September 30, 2010

Deadline extended for some bands for Las Vegas festival; five in Grade 1, 2 confirmed

The multi-million-dollar Las Vegas International Celtic Festival has extended the deadline by a month for pipe bands to confirm their attendance at the April 14-17, 2011 competition and tattoo so that bands may make a collective decision at their respective annual general meetings. So far, only one Grade 1 band and four Grade 2 bands have said yes.

Confirmed bands are, in Grade 1, Oran Mor, and, in Grade 2, Portland Metro, City of Regina, Prince Charles and J.J. Coyne Memorial.

“We feel like we are on target,” said Jeff Mann, who sits on the event’s Executive Board and is the current President of the Alliance of North American Pipe Bands. “There are a couple of Grade 1 bands that have asked for an extension as they need to get things approved at their AGMs.”

According to sources, the event is offering a travel allowance of $6,000 to each attending band. There are five monetary prizes in Grade 1, from a first-place of $5,000, second $3,500, and continuing to a fifth of $1,000. As part of the contract, each band is required to play in a total of three tattoo performances on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Accommodation and meals are reportedly covered.

“We are going to Las Vegas on the assumption that there will be many Grade 1 bands attending,” said Oran Mor Pipe-Major Andrew Douglas. “If it turns out there is a very sparse commitment from other Grade 1 bands, we will evaluate where we stand at that point.”

Douglas described the offer that his band received as “quite generous, with a per-band-member out-of-pocket cost that will be very reasonable [for the band to cover], considering that we’re going to travel most of the way across the country.” He said that Oran Mor is planning additional fund-raising to get to the event, and that the band also plans to attend the 2011 World’s, and that travelling to the North American Championships is up for discussion.

With most Grade 1 bands consisting of at least 30 pipers and drummers, and airfare to Las Vegas being at least $500 per ticket from Vancouver or Toronto to about $750 from Halifax, Nova Scotia, the cost of getting there is at a minimum $15,000 for Canadian bands, not including excess baggage fees for drums, which can run around $2,000. Even nonstop domestic flights from Washington, DC, are priced at about $500 after taxes and fees.

“So, win first-prize, get $5,000, take your $6,000 travel money, and you’re in the ditch to the tune of $7,000,” said one member of a Grade 1 band, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The same source said that he understands that those involved with the event are attempting to sweeten the offer by securing additional travel funds.

There are three competitions for Grade 1 and Grade 2 bands: a traditional MSR, a traditional “timed medley” and a 15-minutes-maxiumum “Concert Event.” The festival has also instated relatively strict rules against conflict of interest for judges, as well as expanded panels assessing the top grades.

While Mann says that some bands have been granted an entry deadline extension, others say that they are unaware of it.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t received any notice to date about the response deadline being extended,” said Rod MacLean, pipe-major of the Grade 1 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel). “We’re planning on having an answer by September 15th as requested.  The event organizers have been extremely generous with their travel and hotel assistance offer, but the trip will require additional resources from our members to attend. We’re definitely interested in the contest, are currently in the process of canvassing our membership for their ability to go and will likely communicate a decision to the organizing committee in the next few days unless we hear otherwise.”

The Grade 2 St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg Pipe Band has already decided not attend, opting instead to travel to the North American Championships at Maxville, Ontario, and the World Championships at Glasgow.

“St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg Pipe Band will be returning to Maxville and the 2011 World Pipe Band Championships and is opting out of Las Vegas International contest,” said Pipe-Major Wes Shepherd. “With limited travel dollars at our avail, we felt it more prudent to invest in another trip to the World’s where we managed to qualify in our first attempt in 2010.  Although Las Vegas seems like it will be a very exciting and promising event, travel costs make it prohibitive for us. We wish all the bands travelling to Las Vegas the best of luck.”

Several top-grade bands received a letter from Nevada State Senator Denis Nolan, Executive Director of the event. In the letter, leaked to pipes|drums, Nolan asks pipe-majors for their “ideas and suggestions.” The letter also says, “While we have sought to create an event that is different, innovative and attempts to somewhat raise the bar for similar events around the country and indeed the world, we are also conscious of the need to listen to those who we hope will be a part of this magnificent event. The way I look at it is we have a partnership to make this event successful together. Failure is not an option because to do so would mean we would not see any similar such events take hold for years or even decades to come! Money is tight for everyone right now even [in] Las Vegas! But, we want to make sure we build an event that bands can reasonably expect to attend and participate in.”

