Put on by the United Scottish Society of Southern California in order to promote Scottish and Celtic cultural traditions, the festival draws more than 15,000 people to the Orange County Fairgrounds for two days of bagpipe music, caber tossing and the Ghillie Callum (Sword Dance).
Society Chieftain Tom Reoch said this year's pipe band competition will feature the most bands in the festival's history, with 23 bands competing and performing, including six from Canada. Two of the Canadian bands, along with the LA Scots band, are elite Grade 1 competitors — "the NBA of bagpipes," Reoch said. The Orange County-based LA Scots are one of less than a handful of top-tier pipers in the country.
The opening ceremony at noon Saturday and closing ceremonies at 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday will include hundreds of pipers performing simultaneously
Along with traditional Scottish music, Celtic bands also will be on hand; this year's four entertainment stages will include Celtic rock and punk bands as well as harpists and fiddlers. Top names include the Ploughboys, Alex Beaton, Banshee in the Kitchen, the Wicked Tinkers, Sligo Rags and Molly's Revenge, among others.
"We have a lot of bands based in the local area. Almost all of the dancers are based in the Southern California area, as well," Reoch said.
The Highland Dancing Western Regional Championship will include dances like the Highland Fling, Seann Truibhas, the Reel of Tulloch, Irish Jig (modified by the Scots to lovingly mock their Celtic brothers), Sailor's Hornpipe and national dances like Flora MacDonald's Fancy.
Activities for kids will include archery (offered for adults as well), slides and kids' athletic competitions like the sack race.
A major draw for crowds is the heavy athletics displays. This year, the event is hosting the National Athletic Championship, and will draw some of the best athletes competing in North America in events like the caber toss, throwing the weight, the farmer's walk, putting the stone and the hammer throw.
This year will see the return of the Ian Campbell Memorial Trophy, named after a Los Angeles policeman and award-winning piper who had performed in the games decades ago. Campbell made national headlines when he was shot execution-style in a Bakersfield-area onion field in 1963, at age 31, after being abducted during a Hollywood traffic stop.
The Los Angeles Police Department played the bagpipes for the first time at Campbell's funeral, in honor of him. Since then, every funeral given for a line-of-duty death has included bagpipe playing. The department also sponsored the Ian Campbell Memorial Trophy's creation in 1965; it was used until about 1970, when the tradition fell by the wayside.
The Los Angeles Protective Police League and the Los Angeles Police Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band resurrected the trophy this year' and will present it to the best aggregate Grade 4 piper at this year's games, at about 4 p.m. Saturday. Campbell's sister is expected to be present during the trophy ceremony.
Other events include popular sheepherding demos daily at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.; Scotch whisky seminars at 1:15 and 3 p.m. daily; a vintage car parade; drum major contest; and constant Highland dance performances. Vendors will offer Scottish genealogical and cultural treasures, and food stands will serve both Scottish traditional dishes like Haggis and American favorites. A memorial service for fallen military members will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Tickets will be available at the gates; there are discounts for those who attend the festival both days.
After all, ye'll no fin the brither o't in monie a lang day (you won't find its like for a very long time). A year, to be exact.
If You GoWhat: ScotsFest Scottish Festival and Highland Games
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Orange County Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: Adult tickets $18 for one day and $25 for two days; seniors $16 and $22; kids ages 5-12 $3 and $4; kids 4 and younger are free. Free for active military in uniform with ID.