New Mexico’s only Celtic festival takes place in Aztec this weekend – The Durango Herald

Fifty to 60 vendors are expected to attend the Highland Aztec Games and Celtic Festival on Saturday and Sunday at Riverside Park. (Courtesy picture)

Traditional games and music planned at Riverside Park

Expect to see kilted athletes compete in heavy lifting, vendors galore, traditional Scottish music and dancing at the Highland Aztec Games this weekend at Riverside Park in Aztec.

Proudly, Aztec boasts the only Celtic festival in New Mexico, among hundreds across the United States.

The two-day festival kicks off at noon with opening ceremonies, a mass orchestra, children’s games and beer sales.

Jessica Polatty, veteran volunteer and chair of the events committee, said her 11-year involvement as a volunteer and organizer taught her the importance of organization, planning and relationships.

“Everything in life is about relationships,” Polatty said. “People will support you when you need them.”

“Last year was pretty great because people were finally coming out of COVID…and I think this year will be good too,” Polatty said.

The organizers expect “good weather” and lower temperatures.

“October is one of the best months in our area, so people want to go out and do stuff,” Polatty said.

Fifty to 60 athletes, 25 dancers and about 25 vendors, including clans, registered. “We usually do over 500 spectators,” Polatty said.

Sporting events include: sheaf throw, weight for height (or weight on the bar), Braemar stone (or stone throw), Scottish light and heavy hammer throw, light and heavy weight for distance (or shot put) and caber throw.

Participants can register at

The caber throw, traditionally a log throw, is a crowd favorite, along with the hammer throw. The objective and technique for launching a caber is “to flip it 360 degrees and land at noon,” according to Polatty.

Angus Mohr will perform at the Highland Aztec Games and Celtic Festival on Saturday and Sunday October 1 and 2 on the banks of the River Animas in shaded Riverside Park.

The Denver-based group Angus Mohr will liven up with an eclectic sound described as “Rock ‘n’ Roll with bagpipes” by vocalist and bassist Paul McDaniels.

“The most prevalent sound would be hard rock, but there are definite elements of punk, with a nod to metal and a hint of thrash,” he said. “We can’t forget country either, because country has a lot of Celtic influence. …The common thread is social commentary and the need to get a message across on a basic human level. The exception to this is music that is just too fun not to play.

The group formed seven years ago, but three members have played together since 1980. Angus Mohr grew out of a six-piece band called Ricky Fire and the Red Hot Voodoo Devils, who regularly played rock and blues.

McDaniel’s son Matthew, the band’s newest and fourth member, pumps up the Celtic sound on the bagpipes, adding to the band’s diverse lineup. He can play bagpipes, guitar, keyboards and pennywhistle – all in one song. Growing up in Oklahoma with parents who were music teachers and farmers with Scottish and Irish roots, McDaniels plans to stay on his current creative path, but dabble in country and even ambient styles.

“The public response is what led us to become Angus Mohr,” McDaniels said. “That’s what keeps us going. That’s why we do what we do.

After losing two members to a disagreement over musical style, they moved forward with a new moniker, Angus Mohrtaking the name of a 10th century pragmatist who prevented the Vikings from attacking his region by marrying the daughter of a Viking king, creating a family alliance.

The four-piece band includes drummer Steve Mossholder, who keeps the beat going. Michael Aggson adds edgy guitar over covers of songs by Dylan, Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash and the Ramones.

You might catch them doing ring of fire or I I want to be sedated wwith bagpipes.

Polatty said the band had wanted to play there for years and “they’re really, really excited.” Three stages will feature a variety of music of Celtic origin with bagpipes and drums to inspire the dancers.

Trophies made from weathered willow, created by local artisan Nathenia Roberts, will create lasting memories for the winners. When asked if there had ever been any serious injuries to athletes or participants, Polatty replied, “Not one.”

For Polatty, recruiting volunteers is increasingly his biggest challenge. Sports and other activities as well as family commitments keep potential volunteers moving. “You can come up to the front door, we’ll give you a volunteer t-shirt…and we’ll find a place to put you,” she said.

“We would like to see everyone come out,” Polatty said, adding that volunteers can call him (505) 419-7526.

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