“I have not heard of any that can afford the trip with what was offered for travel,” said the Pipe-Major of another Grade 1 band, who also requested anonymity. “At present the financial offer is very low and we, along with others, would be footing most of the travel and accommodation bill. We were initially told that all Grade 1 bands would have their expenses covered for the contest and now that has fallen way short. If we have to make a financial decision between Vegas and Scotland it really is not a hard one to make. Scotland will win out every time. This said we have not responded yet and have not made our decision 100 per cent.”

“They are making us play an awful lot: three events – one will especially require huge prep and effort.  Three tattoo things, an optional parade. Not much time to take in Vegas, or catch your breath.  Prize money very ordinary in context of what they’re asking,” said another member of a Grade 1 band, who added that, because of the dry, thin Las Vegas air, “pipes do not start sounding right until day three in the city. My gut tells me it probably won’t happen. I think the organizers may’ve tried too hard or something.  I don’t sense much buzz/talk from the bands on this either.”

The letterhead used in the correspondence from Nolan listed former RSPBA Chairman Kevin Reilly as an Honorary Board Member of the Las Vegas event. Reilly departed the RSPBA suddenly on September 1st.


  1. I too have been looking forward to a potential trip to the greatest adult playground on the planet….and to watch some great piping and drumming. While I am not sure all of the details could have been anticipated, maybe paying for one or two named bands, which could attract other bands would have been the way to go. Get SFU, FMM, and SLOT on the ground….pay them and make it worth the time for the other lower grade bands to fill in the event. Just a thought. I do hope that this first year is indeed used to cutting the teeth, and they can stay the course and make this a great event where bands from all over the world (or at least the top tier) can compete. What appears to be proposed is alot of playing, but maybe that is what is needed to get this off the ground to appease to the non-piping” public. I run an event where they want lots of bandsmen

  2. I am not involved in this event in any way although I was asked to be one of two official” EUSPBA reps. Found out there is nothing the various associations are being formally asked to “do” for this event. Having written that

  3. The extension is helpful, not only for bands to consider their decision, but for the organization to communicate with the bands. Senator Norton’s letter was the start of this two way communication.

  4. I’ve heard that the organizers are not allowing bands that are moving up in grade for next season to attend. That rationale doesn’t make any sense to me. Perhaps someone could clarify their reasoning on this.

  5. Malletheid, I don’t believe they are disallowing promoted bands to attend, just asking that they perform in this season’s grade. Hopefully BrianaP from the comments of the other article can come by here and set the record straight.

  6. Finances are certainly a concern, but don’t forget that many people simply aren’t able (or perhaps willing), to dedicate another 3 or 4 days of holiday time to pipe band ventures. Bands are going to Scotland every year and in some cases, taking extended trips of 10 days or more. Certainly with the number of performances bands are expected to do in Vegas ther will be little time for doing much of anything else. I am left wondering, when is personal holiday time? I love the pipe band world, but I am not willing to use every day of my holidays towards piping events. Add to that the fact that many bands include university and college students who are ready to go into exams at the time of the year and you are left with 3 obstacles that bands must try to overcome in order to attend and put on the performance they would like to.

  7. While I have been really looking forward to this games next year, as I learn more of what is going to be expected of the bands I am starting to realize that its going to be on of those hard and exhausting weekends – and whether its in Vegas or someone’s back yard, there isn’t going to be much time for anything apart from travel, practice, play, compete, travel and go back to work. I really hope that the schedule mellows out a bit (and at the least, more band decide to attend to share out the workload) because I’d really love to get re-enthused about this competition.

  8. Hmmm…sounds like the wheels are coming off. It looks like a lot of bang for very little buck in my opinion although I’m not in control of all the facts. I was thinking of attending this event but those plans could be on the back boiler for now….

  9. I think it COULD be great. If they’re dropping all this coin for the military bands to do the performances and parades, then why make all the other bands play it too? For a grade 1 or 2 band to drop into Vegas and compete AND perform that many times without being acclimated to the desert, those bands should see the travel money. Difficult conditions and sponsors who could pull all their $$ if things aren’t looking right for them. As of now, it smells a little like Vail 1995. Just not sure if they’ve thought it through enough to get all the band backing it yet.

  10. I don’t necessary disagree that the various North American associations should consider some form of assistance to it’s top bands but what about the vast majority of their membership who are equally entitled to the same consideration i.e. the lower grade bands? The 1972 C.N.E. brought out approximately twenty five bands from the U.K. The C.N.E. paid the cost, so should the organizers of this event, at least in part. Competing bands in all grades who love to compete struggle enough to make it to Scotland without the added burden of spending the same money for basically a trial or one of event. I wish the event every success but due to distance and costs bands must endure, the organizers must step up to the plate and provide assistance.



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