Men don't have to wear kilts to the 154th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games at the Fairgrounds this weekend. But it's the one place around here where it wouldn't stand out.
Everything Scottish will be celebrated at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton on Labor Day weekend, but the weekend is not just for Scots, said Floyd Busby, spokesman for the Caledonian Club of San Francisco.
"There is something for everybody," he emphasized, "and everybody that goes has fun."
The gates open at 8 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday, with athletics beginning in the grandstand at 8:30. Other activities begin at 10 a.m., and opening ceremonies are held at noon each day in front of the main grandstand.
The fairgrounds will be a cornucopia of Scottish delights -- foods including steak pie, fish and chips, British banger, corned beef and cabbage, and scotch egg; five stages of traditional and Celtic rock entertainment; and two stages of piping, fiddling (including a Fiddlers Rally), and Scottish country dancing as well as Highland dancing and Irish step dancing.
"There is so much to do," Busby said. "If you like music, you can go around to the various stages."
Entertainment ranges from a single guitar player to fairly large groups, such as Albannah, highly percussive traditional musicians that the Caledonian Club is bringing from Scotland.
Animal attractions include more than 20 exotic birds of prey with their handlers, highland cattle resplendent in their long coats, a Clydesdale horse team and sheepdog trials.
"There are so many specialties, and the falconry and the sheep dog trials -- they are really quite fascinating," Busby said.
The Gathering of the Clans will include 100 tents to the left of the main entrance where folks can research their heritage.
"It is a popular feature," Busby noted. "A lot of people didn't realize they had Scottish blood in them but went through there and found out they did."
Mary Queen of Scots and her entourage will roam the grounds as part of the living history element that includes Highland Warriors and invading Vikings as well as period artisans and craftsmen.
Whisky tasting will be available for an additional cost to sample premium Scottish, American and international whiskies, as well as a master class seminar.
Athletic contests will include soccer and rugby, as well as the 45th U.S. Invitational Heavy Event Championships for professional and amateur men and women at the grandstand, including the caber toss, and hammer and stone putts.
"We have a record number of athletes, up in the 80s, and that includes the pros and the amateurs," Busby said. "They come from 22 states and five countries."
Inside the air-conditioned halls are the vendors.
"Primarily they all have something to do with Great Britain," Busby explained.
Each day ends dramatically with the Massed Bands march-off at 6 p.m. at the grandstand, featuring 35 pipe bands from the United States and Canada plus the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band Miramar whose musicians will be intermingled with bagpipers.
"Anyone going should try to see the closing ceremonies," Busby said. "All the years I have watched it, I am still thrilled when the single piper goes up and starts playing 'Amazing Grace' and then 600 or 700 pipers and drummers come in. It is quite dramatic."
This is the 26th year for the event to be held by the San Francisco Caledonian Club at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. The gathering was first held Thanksgiving Day 1866 in San Francisco, more of a family picnic and athletic contest. It went on to outgrow venue after venue until it landed in the spacious Pleasanton fairgrounds in 1994 where it now draws tens of thousands each year.
Puttin' on the plaid
What: 154th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games
Who: Caledonian Club of San Francisco
When: Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 31-Sept. 1
Where: Alameda County Fairgrounds
Cost: Adults -- $30 at gate or $45 for two days; presale, $25 and $40
Seniors (65-plus) and youths (12-17) -- $15 or $25 for two days; presale, $13 and $20
Children, active military -- free
Presale tickets are available online and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 29-30 at the San Ramon Marriott.
More information: www.TheScottishGames.com
Other: Friday night concert at 7:30 p.m. at the San Ramon Marriott, featuring the Marine Band and Celtic entertainment, is open to the public, for $20 online or at the door.