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Let the Scottish Games begin

Scottish flair comes to Tri-Valley for Labor Day weekend

This holiday weekend often conjures up thoughts about savoring the end of summertime -- sneaking in that last trip to the lake or holding one more cookout before the more carefree, sunshine-filled days transition into the fall frenzy of back-to-school events and planning for the winter holidays.

For the last two decades in Pleasanton, Labor Day weekend has also been synonymous with the Scots. That's how long the Alameda County Fairgrounds has hosted the annual Scottish Highland Gathering and Games, put on by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco.

But you'd have to go back a ways -- nearly 151 years -- to trace the event's roots.

The first Scottish Games took place on Thanksgiving Day 1866 at Hayes Park in San Francisco. At the time, many Scots were living in San Francisco, having been attracted to the area by the Gold Rush.

The inaugural games consisted of a family picnic and nine competitive athletic events ranging from hammer throwing and stone putting to blindfolded wheelbarrow races. The games were meant to hark back to Scotland's longstanding tradition of heavy athletic events, which began at least 1,000 years ago as a way of testing the strength and conditioning of Scottish troops.

The modern Scottish Games evolved over the decades, becoming less exclusively about military games and bringing dancing, music, food and drink into the fold. That's caused the event to grow into a two-day affair with over 60 competitive events.

Upward of 40,000 people are expected at the Pleasanton fairgrounds throughout the weekend, according to Floyd Busby, a Concord resident and Caledonian Club spokesman.

"We're one of the few ethnic groups that provides a stage for the traditions, history and so on of the particular ethnic group," Busby said, adding that the event showcases Irish and British traditions as well. "We stand out as basically the most complete Scottish Games in the world."

What that translates to is two days chock full of activities meant to entertain and educate patrons about Scottish culture, running from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday at the fairgrounds in Pleasanton.

There's the aforementioned athletic competitions, ranging from the new darts tournament to the 42nd U.S. Invitational Heavy Event Championship featuring professional and amateur athletes. Here you can watch competitors toss a long section of tapered tree trunk, known as a caber, and take part in the "Putting of the Stone," an event similar to shot put in the Olympics.

Music is another one of the main attractions at the Scottish Games, with one of the marquee events being the Grandstand Show. This year's show will feature the LA Scots Grade I Pipe Band intermixed with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band out of Southern California, as well as performances from drum majors, Scottish country dancers and others.

All told, it will include roughly 35 pipe bands from the United States and Canada.

"It's really quite something to sit in the stands and look to your right and left and see approximately 900 pipers and drummers -- it's quite a show," Busby said.

There will be five stages with continuous entertainment as well, ranging from Celtic rock bands and individual singers to fiddlers and harpists. A Friday night kickoff concert, set for 8 p.m. Friday at the San Ramon Marriott Hotel, will include Steve MacDonald, the LA Scots Pipe Band and others.

Those looking for Scottish fare can stop by the exhibition hall where there will be Scottish- and British-themed food, including haggis, shortbread and oatcakes. The food vendors will be among dozens selling kiltware, crafts and other goods.

Adults can also sample whisky and Belhaven Scottish beer as a part of Whisky Live. Those who want to learn more can take part in one of the weekend's master classes, where there will be the opportunity to hear about the whisky distilling process and ask experts questions.

Throw in the classic car display, the sheepdog trials and the Children's Glen with games and activities for kids, and you can understand why Busby says the weekend offers something for everyone.

"You certainly don't have to be Scottish to enjoy it," he said.

151st Scottish Highland Gathering and Games

Tickets (gate prices):

Two-day adult, $35

One-day adult, $25

Two-day senior (65+), $25

One-day senior (65+), $13

Two-day youth (12-17), $25

One-day youth (12-17), $13

Admission is free for children 11 and younger and for military members with valid active duty identification.

Tickets for the Scottish Games can be purchased at the Alameda County Fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday or by calling 443-4700 and picking them up in Dublin at 6398 Dougherty Road No. 23.

Separate tickets must be purchased for grandstand seating, the Friday night concert and whisky tasting.

For complete schedule or more information, visit www.thescottishgames.com.

Fan favorites

The Scottish Games feature a range of events and attractions, including:

Heavy athletic events

Piping and drumming

Celtic heritage

Gathering of the clans

Sheep dog trials

Whisky tasting

Highland dancing

Irish dancing

Grandstand show

Kilted Mile Race

Coos & Clydesdales

Children's Glen

Friday night concert

British cars

Archery

Birds of prey

Living history

Entertainers

Rugby and shinty

Darts

Soccer

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