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Micah Boersma, of San Jose, left, a member of the Royal Scots Renaissance Faire Guild Royal Guards is thanked by Mary, Queen of Scots, portrayed by Karen Shaw, of Soquel, during the 147th Scottish Highland Gathering & Games held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. (Doug Duran/Staff)

PLEASANTON -- Bagpipers, dancers, games of strength, sheepherding dogs, whiskey sellers, and living history performers celebrate everything Scottish on Saturday and Sunday in the largest Scottish Highland games and festival in North America.

And the Marines are back after a one-year absence caused by the federal government's sequester restrictions last year.

The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, from Miramar, in Southern California, will play alongside Britain's 1st Battalion Pipes and Drum Scots Guards, a group that dates back to 1700s. The group has played at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, among other places.

"The amalgamation of both of these extraordinary bands will be among the highlights of this year's games," said Geoffrey Craighead, chief of the Caledonian Club of San Francisco, organizer of the games.

The games began in San Francisco in 1866. The 149th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games runs from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, off Bernal Road in Pleasanton, where is has been held since 1994.

Some 40,000 to 50,000 people typically attend the two-day event, with many crowding into the grandstand shortly before 4 p.m. each day for the massed band closing ceremonies featuring the two military bands plus 30 bagpipe bands from America and Canada.


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It is the largest assembly of bagpipe bands anywhere in America, said Floyd Busby, a spokesman for the games.

Other festival attractions include athletic strength competitions featuring the caber toss and Scottish hammer throws, the Western U.S. Open Highland Dancing Championships, music and entertainment on six stages, living history performers re-enacting old ceremonies and battles, and a variety of vendors selling Scottish goods. Many Scottish clans will have booths to discuss genealogy.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.

SCOTTISH highland GATHERING AND GAMES
When: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton
Cost: Single-day tickets cost $21 for adults, $11 for youngsters between 12 and 17. Children under 12 get in free.
For information: Go to www.thescottishgames.com or call 800-769-2345