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whatever you call it

13 July 2010 4 comments

(take two)

I left early Thursday morning to go the the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in western North Carolina, something I’ve wanted to do for years.  Carmen couldn’t go, so I decided to go a bit more natively.  Had a tent, pad, and bag in the Jeep, a few changes of clothes, and I took off.  About five hours later, I’m in the country my dad always dreamed of getting back to – old, weathered mountaintops; folded stone over stone; trees as old as humanity in that region.  Wisps of fog clinging to the sides of the hills that gave rise to the territory’s name – the Smoky Mountains.  This is where the Scottish people of the area settled in the late 1700s.

I got to the town of Linville, which is just down the hill (quite a hill, mind you) from MacRae Meadows, where the games were being held.  I paid for the three days I was going to attend, and asked about the campgrounds.  I was informed that they were all full.  I hadn’t counted on that.  So, I set about doing some searching for campgrounds.  Unfortunately, there are large areas of sketchy signal in them thar hills. After a few fruitless phone calls, I finally found a KOA in Boone.  I drove there, and was again dismayed to find that all of their tent sites were taken.  There was a cabin that had a cancellation – upon querying the price, I found that it was less than twice what the tent site was.  I thought “hmm, locking door, dry, electric plugs, a bed, available right now…” So I took it.  Good choice, though I lamented at first, due to the drive.  The drive back, once I had lodging taken care of, was much more beautiful.

Upon arrival at the site that night, I was able to park on the road.  I got to the field about 7:30 or so, and was immediately taken by the ring of tents with clan names – the MacDonalds, the Skenes, the Johnstons, the MacLeods – just to name a scant few.  Pervasive the whole time, though – pipes.  The one thing that is uniquely Scottish, if anything, is the blaring, piercing chatter of a piper well-practiced on the chanter.  And tartans everywhere – for me, a tartan is beautiful; the artful mixture of this many threads in the weft, and that many in the warp.  At that moment, however, I was surrounded by them.  Pretty much ALL of them, in fact.  Another thing: I was wearing bifurcated leggings (shorts).  I was wholly in the minority.  There were men in full dress gear, all the way to young lads in t-shirts and Utilikilts.  Tried one of those on, in fact.  Loved it.  Just can’t afford it right now.  That, and the image of my legs in the mirror, but I’ve said enough about that on Twitter.  And arms! Everything from the sgian dubh (sock-dagger) all the way through the traditional dirk (shortsword) to the mighty claymores themselves.  There was also a Glock, but it was on the hip of a deputy (who was wearing a camo Sportkilt, though).

Finally, the event of the evening, after the sun had dipped far below the mountains, was the torch-lighting ceremony.  In it, the clan representatives all brought a torch to the field, announced the clan’s presence, in far more flamboyant fashion than I would have expected.  Lots of talk about stealing sheep and women.  Once announced, they all placed their torches in a saltire made of logs, where all four tips touched the ground and arched to an apex.  Very moving and inspiring.

The next morning, after a very humid but bug-free night, I caught the shuttle from the high school up the hill.  Quick meal, and on to the tents.  My first stop, after catching part of the band Blessed Blend in the Grove, was the MacAlister tent.  The name Sanders was not only displayed on the banner of septs, but he had called it out on the field the night before.  I had a very pleasant conversation with Stewart Flora, who was in charge of the region of the Carolinas and the Virginias.  The one thing I had to leave to go do, however, was catch the first day show in Grove One of Albannach.  They were probably at the top of the list of things I wanted to experience while there.  From the first minute, they did not disappoint.  Not only was the music loud and rhythmic, the energy was amazing.  Jamesie and Aya could not keep from moving while playing, and the new lead drummer Colin is incredibly good.   They played for about twenty minutes, and before leaving the stage, Jamesie recommended that we go check out the band Brother in the other Grove.  I was definitely gonna check it out; since I freaking love Albannach, they must be good.

They are.  They’re Aussies, living in LA, and they were only kids when they played GMHG fourteen years earlier.  Now, they have a polished yet earthy style, with skillful percussion, pipes, guitar, vocals, and.. didgeridoo? Yep, the bandmember Drew – DidgeriDrew, as he is known – makes them and plays them onstage.  It’s a haunting and powerful mix.  What made it even more interesting was when they invited Jamesie and Colin (from Albannach) up on stage, where they, Angus and Dalbo of Brother all played the same drum kit.  It was very cool, and the crowd loved it. (click here to hear them at their website – brothermusic.com)

I grabbed some lunch, did another walkaround of the vendors, watched the border collies do their magic on the geese and sheep, then headed back to the Groves.  Caught a bit of Clandestine – they were good, but not really my thing – and picked up Albannach’s afternoon set.  They were clearly warmed up, and perhaps loosened up by a few pints at lunch.  It was also no surprise why the crowd that gathered to see them (which was at least four times the size of any other band’s crowd during the day) was overwhelmingly female.  Jamesie is infectiously charming, and (with the exception of Jackie Holland) they are muscled, tattooed, sweaty men with rhythm.  The beat is inescapable.  (fortunately, someone posted a video on Youtube that I now link to.)

