You have to like a place where, once a year, the village-owned arena turns into a suburban Brigadoon, and the mayor puts on the family tartan to host a gathering of Celts.
That’s to say, Saturday marked the third annual Northwest Celtic Fest at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates – and by far the most bustling of them.
The fest grew out of prior town events including a Tartan Day parade five or six years ago and the arena holding a couple tattoos for pipe and drum groups. The attendance the first two was a little on the supermodel side, which is to say, thin.
Anita Forte-Scott explained that this year the focus expanded to include places beyond Scotland and Ireland. What also helped draw a bigger crowd than the past two years is the fest was so close to St. Patrick’s Day this time – something Forte-Scott and others involved with planning the fest would hope to see become a tradition.
But for soccer for kids and some golf activities on the arena floor, the action was all on the concourse and in the clubhouse. You could catch some music and dancing, watch a periodic pipe band parade, do some shopping, book a tour, buy some baked goods, get your picture taken with a knightly dude from Medieval Times, and even sample some beers and scotch.
Best of all, admission and parking were free.
All that was missing was turning the 10,000-plus seat arena into a big Irish concert and seisun for the night – a multi-band gathering like the Christians do at the Sears Centre once a year, packing the place for Jesus. And you haven’t lived until you’ve heard techno dance worship music.
I did miss the border collies herding ducks Saturday – but I was afraid the dogs might mistake me for something they’d want to round up and boss around.
However, I challenged an Irish wolfhound to an eating contest, but he didn’t seem interested. Plus, he heard I was a sloppier eater than he is. What an SOB!
Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod was a happy host, showing people around and buying a round or two for friends. Plus, the weather was perfect for donning his kilt and leather vest – much better than when he wore it to a wedding when it was 100 degrees outside.
McLeod guided us toward the Emmett’s booth, where Josh Wickler and the crew were selling pours of several staples and seasonals including an Irish Stout, Rafferty Irish Red, McCarthy Red, and 1 a.m. English Ale. I’ll let you guess which ones are named after family and which is named after guys like me who drink beer.
St. Pat’s Saturday (March 15) the Emmett’s in West Dundee had its annual Big Wheel race for adults – down a hill to the street where the brewpub is. I was busy in my snowman suit with the parade the other side of the river. Plus, even I remember from physics class that force equals mass (me) times acceleration (the hill), which would not be a pretty picture, especially if a variable in that equation is the klutz factor.
The Celtic Fest scotch tasting was hosted by Dennis McLennand of Eat Drink Educate, which typically offers classes in Chicago bars and restaurants. Its website boasts of teaching people about their favorite vices and indulgences.
I prefer to think of them as friendly habits, but either way McLennand had four Scotch whiskies to try – a 12-year Glenfiddich, a 15-year Macallan, a 14-year Balvenie, and one where the bottle was in a black box and the name I forget – which can happen when you sample four whiskies.
All I know is I liked the one that at first seemed to smell like one of those big, old school Magic Markers, but had a nice peat afterburn to it.
Wait. I also know from McLennand that FEW Spirits in Evanston takes its name from the initials of Frances Elizabeth Willard, a founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was started in Evanston.
Anyway, good thing I didn’t have anymore to drink. I would have forgotten that. And my coat.
As it is – even after a tasty corned beef sandwich and some shepherd’s pie in a cup – I almost bought best fest buddy Tom a t-shirt that said “Irish Girl, The Best Drinking Buddy A Man Could Have,” and was gonna start calling him Irish Girl the rest of the day.
For myself, I was gonna go Vegas and get a spangly Irish flag or step dancer t-shirt – or a pewter mug. Or maybe the Irish Hawaiian shirt.
Luckily, Tom had to go get some doors at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Elgin – because that’s how we roll in the suburbs, from fest-going to home improvement projects.
Well, actually, he said he was going to take a nap after we got the doors to his home. I went to my place to write this.