First off, I have to say that the Wise Ricky and I were invited to join...and had an absolute blast...with the lads from My Three Kilts and their wives (Rachael, Heather, and Julie). Considering that they weren't all that familiar with us off-stage before the invite, it was a particularly strong leap of faith on their part, but one that made the Games a helluva lot of fun for us (and hopefully also for them). Fantastic memories were made (we shared the cabin from Sunday's post with them, too), and a lot of laughs...eight people in a hot tub built for six was no small feat, after all. Great people, great musicians, great couples one and all. And I can always thank them for helping me get the Wise (Yet Gay) Ricky into a Hooters® before he died...a memory that makes me chuckle even now when thinking about it. Honestly, as much as Ricky and I loved the Games and all the Celtic music of the event, we probably had more fun hanging out with the Kilts family. And we thank them...again...for the great times.
Speaking of the music of the Games...as usual, there was a lot. Some of it more to my tastes than others, as that always happens, but some of it really, really good. I have to be honest here: Ricky and I go to these Games to see the music, learn about our heritage (more mine than his as I'm Scottish and he's not, but to his benefit there were many an Irish-targeted item, too), and just generally soak up the atmosphere of lots of people drinking (beer, if you brought it, as the GMHG is inexplicably located in a 'dry' county) and lots of people (mostly men) wearing kilts. I would like to say we pay close attention to the sporting events and heraldry of the all-day activities, but honestly I have to admit we don't. We come for the music, I look to see if some wise vendor has my family's tartan available and never find it, and Ricky looks and finds a sporran that he really likes, but it's greatly overpriced. And then we go listen to more music, eat, drink beer, more music. (Wash, rinse, repeat.) It may be a lot of things to a lot of people, but for us, it's mostly the music.
(Fair warning, here comes the rant...)
That said, I will say this at long last and finally let it go (been simmering in my pot for two years now): I do not, for the life of me, understand the madness behind the big Saturday night concert, one of the GMHG's main attractions. Actually, I don't understand a lot about that whole concert's dynamics, including the lineup. Let me explain: I think there are three 'Groves' open throughout the day where musicians will do sets of their music (30 minutes or thereabouts), starting at about 10am and stopping at around 3:30pm or so...each band, I believe, plays two daytime sets in the same Grove with quick turnarounds. You bring your chair or blanket and misc food item and sit down among the natural beauty of Grandfather Mountain and take it all in...but you can come and go as you want, as the Games itself and Clan activities continue on unabated on the main field. The Groves are good, but are unfortunately limited to smaller-sized crowds.
Saturday nights, though, there is a more formal 'concert' feel to things, after all the days' competitions are complete and the Clan tents have went silent. You'd think with as many quality bands on tap and with many, many music-lovers in attendance, this would be the absolute best time to give the musicians the best line-up and area to roam and interact with the audience. You'd think bands would be scheduled like regular gigs are, with the opening acts leading up to more established 'headliners'. You'd think that an empty mountain field would be great to really let musicians fully interact with the audience, as they would no longer be hemmed in by shorter sets and the rocky seating geography of the Groves. (Especially, as the audience was reminded often, that the bands don't get paid to perform at the Games and rely on merchandise sales to cover their expenses.) You'd think the audience would be able to spread out on more than one hill, and be able to get to the food vendors, toilets, and merchandise areas with relative ease. You'd think all of those things would be a priority for Saturday night's show, but you'd be wrong.
Technically, an entire field is available for music and seating, dancing and eating...rimmed afar only by Port-A-Johns. Why the actual show is kept to only one small portion of that field, why the attendees of the concert are practically walking on each other to just move because of the restricted (but still viewable) seating space, and why there's a further very enclosed area for dancing (with rules!) on that field, is beyond me. And, damn it, it happened again this year. There was no rhyme nor reason with band scheduling for that show: Barleyjuice was one of the first ones out, and they have a huge following and are tough to follow; a last-minute change prevented a mass exodus when somebody finally realised that Scottish drumming gods Albannach (and one of Games' main musical draws, truth be told), wasn't scheduled to finish last as the headliner. All the while, fans of any and all who wanted to dance were pinned to stage right in a little corral, like calves waiting to be branded.
