The Sights and Sounds of the 2018 Stone Mountain Highland Games
This year marked the 46th annual Stone Mountain Highland Games, a festival that brings together those of Scottish and Scots-Irish lineage from all over Georgia - and indeed across the southeast - for a weekend celebrating the rich history and cultural heritage they all share. Among the activities every year are clan meetups (essentially mini-family reunions for distant relatives who share common ancestry), live music, and competitions ranging from field athletics, to dancing, to pipe bands. Although the weather was threatening to let loose on Saturday, my first time ever at the games, it only rained briefly during the opening ceremonies, as if the rain just wanted to catch the marvelous spectacle of hundreds of pipers and drummers marching onto the game field for itself.
Following the opening ceremonies, I headed over to one of the main stages to catch up with one of my favorite local bands, The Muckers. Along the way, I caught a whiff of some tasty treats and had to make a pit stop. I grabbed a bite to eat at the food pavilion, where I found a few vendors offering traditional Scottish cuisine, such as meat pies and haggis. Of course I had to stop by and get some haggis as I had never before tried the iconic Scottish dish. To my surprise, it had a lovely taste similar to a blend of hash and ground beef. I could definitely see why it’s popular among Scots even to this day, as it would pair well with a good ale.
Finally arriving at the stage area, I found a seat and settled in as The Muckers performed for a packed-out crowd. On the first song, the whole crowd was up in hoots and hollers showing their appreciation for the talent onstage. The Muckers really know how to entertain a crowd and keep the energy alive, which was constantly tested during their set as the humidity kept knocking their instruments out of tune. However, with the dead air being filled with jokes and anecdotes, the whole performance seemed natural. The Muckers did a couple of my favorites, including their original, “Day Drinking”, and their cover of Flogging Molly’s “What’s Left of the Flag”, while keeping their set appropriate for all fans in attendance as the Highland Games is a family-friendly event. I have much respect for The Muckers and look forward to the next time I can see them in their natural environment.
When walking around the festival grounds, I could hear bagpipes all around, as various pipe bands practiced for their group competition. As this was also my first time attending a pipe band competition, I was taken aback by the considerable body of music that exists for bagpipes and drums. My only previous experiences with bagpipes are the same ones likely shared by most readers - a rendition of "Amazing Grace" here and there, and maybe a jig or two. Luckily, I have a good friend named Anthony “Tonka” Green who happens to be a member of North Georgia Pipe and Drums, a seasoned group based in north Atlanta who have developed quite a reputation among their fellow pipers and drummers for their uniqueness and unorthodox way of doing things. He gave me an inside perspective on the pipes competition that really made me appreciate how music, in all its variety, can bring people together. Although North Georgia Pipes and Drums didn’t place at this year’s competition, the group still held smiles on their faces when we all parted ways at the end of the day. You could really tell these guys and gals were passionate about what they do, and understood that winning isn't everything but rather icing on an already lovely cake.
At the conclusion of the day’s events, all attendees of the festival gathered together for the closing ceremonies, which again featured a full, massive pipe band, the presentation of awards for the various pipe band competitions, and a performance of "Amazing Grace. I can honestly say it was the most beautiful rendition of the song I have heard to date. The sound of hundreds of pipers joining together to play the classic melody brought a tear to my eye. It is truly a blessing that we have the Highland Games, as it gives local music fans the chance to experience the true passion at the heart of traditional Scottish music in it’s appropriate setting. As the Games happen every fall, make sure you mark your calendars for next year’s installment, as this event is definitely something to behold and witness for yourself. I for one will most definitely be there.
Photo credit: Brian Weaver