Pleasanton Highland Games, about 30 miles east of San Francisco, California
For me, listening to Grade 1 and 2 bands' bagpiping were peak experiences, sometimes almost bringing tears to my eyes.
It's the series of notes, played lyrically, with great precision, en masse, and in conjunction with the drumming, which is so moving. And while this remarkable music is often played in unison, it is also played with different bagpiping parts.
In some ways, bagpiping in bagpipe bands is about precision, which leads in my experience to great pleasure ... The more precision, the more pleasure.
But Scottish band bagpiping these days also highlights uniforms and uniformity. Dress is important in the tradition, and everyone tries to dress as like one another as possible. As colorful as it is, it's the opposite of free expression vis-a-vis hippie-mindedness. I find this aspect is fascinating. Why do people appreciate this uniformity? An appreciation of orderliness?
The weather was great yesterday in Pleasanton, - as nice as could be. And this fairground is nice for such games as there are a lot of discrete areas, each of which is used for a different aspect. Wandering from music to music to dancing is fun. There's a freedom in this.
At these games, there's also a lot of familiarity vis-a-vis Scottish identity, and one meets old friends, often serendipitously. This, too, is pleasurable.
Clan MacLeod Tent
I enjoyed visiting the Clan MacLeod tent. So many clans have tents at Highland Games, and the Calendonian Club's Pleasonton Games is one of the largest in the world, and has a lot of clan tents. I hadn't met any of the people there before, but there's a sense of familiarity, having lived for 2 separate years in Scotland, and attended other Highland Games and many other Scots' related functions.
Wicked Tinkers - Celtic tribal music -
The Wicked Tinkers, whom I hadn't heard before but who make the rounds at Games and other Celtic events, cultivate trance-like qualities, and free-spiritedness, with their high energy celtic music ... very dynamic ... The bagpiper leads the music, and is key ... All wear kilts. They are a little hippie-ish in a celctic sense, the opposite of the orderliness and uniformity which pipe bands express.
Birds of Prey
There were probably 20 birds of prey at these games, for people to observe and learn about. All were beautiful creatures.
There were a lot of historical reenactments and reenactors at these games as well. People dress up in period clothing and often act out aspects of life then, say 500 years ago. Often the clothing is very elegant, has to do with weapons, and is very interesting, especially for kids.
I had seen neither the Birds of Prey nor the Historical Re-enactments at the Highland Games I've visited over the years.
And there's lots of commerce. About 3 halls at the Pleasanton Fair Grounds are filled with shops selling Scottish and Celtic goods and related things.
How to find peak experiences when and as one wants them? What's the 'on/off' switch for loving bliss, is another way I'm asking this?
The Pleasanton Highland Games and culture.
With an interest in counterculture, I'm curious where it gets expressed in these Games.
What is culture? In some ways, I might say that Grade 1 piping bands express culture, a kind of orderliness of shared code, which is possibly somewhat inflexible.
What is counterculture? And perhaps the Wicked Tinkers expressed a kind of institutionalized counterculture at these games. They made their living from selling T-shirts and Compact Disks. They have a significant following. Possibly 100-200 people were listening to them at any given time, and often stayed seated for long periods of time, absorbing this dynamic music.
In the context of the Calendonian Club's 144th Pleasaton Highland Games, which someone said was the longest running highland games anywhere, Scottish culture in California, in all its aspects gets expressed. (It costs $25 for a 2 day ticket, and about $8 to park).
Falco peregrinus anatum Bonaparte, 1838
(http://scott-macleod.blogspot.com/2009/09/pleasanton-highland-games.html - September 5, 2009)