If you’re looking for fun family things to do in the Atlanta Area during the month of October, the Annual Stone Mountain Highland Games should be at the top of your list! The weather is often comfortable in the 70s and humidity low for the southeast region of the United States. We had always considered going, but never took the leap until this year. Here’s how we finally decided it was time…and why you should put it on your calendar for next year!
My son, Jason, asked me about four years ago if he could play the bagpipes. I dismissed it thinking it was a passing idea. He asked again. And the following year again. And the following year yet again. Until finally, last year I asked myself why I kept saying “no” to an instrument he was obviously still interested in over the course of three years. We homeschool. This should be a no-brainer for me. Homeschoolers are free-thinkers. I’ve tried to teach my children over the years that they can pursue any dream and can learn through researching any given subject — even bagpipes.
I realized I was saying no because I didn’t want to suffer through a child learning a loud instrument. Besides, there was a noise ordinance that we had to abide by in our county. When it came down to it, my reasons were not justified. And I finally said, “yes” to his request. We surprised him with a set of albeit inexpensive bagpipes and a practice chanter and instructional booklet.
It was tough going at home to listen to his squacks and squeaks. The funniest part was when our Scottish Terrier barked and howled at him in protest! (Our Scottie eventually got use to the goose-honking type noises.) But we hit a road block. I searched for a local bagpipe instructor and kept hitting dead-ends. I found online options where they would teach via a Skype Session, but I knew he needed someone standing there beside him to direct and fix form in person. (He definitely got better and better until I could no longer tell if it was the YouTube video playing or if it was Jason — definitely a good thing!) As he continued to practice at home watching YouTube videos and following his instructional book, I began to research other options and one of those options included putting the Stone Mountain Highland Games on my calendar.
It seemed like the better he got on the chanter, the closer we got to the games. Before we knew it, October 20th had arrived! We made a plan to attend on Saturday because it seemed to be the day of competition for all the pipers and bands. We got there early and I’m so glad we did because a gentleman kindly steered us towards where the bands were located and advised Jason on a couple of bands to check out close (about an hour) from where we lived.
Jason introduced himself to various band members and they were generous to us in answering all our questions. Here are a few things we learned about getting started on the Bag Pipes or Drums:
- You can join a Bag Pipe Band as a drummer or a piper as a beginner. They often have a weekly practice session and you continue to practice with the band until the Drum Major says you’re ready to join the band.
- You are not limited by age or gender — anyone can join that wants to join.
- The band provides members with the uniform required for performances.
- Band members are expected in return to attend all performances and competitions as these help pay for the uniform and instrument expenses.
- Found that a lot of the pipers used the Ezeedrone Reeds because they are so universal. There were a couple of people we met that use Carbon Fiber. (The tone of the tenor is where you can tell the difference.)
- Wait to buy your bagpipes. Start out with a chanter and find a good instructor through your local band. When you’re ready to join the band, they will advise you on what kind of bagpipes to purchase. A used good set will start out at $800 and a new good set will run around $1,500 on up depending on quality and embellishments.
- Saturday afternoon features the band competition —it’s a great time to see the bands play up close. If you want to talk with band members, the best time is in the morning around 9-10 a.m. for those not doing solo competition, but are waiting for the band to practice prior to performance.
- Playing the bag pipes takes a lot of practice and a lot more effort and energy than most people think. If you don’t play your bag pipes ever day, people who know how to play the bag pipes can hear the difference because the reed and pipes dry out and change the sound of the bag pipes.
If you go to the Stone Mountain Highland Games in Atlanta, Georgia, make sure that you are there at noon for the opening ceremonies. All the bag pipe bands take the field and they sound amazing in person! We found that if you get there about an hour ahead of time, you can get a good seat. We happened to be right in front of the grand stand and was amazing!
We also enjoyed watching the dancing competitions, the Tartan Forest, and checking out the vendors and the falconry. And don’t forget the tasty food and sporting competitions!
Cost to attend:
– Gate Price: $20 (adult) / $5 (child 4-12)
– Advance: $18 (adult) / $5 (child 4-12)
- Parking: $20 for the day or $40 for an annual parking pass into Stone Mountain Park.
- Food: Our lunch cost about $10 each + each drink ran about $3 ($1.50 for a refill) for a soda or sweet tea. You can bring in a small wagon that totes your own lawn chairs (recommended) and a small cooler with drinks and food. (Make sure you check each year prior to the event as policies may change from the time this post has been published.) There is limited bleacher seating available.
- Merchandise: There are vendors that offer a full-range of goods from imported food to jewelry and clothing attire.
- We were local, but if you’re RVing, the closest place to stay is right within the park. Plan ahead to get a good spot. You can find info here
Address of Stone Mountain Park:
Stone Mountain Park
1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd
Stone Mountain, GA. 30083
Next year we plan to bring the entire family and we hope that Jason will be closer to competing in some form — either solo and/or in a band — Lord willing!
For more info or to see when the next Stone Mountain Highland Games http://www.smhg.org
For other related celebrations, see https://atlantastpats.com for the next Atlanta St. Patrick’s Day Parade.