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The Stone Mountain Highland Games and Alex Beaton

Stone Throw

During our time in Georgia, my family would always look forward to October and the Stone Mountain Highland Games near Atlanta. We would watch the highland athletic games and dance competitions, falconry and sheepdog herding demonstrations, and pipe and drum bands competing from all around the country. At least once in your life–on a grassy field in the middle of a beautiful evergreen forest–I hope you get to hear Amazing Grace and Scotland the Brave played by a massed band of hundreds of bagpipers and drummers. The drones will give you goosebumps, and the chanters will bring a tear to your eye, they will.

Massed Bands at the Stone Mountain Highland Games

Deep into the woods, past all the colorful clan tents displaying their crests and tartans, we were always drawn to the music stages. With a canopy of blue sky and pine boughs overhead, and a nip in the October air, Celtic music rang from the likes of Clandestine, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas . . . and from Alex Beaton.

Alex Beaton at the Stone Mountain Highland Games in 2007

Alex cuts a dashing figure on stage, with his wavy salt and pepper hair, gray mustache, and a broad smile hovering above his white Polo shirt and tartan kilt. When he begins to play, the music flows from his fingers, through the acoustic guitar around his neck, and out to his rapt audience. (For some reason, the first several rows of folding chairs in front of Alex’s stage are always packed with smiling women of all ages.) In between ancient warrior ballads and bawdy pub tunes, Alex often tells stories from olden-day Scotland, like the Massacre at Glencoe in 1692, or the First Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. Those well-told stories always end with a sideways glance at the audience, a grin, and in Alex’s powerful baritone brogue:

“I remember it well!”

The people of Scotland and Ireland share a common Celtic ancestry, and they share a common musical heritage. Born to a Scottish father and an Irish mother, Alex Beaton is a guitar-playing folksinger and storyteller who has been entertaining audiences all around the world for over forty years. I’ve had the pleasure to listen to Alex perform live at the Stone Mountain Highland Games, and to shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his music on several occasions. I listen to one of Alex’s many CDs almost every day, so I still feel a connection with this gregarious Scot.

About a year ago, it was with great sadness that I learned Alex had fallen at his home near Nashville, and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. After a long stay at the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta and more rehab work near Augusta, I understand that Alex has returned to his home and is even doing some traveling, although he’s still confined to a wheelchair and working hard to regain more and more movement. If you feel moved to send Alex a card or note, a few dollars to help with his mounting medical expenses, or drop by his website and buy a CD or two, I know he and his family will deeply appreciate your kindness.

If you enjoy traditional Scottish and Irish folk music as much as I do, here are a few of my other favorite artists:

Do you have a favorite Scottish or Irish folk musician or favorite tune? If I had to pick, mine might be Alex Beaton’s rendition of Maggie. I’d love to hear about your favorites, too. And if you happen to drop Alex a card or a note, please give him my best wishes for a swift return to the stage. I, along with all of his many fans, miss him most dearly.

Rob at the Cal Erin Forge, Stone Mountain Highland Games