At Memphis Scottish Festival, a large, boisterous man hustles me into a front row seat in what he tell me is “The History Tent.” I am alarmed to find myself equipped with a sheaf of lyrics to Jacobite love songs. I manage a tuneless drone along to “Over the Sea to Skye” and then start hyperventilating. This is torture. I’m having flashbacks to being forced to attend my sister Orla’s traditional fiddle orchestra concerts. Six burly Tennesseeans in white peasant smocks and kilts smile over encouragingly. I realize that this is only song number two of something like 15. I panic and thrust the songbook at an unsuspecting bystander and flee.
I realise that I need to hide for approximately the duration of a dozen 18th-century love songs. On the far side of the church grounds, there’s a live music stage – the future site of the Bonniest Knees Competition. I lurk down the front, in prime position for the joint-revealing. A four-piece is on stage. One of the guys announces that the next song is called, “Old Hag You’ve Killed Me.”
A border collie races past the stage and back to his sheep pen.
“Oh, look, that little dog, he’s found his goats,” says the woman in the hostess kilt on stage. There’s a pause, while the three guys in the band look at her. The lead singer says, “His goats? I think they’re sheep.”
“Well, they dun’t have hardly no fur on them,” she answers defensively.
Four-dozen uniformed, teenage “Wind Dancers” sit down all around me and open their lunch containers with one choreographed swoop. Their lunch coolers are of a size that in Scotland would suffice for a week’s holiday at the seaside. They tuck into their vast feasts with uncontained zeal. I wonder what the collective noun for Wind Dancers might be. A storm? A bluster? A gust? The Wind Dancers whoop and cheer while some teen poster boys of the Celtic folk rock world take the stage. Behind me I hear a few swells of laughter. I peer behind me, but engulfed in a sea of Wind Dancers I see nothing amusing.
I hear the sound of more laughter behind me. I check the time. Any time now the bonniest knees should be revealed on stage. I direct my attention back to the front again. Another gale of laughter blows from the church steps. I strain to look, but a Wind Dancer has perched his lanky adolescent frame on top of his lunch chest and towers above me.
I think about struggling to my feet, but a breakfast of whisky and Tootsie Rolls seems to have afflicted my own knees. I make a quarter hearted effort to stand, but am distracted by the lyrics.
“I would lie in your heart in the Highlands till the end.”
“Yeah!” whoop the Wind Dancers en masse.
You really just need to say “Highlands” every so often to get this crowd going.
“I would swim Loch Lomond,” continues the band in an impressive statement of conviction. “I would walk the Highlands, I would be where I lang to be.”
Whistles and whoops ring out. Applause resounds. One teen dancer yells, “Highlands, yeah!” There is yet more clapping.
There is a good deal more langing, then they move smoothly into a jazzy number about longships, pillaging and failed attempts to escape destruction.
In one sudden squall, the Wind Dancers depart en masse, the band brings their set to a close and the next act is promptly announced. What? What about the knees? I rush down to the front and plead for information. There was a change of schedule, a smiling person informs me. They were moved to the church steps.
I dash up, but I know it’s no good. I heard the mirth. I heard the hilarity. I hover about the steps for half an hour, narrowly avoiding being swept into another round of Jacobite love songs. Damn Wind Dancers.