A little corner of Altamont will be filled with all things Scottish when the sound of bagpipes and the site of cabers flying through the air take over the Altamont Fairgrounds on Labor Day weekend.
• What: Scottish Games
• When: Saturday, Aug. 30, and Sunday, Aug. 31; gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday
• Where: Altamont Fairgrounds, 129 Grand St., Altamont
• How much: Saturday: $22, Sunday: $12; children 12 and under free
• Info: scotgames.com
Drawing crowds of thousands, the Scottish Games have been a late summer tradition in the Capital District since 1939. Bill Munro, a piper in the Schenectady Pipe Band, recalls how it all began.
“It was more like a picnic for a bunch of Scots, mostly who worked at GE, at a park in Scotia,” he said. “At that time, they were presented by a Scottish Clan MacRae. They ran the games until 1967.”
In 1978, the Schenectady Pipe Band reestablished the Capital District Scottish Games. Now one of the largest events in the country, the games draw more than 40 bands and 15,000 visitors.
The Scottish games are based on the games of skill that were — and still are — held during clan gatherings in the Highlands of Scotland.
“When we started in 1978, we were kind of expecting a crowd of what they got in 1967 — about 3,000 or 4,000 people,” Munro said. “The first time we had 8,000 people, and now as many as 16,000, depending on the weather.”
The games have grown to become an annual festival where people of Gaelic descent can proudly display their culture, traditions and talents. However, Munro lets it be known that “you don’t have to be Scottish to come.”
“My favorite part are the mass bands where all the pipers play together,” Munro said. “About 500 pipers and drummers all play at the same time.”
Munro is a piper in the Schenectady Pipe Band and will also perform in the mass band event.
“The pipe band is going to be 100 years old,” he said.
Formed in 1917 with the support of Clan MacRae and General Electric, the 50-member Schenectady Pipe Band is one of the oldest bagpipe bands in the United States. The band has played for presidential inaugurations, performed in TV commercials and has competed in multiple world pipe band championships. The band consists of men and women that range from 13 to 75 years old.
“We are all from different professions and backgrounds all there for one purpose, which is to play the music we love,” Munro said. “I happen to have two of my sons and grandson in the band and a brother with his family — we have quite a number of Munros.”
But it’s not just the mass bands that visitors find intriguing at the two-day event. The games also bring Highland dance competitions, athletic competitions, clan gatherings, Scottish foods, stage bands and animal exhibits.
“We have a Scottish dog exhibition with an obstacle course. Eleven breeds of Scottish dogs will go through tunnels and loops,” Munro said.
However, Munro adds that probably the most unusual and sought after event is the tossing of the caber, or tree trunk. The caber throw has athletes in kilts running across a field, cradling one end of a 20-foot long, 130-pound pole before coming to a dead stop and flipping the pole into the air. Munro said the idea is not distance, but to pitch the caber end over end so that it lands in a straight line from where it was thrown. The athletes compete in six events, all of which involved throwing some heavy object such as a stone, hammer or bundle of straw.
Each day, a different stage band will perform in the beer tent. New this year is a folk group described as a combination of the Waterboys, the Chieftains, Wolfstone and the Dave Matthews Band, with some symphonic orchestra mixed in.
“They are called the American Rogues, one of the top folk groups in the world,” Munro said.
In addition, Celtic folk rocker Kevin McKrell will take the stage on Saturday afternoon with Colin Grant-Adams and The Brigadoons on both Saturday and Sunday morning.
“It’s like a 10 ring circus — goes on all day long, with all the events repeating themselves both days,” Munro said.
Several vendors will sell food, clothing, jewelry and other Celtic goods, and kids will stay busy with events such as a little Caber toss, three-legged races, tug-of-war, pony rides, a petting zoo, a bounce house and a zip line.
“There is something going on in every corner of the field,” Munro said.
It all happens on Saturday, Aug. 30, and Sunday, Aug. 31, at the Altamont Fairgrounds, 129 Grand St. in Altamont. Gates open at 8 a.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available at the gate on the day of the event. For a complete schedule of events or more information, visit scotgames.com.