ScotsFest 2012 starts Saturday

Locals don't need to go see "The Avengers" this weekend to watch telephone poles get chucked end-over-end, or see 300 pounds of weight carried with ease.

The real-life version will be in Costa Mesa, at the annual ScotsFest — a tribute to all things Scottish, and celebrated by thousands who are (or wish they were) Caledonian.

An opening ceremony featuring a mass of Scottish bands will begin at noon Saturday; closing ceremonies will be held both days starting at 5 p.m. In honor of Memorial Day, a memorial service honoring veterans is slated for 10 a.m. Sunday.

A daily Gathering of the Clans at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and 11:15 a.m. Sunday will feature a grand procession of the 70 participating clans. (Those who aren't Scottish can join Clan Inebriated, who are always happy to welcome new members.)

A favorite element of any Highland Games conclave is the heavy athletic games themselves, which include the caber toss; throwing the weight; the farmers' walk; putting the stone; and the hammer throw. The caber toss is perhaps the most famous; it requires competitors (including women) to lift a massive caber, similar to a telephone pole, and to toss it end-over-end, with the goal to have the caber land in a 12-o'clock position directly in front of the tosser. (Points aren't assigned for distance tossed, as is commonly thought, but for the proximity the pole lands to the 12-o'clock position; points are deducted for every degree off the mark.)

In throwing the weight, a 28-pound weight is thrown for distance, while a 56-pound weight is thrown for distance and height. In the farmers' walk, competitors pick up two 150-pound weights and try to walk as far as possible with them. Putting the stone originated from clansmen testing their prowess by tossing a large stone that was kept in front of their chieftain's castle; at ScotsFest, competitors will toss a 16-pound stone like a shot put, and a 22-pound stone that is tossed from a stationery position. The 16- and 22-pound hammer throws are done with an overhead twirl maneuver.

A quick sell-out each year is the on-site whisky tasting seminars, where whisky expert Chris Uhde guides tasters through $530 worth of samples of Scotch whiskies aged for three to more than 20 years, for a $30 fee. Udhe concurrently will instruct about the whisky-producing regions of Scotland and share the history of the Scotch making process.

He is the whisky expert at the Daily Pint in Santa Monica, famed for its Scotch selection. The seminars are given daily at 1 and 3 p.m., and each class will feature a different selection; get tickets early at the onsite Whisky Tavern.

The new Alex Beaton Stage will be dedicated at 1 p.m. Saturday; it pays tribute to a beloved fixture at ScotsFest, musician Alex Beaton, who has performed at the festival for about 30 years. He suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury last summer, and now faces massive medical expenses. Donations can be made at alexbeaton.com.

Live entertainment will include some of the top names in Celtic folk, rock and comedy, with acts like Sligo Rags, Bad Haggis, Tempest, Highland Way, Brother, the Ploughboys, Neil O'Neil, Those Manning Boys, Christopher Yates, the Raggle-Taggle Harpers, the Granada Hills Highlander Band, the 1st Marine Division Band from Camp Pendleton, and country dancers and fiddlers.

A popular attraction each year is the variety of piping and drumming competitions, in which pipe bands that consist of pipers, bass drummers, snare drummers and tenor drummers are assigned into four grades of ability and compete by playing tunes like marches, Strathspeys and reels. Solo competitors also will strive for awards.

Attendees also will enjoy performances of traditional dances like the Highland Fling and the Seann Truibhas, which mimics the action of a Highlander trying to remove his trews, or breeches, in order to put his kilt back on.

The popular Ghillie Calum, or Sword Dance, is said to have originated with the victory of King Malcolm over Macbeth at the battle of Dunsinane in 1054. The dancers strive to avoid touching swords placed on the ground, which they dance around.

Group dances also are on the schedule, like the Strathspey, Highland Reel, Half Tulloch, Irish Jig and Sailer's Hornpipe, as well as the many Scottish national dances like the Flora MacDonald's Fancy, named after the woman who harbored the ill-fated French "Bonnie Prince Charlie," the pretender to the throne of Scotland, in the 18th century.

There also will be plenty of kids' activities, like free fun slides and athletic events, and archery for both kids and adults for a nominal fee.

Vendors will offer goods like hand-woven scarves and shawls; British groceries and sweets; Highland attire; Renaissance costumes; hair braiding; fine china; clan memorabilia and clothing; custom kilts; crafts; music; embroidery; tapestries; books and literature; coats of arms; woodcarvings; artisanal jams and jellies; replica and swords and weapons.

Ticket prices vary; adult one-day passes at the gate are $18, and two-day passes are $25. Seniors and students with ID are $16 for one day or $22 for two days. Kids ages 5 to 12 are $3 for one day or $4 for two days; all kids ages 4 and under are free. Active or retired members of any branch of the military enter free with military ID. Information: scotsfest.com.

Dress Like a Man: Highland couture

- Kilt (in your clan's tartan)

- Sporran (to hold your necessities)

- Sgian dubh (knife tucked into your hose)

- Kilt hose (tall socks to carry your knife)

- Ghillies (high-laced shoes)

- Highland bonnet (with crest badge)

If You Go

What: ScotsFest 2012

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Orange County Fair and Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $18 for one-day adult entry; concessions are available (see below); parking $5 to $8

Information: scotsfest.com

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