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Story Last modified at 9:52 a.m. on Thursday, June 23, 2011

Highland Games to celebrate 30th birthday on Saturday
Thousands expected for annual Scottish celebration

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:Sports

Participants take part in the Alaskan Scottish Highland Games last year. Music, food and athletic competition will be on display this Saturday (June 25) when thousands of spectators and participants are expected to descend on Eagle River Lions Park for the 30th annual games, which begin at 8 a.m. and conclude with a 7 p.m. concert by the Tannahill Weavers. Cost is $15 for adults, $5 for children six to 16 and free for younger kids. Tickets can also be purchased at a reduced rate in advance at Suzie's Woolies and Celtic Treasures in Anchorage and at the Book Shelf in Eagle River.
STAR FILE PHOTOS

Kilts and cabers will again dominate the scenery in Eagle River, where the state's annual homage to all things Scottish will celebrate its 30th anniversary this weekend.

"Everybody's a Scot for the day," said Chris Anderson, this year's Alaska Scottish Highland Games chair.

Anderson said the annual festival has become part of the summer tradition in Eagle River. Despite cold, wet weather last summer, more than 4,000 people turned out for the annual event, which takes place on Saturday, June 25 at Eagle River Lions Park.

The biggest draws each year are the traditional games, which include hammer, weight and stone tosses as well as the signature caber toss. There are several divisions for people to participate in, ranging from amateur all the way up to a professional class that Anderson said this year includes five of the world's best Highland games athletes.

"Our games are one of the most popular for the pros to come up," she said.

This year's professional field includes reigning world champion and three-time defending Alaska games champion Larry Brock, of South Carolina; along with 2007 Games champion Andrew Keedah Hobson, of Arizona; and '06 champ Harrison Bailey, of Pennsylvania. Also scheduled to participate is current world caber champion Daniel McKim, of Missouri, who last year became the first person to successfully "turn" the event's challenge caber, a 20-foot long pole that weighs 127 pounds.

Getting to watch some of the world's top athletes is a big draw of the games, but Anderson said you don't have to be a sports nut to enjoy them. More than 50 vendors will be on hand to keep people busy, including 15 selling food – including traditional Scottish fare like shepherd's pie and bangers and mash.

"There should be plenty of food," Anderson said.

And a wee bit of drink, as well. For the first time this year, Anderson said the event will include a Scotch tasting tent, where for $20 participants will get to taste three to five different blends of that most famous of Scottish spirits. Anyone imbibing at that event also gets to keep a commemorative 30th anniversary crystal Scotch tasting glass made special for the event.

And that's not all. There's also plenty of music scheduled, including bag pipes, drumming competitions and – also new this year – a Scottish twist on a pop culture phenomenon.

"We're calling it 'Piping Idol,'" Anderson said.

The idea behind that event is that anyone who plays the pipes can get up on stage and do their best to win over the audience. Unlike in the traditional piping contests, Anderson said musicians will be able to play whatever they wish – from classics to rock and roll.

"I think that's going to be really, really fun," she said.

There's also a tug-of-war contest, and Anderson said there is still room for people to get a team of 12 people together (eight pull at a time) for the annual event, which she said is usually one of the day's biggest draws.

"If anyone wants to put a team together, they can still come out and do that," she said.

Following the final games, Anderson said folks can stick around for the grand finale, a concert by Scottish band the Tannahill Weavers. The show is included with the price of admission.

The group performed last year, and Anderson said fans of the genre are in for a treat.

"We've had some of the top Celtic bands in the world come to these games," she said.

The games (and fun) begin at 8 a.m. with registration for athletes, musicians and dancers wishing to compete in the various games. Craft and vendor booths open at 9 a.m., which is also when the field events get underway.

Cost for adults is $15 at the gate, although tickets can be purchased in advance for just $12.50 in Anchorage at Suzie's Woolies or Celtic Treasures or at the Book Shelf in Eagle River. Kids ages 6 to 16 are $5 at the gate, while anyone younger is free.

For more information, visit www.alaskascottish.org or call Chris Anderson at 243-7255.

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com



This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, June 23, 2011.