Their set was over, and Brother was playing again, so I went to see them.  About halfway through their set, it started raining.  Although they were able to finish, the rain steadily picked up.  After catching the 5:00 bus off the mountain (end of restricted parking), then driving back up, I was told that the concert had been canceled for the evening.  Bummed, I made my way back to Boone – it’s a college town, so they must have a coffee shop, right?  Took me forever to find one, and it was at the base of the hill the KOA was on – a place called Higher Ground (get it??).  Good coffee, Nonni’s biscotti, wi-fi.  Drove back up and slept (sort of) through another humid night.

The next day, headed back to MacRae for some breakfast.  I was advised to try a Scotch Egg; after hearing the name, I thought “Hm.  I has a dubious.”  Scots don’t refer to anything as “Scotch” but whisky (and, I can only assume, tape).  Turns out, I was right – it was invented at a London department store.  Turns out they are also Holy-Fucking-Shit delicious.  Whatever spice that is they use in there makes it magical.  Anyway, the day progressed like the one before, although Saturday was the main Games day.  I was able to see some cabers, sheaves, and hammers get thrown, as well as a few foot races (the big event was on Thursday – the “Bear” – five mile run, from the bottom of the hill to the top.  There are only a few hundred feet that are even close to flat).  I went to see the same bands play.  Going back to the same vendor for lunch I found – as I was hoping – haggis!  It had a dryish, dusty taste and a consistency like sausage, but it was pretty tasty.  The HP sauce (description here) made it much more palatable.  Oh, and Irn Bru! An orange/citrus drink with sugar and caffeine, made in Scotland, and they swear it’s the best hangover remedy known to man.  And that it is good with liquor (link to Jamesie from Albannach explaining it).

After a lengthy conversation with the Johnston clan, I caught all the bands’ afternoon shows, then went to get the Jeep again.  This time, I was able to park on the grounds, which was good – by about eight I needed my jacket and skully.  They kicked off the Saturday night concert with three teenage girls who were right good fiddlers, and even wrote some very good songs as well.  The other bands played – Blessed Blend, Mother Grove, Teribus, Brother (who were even better in the bigger venue), but the night ended with Albannach, and it ended with a bang.  The crowd was about thirty-five hundred people (mostly young), and they were very keen on seeing Albannach play.  I got a few pics, but someone out there has posted a video:

The show was amazing.  It ended with Albannach, Brother, and the drummer from Mother Grove all on stage.  Crowd went wild.

I don’t have much to say as a postlude except I will be going back, and I hope I can convince some friends (or nephews??) to go with.  It was a complete blast, if you’re ready for the work you have to do (hills, dirt, heat, bugs, humidity, Scottish food, dry county).  My pics of the trip can be found here, and you can search around for Albannach on Youtube, or GMHG 2010.

(see the whole set of pics I took over at my Flickr page here)


  • Deb Seaton said:

    I married into a Scottish clan name, but which I couldn’t tell ya (at one point I read it was Scottish royalty, but who knows if that’s true, I got tired a’digging), but my maiden, she is Irish.

    Oh, but even without the Scottish lineage, I still think this sounds like a fantastic experience. What’s *work* about hills, dirt, or heat? I’m no fan of bugs, but they usually go with the humidity. Sounds like freaking fun! But then I have that kind of blood in my veins — outside is better than in, out there is better than here, and if I can’t hear the wind and see the moon then something’s a’miss. It would be worth the trip alone for the bagpiping.

    LOL on nunna but whiskey and tape is called Scotch! And it’s a bit like reading a travelogue, your account of the goings-on and what you saw and did. Nicely done. It’s clear you were in your drink.

    May the best ye’ve ever seen
    Be the worst ye’ll ever see
    May a moose ne’er leave yer girnal
    Wi’ a tear drap in his e’e
    May ye aye keep hale an’ he’rty
    Till ye’re auld eneuch tae dee
    May ye aye be jist as happy
    As we wish ye aye tae be

  • Gordon Bryan said:

    Well done! Great synopsis and descriptions.

  • Linda said:

    Bubby, was this it?
    Scotch Eggs
    1 pound bulk pork sausage
    1 tablespoon fresh parsley — chopped
    1 tablespoon grated onion
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    4 hard-cooked eggs — shelled
    1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
    Combine sausage, parsley, onion, cinnamon and nutmeg; mix well. Divide sausage mixture into 4 portions; shape into patties. Place one egg atop each patty, shaping the sausage mixture around egg till completely covered. Roll each sausage-covered egg in breadcrumbs. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

  • dan (author) said:

    Sounds pretty close, sis. Have you made any?