Fort Lee festival features band, bagpipes, best legs
April 14, 2011
By Sarah Gauvin
FORT LEE, Va. (April 14, 2011) -- Any community celebration that has a "magic moment" is sure to be a success.
For the inaugural FMWR Celtic Festival here Saturday, it happened when three pipe and drum groups and the 392nd Army Band converged on the Hideaway Lawn playing "The Minstrel Boy." A noticeable wave of approval set over the crowd as they enjoyed the spectacle.
Another highlight of the day was the Best Legs and Kilt Competition. A sizeable crowd assembled as four brave lads presented their dancing skills and their hamstrings for bragging rights. The festival also offered other Celtic bands, historical and educational vendors, merchandise, food and lots of beverages. While the bagpipes set the tone for the event, it was the people who truly contributed to the friendly and festive environment.
"I think it's wonderful to have cultural events here," said military spouse and Fort Lee resident Pam Blair. "Not only is this event fun, but it's something the kids can also come out and enjoy. It was nice that they made the kidzone free for the first few hours too."
Blair's daughter, Lilly, enjoyed the youth activities. "I did the basketball toss, soccer and jump house," she said with an ear-to-ear grin.
Some traveled a considerable distance to attend Saturday's festival. The Brandenburger family came from Williamsburg where husband Greg is stationed with the Navy.
"It's the first time we've ever seen anything like this," said the petty officer second class. "It's such a lively, friendly atmosphere."
His wife, Heather, agreed.
"We love it. The heritage, music and food drew us here, but we never imagined how much the kids would love the music too. They've been dancing to it since we got here," she said.
The grand opening began with three separate pipe and drum groups marching in and forming up on the Hideaway grounds alongside the 392nd Army Band. As if they practiced for weeks, they performed "Amazing Grace" in unison, among other songs.
"The opening ceremony was awesome," said Blair. "I cried, of course."
Kenner employee Amanda Atkinson brought her nephew to the event. "He was entranced by the streamlined movements of each of the groups and really enjoyed the music," she said.
Atkinson's nephew Colby Logan labeled the opening ceremony as "pretty cool," and said it was the first time he had heard "Amazing Grace" played on the bagpipes.
Among the visiting music groups were the St. Andrews Legion Pipes and Drums, Greater Richmond Pipes and Drums and City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. While they were obvious crowd favorites, the Celtic bands Uisce Beatha, Coyote Run and Poisoned Dwarf did a respectable job of keeping the masses crowded around the center stage throughout the afternoon.
"I just really appreciate the opportunity to play for an event like this," said Greater Richmond Pipes and Drums player, Justin Ingram. "It's one thing to play a competition event, but it's an honor to play here for Soldiers.
"There is something about police, firefighters and the military that really relate to the pipes," Ingram also noted. "Maybe that's why the festival here has such a good turnout. It's a pretty big deal to get three different pipe bands to come out."
Ingram also offered a vote in favor of the Celtic Festival returning to Fort Lee FMWR's event schedule next year. "I hope it does ... I think it will be twice as big."
Paul Heilman, FMWR director, said he is already considering a second annual event.
"As Fort Lee grows so does its diversity, and this festival offers a learning experience we haven't had before," he said. "This festival is about understanding Celtic heritage."
The Celtic Festival was organized in response to customer suggestions, said Heilman. After the Richmond Celtic Festival moved to Ashland, Fort Lee asked if a similar event could be organized here, and FMWR delivered.
Fort Lee and its surrounding communities can now look forward to the next big event on the installation this summer - the 50th annual fireworks show and Fourth on the Fort celebration on Independence Day. Additional information about any of the upcoming FMWR activities can be found at www.leemwr.com.