion Juvenile Pipe Band honors. The St. Thomas Alumni band is making its mark at the World Championships as well. In all there are at least five organized pipe bands in Houston.

 


What's the best thing about being involved in the festival?
For me, it's the satisfaction of a job well done. HHGA is a totally volunteer organisation. We all sacrifice quite a bit in personal funds and time to put on this event. But there is something very satisfying in watching the kids participate in their own little Games with their own wee little caber and having so much fun doing it or watching someone have their first taste of haggis.
Passing down the history of how people came to be in the place they are today has always been one of my passions. It helps us know not only who we are, by why we are who we are. It's about understanding ourselves.

What's the most difficult part about organising the event?
Fundraising, definitely fundraising! You can do nothing without the funds. Musicians must be paid. Venues must be rented. Staging, lighting, judges, equipment, emergency medical, insurance, city licenses, security, marketing, it all costs money, big money.

There are a lot of for profit companies out there now putting on fairs and festivals who compete for our dollars. We like to think that the best reason for anyone to invest in our Festival is that we stay true to the traditional and the authentic. And, we are family friendly. You won't see fantasy characters roaming our grounds unless they are part of the lore and legends of the Celtic culture. Our goal is to have our attendees leave with a little piece of history.

This year’s Houston Celtic Festival and Highland Games will be held on 27 to 28 April 2013. Acts include: Brian McNeill, Ed Miller, Jil Chambless and Scooter Muse, Clandestine, Jiggernaut, Willow and her Giant and Rickey Pittman. For more information,visit the website.

 

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