PLEASANTON -- A beloved Tri-Valley tradition involving a popular Marine Corps band will continue next year, thanks to legislative handiwork by a rookie congressman.
The Scottish Highland Gathering & Games, held each year at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, was in danger of going without the Marine band's annual performance this year and next because of sequestration, a series of automatic federal spending cuts totaling tens of billions of dollars.
The cuts slashed hundreds of national programs and expenditures earlier this year, including a planned Blue Angels performance in San Francisco, and led the Department of Defense to stop allowing military bands to perform at community events. That policy change included a San Diego-based Marine Corps group, which was expecting to play at the 148th annual games in Pleasanton on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
Although the games have now been assured the band will return in 2014, hope remains to be able to work out a deal to get them for this year as well.
The band has played at the games for decades.
"It's tradition, and they are a huge part of our whole program," said Floyd Busby, spokesman for The Caledonian Club of San Francisco, the cultural organization that hosts the Scotland-themed festival. "They are beloved and if they don't play they will really be missed."
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, whose district includes Pleasanton, heard about the issue and within weeks came up with a solution. He and Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan, of Pennsylvania, co-sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was approved a few weeks ago. The amendment will allow military bands to play community functions when organizations agree to pay for all expenses.
"Visitors to the Scottish Games in Pleasanton and other events across the country should get to enjoy the patriotic music of military bands," Swalwell said. "My amendment will let the music play again."
Busby said that he and other festival organizers are thrilled with the fast reversal of policy.
"I don't think I've ever seen politics work that quickly," Busby said.
The amendment will take effect in 2014. But Swalwell is drafting a letter to the Department of Defense, asking permission for the band to play this summer, said Allison Bormel, a Swalwell aide. "There are no guarantees that they'll get permission, but he's taking a very proactive approach," she said.
The Marine band, which has about 30 members, plays a versatile set of music, ranging from show tunes to jazz and patriotic marching songs, Busby said.
"How it all relates to Scottish history, I have no idea," he said. "But I can tell you that Scottish-Americans are very patriotic about the United States. Few ethnic groups celebrate their roots quite like Scottish-Americans do."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.