It's the Highland Games, people: we like to drink, we like to eat, we like to make new friends and be old friends, we like to make and listen to our music, and we like to dance. Give us those opportunities and we'll even pay you for it. All we are saying, is give fun a chance. (Apologies to John Lennon.)
On to the highlights:
Barleyjuice, however, is from the wilds of Philadelphia, an area which is also known for being a little unrelenting and proud (and several more things) it its own distinctive way. Barleyjuice, though, focuses a lot on lyrics and their songs are quite memorable because of just that. They don't have the wild abandon of the Scots, no, but they do perform one damn lively, and audience-friendly, show. And they specialize, or so it seems, in Irish-based drinking-then-shagging songs...nothing wrong with that. (Unless you're at work and work in a medical facility; some bosses object to "I'm in Love with a Priest"...it's not what you think, folks...playing in an office.) This year Barleyjuice also showed a more, 'rock/country' side to them than I've seen. Any band that go from "Tartan is the Colour of My True Love's Hair" to The Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" to Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" to Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues", and then back to their "Weekend Irish" song is simply damn great. They have fun on stage, and with their audience...and it shows. And, God bless the Philly boys, at least two of them are SCOTS (Southern Culture on the Skids) fans, too, all the more reason to adore these fellas. The SCOTS can toss chicken during their "Eight Piece Box"; Barleyjuice should toss waffle fries during their "Potatoes". (Doing the "Potatoes" dance with WR and Scott's wife, Julie, on Saturday night is a great memory I take away.) My only issue with Barleyjuice is that they rarely make it down this way, although they will be in Williamsburg, VA, for their Scottish Festival in early October. Fabulous band.
In the interest of appearing nice, I won't name the guilty musicians directly...but those who attended, and those responsible for this muck, know who they are.
Last year, I railed against the 'Farrah Fawcett-head' lead guitarist band who proceeded to not only do a cover of an old AC/DC and Bon Scott-era song (generally always a mistake), but they did it horribly. That band somehow took "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock N Roll)"...a song that features a bagpipe solo in the original, for Pete's sake...and made it into a guitar song, complete with several missed chords, featuring (you guessed it) 'Farrah Fawcett' on lead in place of the bagpipe solo, even though 'Farrah's band had a very competent bagpiper. (Far more competent on bagpipes than 'Farrah' was on guitar, in comparison.) I'm a hard-core AC/DC fan, to boot. Bloody freaking hell. It was nothing short of stupefying.
This year, another band decided they wanted to incorporate a cover song in their set...but this time it was Led Zeppelin. "Good Times, Bad Times", to be specific. This is also generally not a good idea, as most everyone knows lyrics to most of their songs, and knows how the song is 'supposed' to sound. And let's never forget Led Zep was a phenomenal band, perhaps the best ever in rock. Everybody wants to cover them, everybody wants to be them on stage, but few (if any) ever will convincingly. (You know where I'm going on this, and it's not going to be pretty.) Let me finish with this: if you can't do a Led Zep cover song musically, don't play it in front of people until you can. Furthermore, if you don't sing the lyrics of a favourite Led Zep song that everybody in the audience knows the words to, don't perform it until you feel you can sing it on stage. What was played in the Grove...a mash of dropped riffs and an uneven beat, with audience members in the trees singing the song as no one else was...was a bit painful to witness. Please, in honor of the late John 'Bonzo' Bonham (legendary drummer for Led Zep), I beg you: work on the song a great deal more before playing it in public. Pretty please. Even with the forgiving sort that attends these Games, nobody likes Led Zep Musak. Nobody.