Picking kilt for Elgin iFest an eye-opening time
By Mike Danahey email@example.com June 18, 2012 12:58PM
Sun-Times Media writer Mike Danahey models his new black kilt and Scottish-themed thistle t-shirt by a Scotch pine.
Updated: July 20, 2012 6:18AM
Elgin will host its first International Festival (without a House of Pancakes) on Sept. 1.
They’re calling it iFest — at least until Apple hears about it. The Facebook page for the event has the Elgin city logo surrounded by national flags, including North Korea’s.
So I posted, asking if there was going to be an evil-dictator booth. The response I got back was, “We’re naively optimistic in a kinder, gentler North Korea under Kim Jong Un’s leadership.”
What the organizers actually are optimistic about is that their “It’s a Small World” one-stop-shopping, diversity-day approach to an ethnic festival will draw people to the aptly named Festival Park downtown on Labor Day Weekend — perhaps even in numbers that reflect Elgin, where more than 40 percent of the residents are Latino, 7 percent are black, 5.4 percent are Asian, 1.4 percent are American Indian or Alaskan Native, and the rest, I guess, are of some sort of European stock or mix of any or all of the above.
According to the www.elginfest.com website, so far Zumba aerobics from “Dance It Off With Kim” and the Mood Makers barbershop quartet are set to perform, which seems eclectic, and maybe ethnic.
To reflect my own Celtic heritage, a buddy and I went to the Scottish Festival and Highland Games in Itasca last weekend to pick out new outfits for Elgin’s riverfront party.
Well, he just needed accessories for his tartan. And sure, I already have two kilts. But my plan is to have one for every day of the week — and maybe even one of the really authentic handmade woolen kilts you can find online for $400 and up.
Since I have a habit of wearing my meals, I usually stick to discount, poly-blend, made-in-Pakistan-or-elsewhere models sold by the likes of The Highland Kilt Co. of Merrill, Wis., which bills itself as “the home of the $89 kilt package.” The package includes a sporran (Scottish for “fancy fanny pack”) with chain belt, pin and garment.
I was looking for a kilt with colors that could express the rainbow that is Elgin, but that might be more Hawaiian or Village People — who should perform at iFest as a salute to Labor Day and to Elgin pride. I settled for a MacKenzie tartan in part because it seemed Christmassy.
I read on the Internet — where everything is true — that in Ireland, solid kilts are more common, so I wound up buying a solid black, $90 number, too, with side pockets for wallet and phone. With hiking boots, the $15 black T-shirt with a white thistle (the symbol of Scotland) I got from Rampant Lion Celtic Traders of Villa Park, I look a bit like a misplaced Oakland Raiders fan.
I was thinking of wearing the black kilt swimming, too, but it doesn’t have one of those mesh underpants liners with it. And if you must know, the answer is, nothing. Especially on a warm day with a nice breeze.
Besides being the tradition, it’s easier to go to the bathroom that way, too. And it makes you wonder how women do what they have to do while dressed in dresses.
Anyway, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to buy a kilt at all, as I entered the knobby knees contest, where a kilt was the prize.
Alas, my legs didn’t impress the three lasses who were judges. Nor did my Jennifer Beals “Flashdance” shtick where I doused myself with water from a plastic bottle. Perhaps they mistook me for a dehydrating beluga.
One of the impressive things about this fest was the Whisky Live tent, where, for a fee, you could sample high-end whiskies, bourbons, locally made spirits and rum from Martinique — proving (along with my Pak-made kilt) that even a Highland Games is an international festival.
Whisky (Scottish spelling) comes from a Gaelic word meaning “water of life,” and water was an essential on a hot day. Along with the 1-ounce pours, you could learn things, too, including that there are Lowland and Highland whisky types that can vary from lighter in taste with hints of vanilla, fruits and/or spices to the wintry allure of smoky peat.
I didn’t find out which one would pair best with haggis and chips, the mix of organ meat, oats and fries we had for lunch.
And if this is getting a bit stream-of-consciousness, well, Saturday was Bloomsday, which commemorates the day James Joyce set his wordy masterpiece “Ulysses.”
So forgive my wandering. But that’s what good fests inspire. That, potential heartburn, and shopping.