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Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - August 27, 2021

The plaid is back

Scottish Highland Gathering and Games returning to the fairgrounds

by By Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The 155th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games is set to take place once again at the Alameda County Fairgrounds on Labor Day weekend after a year's hiatus. Members of the hosting Caledonian Club of San Francisco promise a festive array of Scottish music, food, drink and other traditions, although there will be some changes.

"Even up to a month and a half ago we weren't sure we were going to have a Games," club representative Gordon MacDonald said.

When health officials said such events should be capped at 5,000 attendees, it sounded like a go, he recalled. In the past, the Games have drawn up to 30,000-40,000 over its two days.

"We said we will do a trimmed-back Games, with no inside vendors," MacDonald said. "We will pretty much cover the whole grassy area."

The Grandstand also will be closed, but events will still include the Celtic heritage stage, folk singers, heavy athletics, gathering of the clans, highland dancing, living history, piping and drumming, ceremonies, Scottish food and goods vendors, and whisky tasting.

"We've got the pipe bands coming, and over 40 doing heavy athletics," MacDonald said. "We're going to have vendors selling Scottish and British goods, food vendors, and the clan tents, highland dancing and Celtic heritage dancing and Irish dancing as well."

"It's certainly going to have the flair of the Scottish Games," he added.

Tickets must be purchased online; the link is at thescottishgames.com, which also has information about the events and complete schedules.

Mary Queen of Scots and her entourage will roam the grounds as part of the living history element, MacDonald noted.

"And obviously we are going to do the whisky tasting," he said. "It is outdoors this year, in the wine area the fairgrounds has, with a wall around it."

They are also prepared for the heat, with misters in many areas.

MacDonald, who moved to the Bay Area from Scotland in 1978, has been a member of the Caledonian Club of San Francisco for 40 years and remembers when the Games were relocated from the venue in Santa Rosa.

"We've been in Pleasanton since 1994," he said. "We were actually approached by the Alameda County Fairgrounds, and we came and took a look at it and liked the facilities. Also the hotels were anxious to accommodate us."

MacDonald's personal favorite events are the pipe bands and the heavy athletics, he said, but he enjoys the entire weekend. The whole family has been involved through the years, he said, with his two daughters doing highland dancing. His daughters and his son played in pipe bands that even performed at the world championships in Glasgow.

The heavy athletics draw professional and amateur women and men to compete in traditional Scottish hammer throwing, putting the stone, weight for height and distance, and sheaf and caber tossing events. This year they will take place on the grass field between the Yellow Gate and the Amphitheater.

The closing ceremonies for the 155th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games will begin at 4 p.m. both Saturday (Sept. 4) and Sunday (Sept. 5) on the same field with the Drum Major Competition Finals, Scottish Country Dancers, arrival of the Chief and Honored Guests, Massed Bands March-In, Salute to the Chief (Hielan' Laddie), "Flower of Scotland," Piping & Drumming Awards, "Auld Land Syne," "Amazing Grace" and the Massed Bands March-Off.

"This year might be a bit smaller but it will have the same feel of a good Scottish Games," MacDonald said. "Then hopefully next year we will be back to the full Games."

Haggis anyone?

What: 155th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games

Where: Alameda County Fairgrounds

When: Sept. 4-5; gates open 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Tickets: Online purchase only, thescottishgames.com; adults, $15; children 11 and under, and active military, free; seniors 65-plus, and youths 12-17, $10. Parking, $10.

Whisky tasting: $29, purchase tickets online; unlimited tasting 12:30-4:30 p.m. both days

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