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Scots are back in town

Fairgrounds festivities include bagpipes, athletic competitions and more

It's the time of year to don a kilt and celebrate Scottish heritage with the 144th annual Scottish Highland Gathering and Games.

Bringing nearly 100 clans together this weekend at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, the event put on by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco includes the athletic competitions, dancing, shopping, food and drink people have come to love, as well as new special musical attractions.

The Pipes and Drums First Battalion Scottish Guards are making their only California appearance as they join with the U.S. Marine Band in performances at the grandstand on both days. Both groups will perform in marching and stationary formations.

The bagpipe, Scotland's famed and unusual instrument, will also be the focus of competition, as more than 25 pipe bands from across the United States and Canada will battle for the top prize.

If a bagpipe serenade isn't your thing, there will be six stages continuously playing music. Consider hearing Celtic rock group 1916 as they perform the festival debut of their "electrifying" sound akin to folk rock and Celtic. Other groups will share the stage as well, including Tempest, Wicked Tinkers and Molly's Revenge, as well as more traditional music from the Browne Sisters, George Cavanaugh, Isla St Clair, Golden Bough, Peter Daldry, Neil O'Neil and Ed Miller.

Popular activities from last year will be back, such as the Taste of Whisky at the Games and Ceilidh & Barbecue.

Last year's whisky tasting was so popular that this year it is moving to a larger, air-conditioned building. The tasting, along with the seminar, is offered at an additional charge.

The Ceilidh, a Scottish party, will keep the festivities going after the gathering and games at the Red Lion Pub at the Palm Pavilion area of the fairgrounds. This free party will include an open mic session, dancing and guest appearances. Imported beer and ales and barbecue will also be available for purchase.

Of course, there will also be the same tried-and-true activities that keep people coming back for more each year: the 35th U.S. Invitational Heavy Events and the World Celtic Hammer Championships; the Western U.S. Highland Dancing Championships; living history re-enactments of life and events from Scotland's history, including Mary Queen of Scots, the Highland Warriors, the Roman Legion and the invading Vikings.

To conclude both days' events will be a two-hour grandstand show and massed bands at around 4 p.m., which includes two military bands and nearly 750 pipers and drummers onto the racetrack. Grandstand seating is an extra fee.

For more information about the event, visit www.caledonian.org.

--Emily West

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