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ALTAMONT: Highlights of the Highlands

You're standing in a field, the noon sun beating down on the rustling grass. Fifty pipe bands blare in harmony around you, shaking the ground.

No, this isn't Scotland 500 years ago. It's the Scottish Games at the Altamont Fair, held annually on Labor Day weekend, a tradition dating back to 1939.

The two-day event is a Celtic festival of arts, dancing, athletics, music and food. Founded in Scotia, competitive bands have grown from just 12 in the 1950s to almost 50 today.

Colonie resident Peter Plourde has been the Chairman of the Scottish Games for the past six years. His father-in-law immigrated to the United States from Scotland and got Plourde involved as a ticket collector over 20 years ago.

The dancing is so unique and so interesting, Plourde said. "Hearing 50 pipe bands playing on the field, you can feel the bases striking your chest and it takes your breath away."

This year's entertainment includes such bands as "Hair of the Dog" and "Rob Roy McGregor." The Schenectady Pipe Band, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary, has hosted the event since 1978.

A Caber toss is one of the event's popular athletic competitions. The event involves a large wooden pole, sometimes as long as a telephone pole, which competitors balance on their palms. The object is to throw the pole, not for distance, but to make it land facing exactly away from the thrower. A perfect throw is when the top end of the pole is nearest the thrower.

Other events include hammer and stone throws, as well as weight and sheaf tosses.

"The Scottish history in America is much greater than many people know about," Plourde said. "Seeing what the Scottish heritage has brought to this country, going back to the old country like I did and participating in the games of this site, it's exciting. It brings a whole different light to a group of people in our country."

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