The Payson Scottish Festival is one weekend out of the year when community members can hear bagpipes echoing throughout the city and wait in long lines for a keg of ginger beer.
A record number of attendees crowded Payson Memorial Park on Friday and Saturday to attend the 35th annual festival. Around every corner people dressed in highland outfits with tartan kilts and sashes, formal sporrans and long stockings.
Nearly a dozen Scottish clans held colorful family banners and walked together during the festival’s parade as pipe bands from across the state marched and played.
The new festival president, Cody Hoagland, said he focused promoting the event on social media and this year’s attendance doubled as a result.
“The crowds are massive,” he said, watching people weave through vendor tents and gather around performers. “A lot of people, even in Payson, didn’t know about this.”
During the event, organizers decided to honor three people who helped mold and shape the festival and passed away this year.
One of those people was Helen Scott, a Payson native who served as festival president for years. She died at her home on Feb. 8, and the city is planning to plant a tree at the park in her honor.
Although Scott retired from the festival in 2002, Sydney Young remembered serving with her in the early 1990s and trying to run the event without her.
“That first year was murder,” she said with a laugh. “But we did it.”
Young calls the festival a big family reunion and said she often greets clan members and vendors alike with hugs.
“When it started, it was just local. But it’s growing, growing, growing,” she said.
The second person honored at the festival was Jeff Loosle, an athlete who advocated for the Scottish Highland Games for years. He died on April 27, and the playing field at the park was designated under his name.
Festival athletic director Joel Sim called Loosle the “modern era godfather” for the highland games in Utah.
“Because of the groundwork that he laid, we’ve doubled the registration again,” Sim said, adding that more than 70 athletes were competing in the games this year.
Athletes compete in every competition for points, including the sheaf toss, caber toss, weight over bar, weight for distance, hammer throw and stone put. Many of the competitors held national or state records.
When the festival started, athlete Josh Wiggins said maybe 12 people showed up for the games.
“(Loosle) made the games blossom into what they are today. He just loved it,” Wiggins said. “Most of us would get together at least once or twice a week and throw on Saturdays but he practiced literally every morning.”
The third person honored was musician Zach Lees who died on Jan. 28. He was a Grade One bagpipe player and organized the Garden Valley Pipe Band in Utah County four years ago.
His wife, Diana Lees, and their three children joined 27 other band members on Saturday to compete in the festival pipe band competition.
“One of his biggest goals was to help create friendship through all the bands,” Lees said.
She explained the band teaches free beginner lessons once a week to help make learning music affordable for everyone.
“We’ve had a couple of students go to other bands to help the friendships between the bands,” Lees said. “That was one of the biggest goals to have that friendship not just within the band but between the bands.”