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.