New approach to Summerside Highland Gathering

This year sees the return of heavyweight events and inaugural Celtic Idol

Nancy MacPhee
Published on April 9, 2013
Karen Hatcher (left), executive director of the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts, stands outside the facility with highland dance instructor Kearsney Smith, highland bagpipe instructor Kylie McHattie, director of education James McHattie, and drumming instructor Chris Coleman.
Nancy MacPhee/Journal Pioneer

SUMMERSIDE — It’s a new approach to a summer standard.

The College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts has revamped its annual Summerside Highland Gathering, bringing back a taste of a past favourite and introducing an all-new Celtic competition.

This year’s gathering is slated for June 28 to 30 and will kick off with the opening of the college’s staple summer show.

“Just to add the icing on the cake we are going to have ‘Highland Storm’ as the opener,” said Karen Hatcher, the college’s executive director. “The last two years, on the Friday night, we put something on stage in the theatre and we had incredible entertainment in 2011. Last year we had the Barra MacNeils. Looking at the theatre and the audience, we thought why not showcase our own talent and our own event during the Summerside Highland Gathering?”

It’s one of several changes being made to the annual event, which draws upwards to 2,500 spectators and competitors from across the Maritimes to the city.

Sunday’s lineup will see the biggest change. In the past, the day included piping, drumming and dancing competitions. It will now feature music in the beer tent, a demonstration of highland heavyweight events such as the caber toss and the inaugural Celtic Idol.

Celtic Idol is being dubbed an amateur Celtic arts performing contest.

Registration for the competition opens this week with a limited number of spots.

“It will be under the half shell,” said Hatcher, referring to the outdoor stage. “The performance should be Celtic-themed and it will be a three-and-a-half minute, maximum, performance.”

There will be a panel of three judges who will vote for their favourites. The audience can also pay $1 per vote.

A top prize of $500 will be awarded to the winner with a $250 prize for the most creative performance.

“It can be anything from step-dancing, highland dancing, fiddling, piping, drumming, guitars, vocals,” said Hatcher. “We can’t wait to see the range and the spectrum of what is going to be in front of us.”

A three-hour demonstration of what was once a regular part of the gathering — the heavyweight competition — will take place on the field throughout the afternoon Sunday.

The hope is that there will be enough interest to bring the heavyweight back to the Highland Gathering in 2014.

“The last time it was here the space that was allocated to them was outside of our field and it wasn’t bringing them in as part of the event. To have heavyweights and pipe bands on the field at the same time is dangerous,” said Hatcher. “This way, we are going to bring them right out in centre field so you will be able to hear the entertainment from the beer tent and Celtic Idol going on down in the half shell.”

Heavyweight competitors from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick will demonstrate the caber, the stone, hammer, the sheaf, weight for distance and weight for height throws.

The College of Piping is also teaming up with organizers of Atlanticade, which overlaps with the Highland Gathering, for an event on June 29.

“We are having an Atlanticade tug-of-war and they are co-ordinating with fire and police for that event out on our field,” added Hatcher. “If we have events going on simultaneously in Summerside or across the province, why not partner and have more people come and access what we are able to offer here? Then, people attending our event get to realize what else is going on outside of the college.”

All piping and drumming competitions will now take place on the Saturday of the Highland Gathering. Highland dance competitions will take place both Saturday and Sunday. Step-dancing competitions will be held in the Mary Ellen Burns Amphitheatre prior to the opening of “Highland Storm.”

For a full list of events, visit