April 25, 2013

While Kingston Festival rises, PPBSO says no thank you

The Kingston Scottish Festival continues to grow to the point of being bigger than at least two other full outdoor Highland games on the Ontario competitive piping and drumming circuit, but despite reaching out to the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario to consider becoming an official PPBSO sanctioned event, no deal could be reached.

Twenty-one bands have so far entered the festival, which will again offer a Grade 1 competition. The contest in the past has provided a full-slate of amateur solo piping and drumming competitions, and last year the PPBSO allowed the solo results to count towards its members’ Champion Supreme aggregate tally.

According to organizer Scott Bell, he contacted the PPBSO to try to work out a deal to get the two organizations together, mainly so that bands could also accrue Champion Supreme points.  

“I contacted the PPBSO because our event is now larger than two of the PPBSO’s official games and I thought it would be good for bands to be awarded Champion Supreme points for their victories,” Bell said. “[PPBSO President] Duncan MacRae was not happy that we ‘chose’ our judges, as opposed to having them assigned by [the PPBSO]. This is not a deal-breaker although we would prefer to choose our judges.” [Disclosure: the editor of pipes|drums is a PPBSO member and was hired last fall to be a judge at the Kingston Festival.]

Bell went on to say that MacRae told him that his organization “needed someone on site to ensure that PPBSO rules were being followed.” Bell said that he informed MacRae that he had already secured Glenn Covert, PPBSO chief steward, and former PPBSO Chief Steward, Andy Donachie, as stewards for his event, but it did no good. He also stressed that all of the judges hired for the Kingston Festival are PPBSO-certified, and that they have altered their competition rules to be in line with those of the PPBSO.  

“Duncan felt that the PPBSO needed to get something out of running the event. From our perspective, we were offering a well-run event to add to the [PPBSO] calendar. I wasn’t prepared to give up much, but there was no negotiating when he called. I was simply told that it was too late for this year and that we could talk in the fall.”

When asked for the PPBSO’s side of the story, Duncan MacRae responded, “The Kingston Scottish Festival did not follow PPBSO guidelines. They contacted us after they made all their arrangements. Scott Bell and I had a discussion about next year. There is an agreement to meet early and try to make the festival a band Champion Supreme point competition for 2014.”  

When asked for specifics about the guidelines that Kingston was not following, MacRae said, “The negotiations with the Kingston Festival and the PPBSO are confidential as with the other games.”

Scott Bell said that his event is different from PPBSO-sanctioned games, but similar to those in most other jurisdictions, in that it is run entirely by volunteers, including its stewards; does not pay travel-money to competing bands; and asks judges to accept a flat travel allowance rather than mileage. The event relies on corporate sponsors and a $5 parking fee, but has no charge for spectator entry.  

“Our model works because we have very low overhead,” Bell commented. “We do not want to become weather- or crowd-dependent. That is what I think separates us from the conventional games model and that is something that I don’t want to give up.”

Spurred in part by the loss of several games in the last decade, the PPBSO has over the last two years mandated a task force spearheaded by association Director John Cairns to consider ways in which the organization might rejuvenate itself to add more events through less-rigid approaches.

“The PPBSO is becoming more flexible,” MacRae said. “This year we accommodated a few games having financial problems with significant money savings.”

The organization also was secured to sanction the 2013 Cobourg Highland Games, which after a long lapse is returning pipe band and solo competitions to its event, including bringing in the Grade 1 Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band of Scotland to perform in concert and compete at the games.  

No communication on the Kingston matter has yet been provided to the PPBSO membership.

Unlike almost every other association in North America, the PPBSO provides a turn-key approach for events that hire it. The organization coordinates, manages and executes almost every aspect of a sanctioned games’ piping, drumming and pipe band events under its rules and policies in return for a negotiated fee, usually on the order of $30,000. That fee does not cover prize-money or each band’s travel stipend.  

“I have actually received comments in the past not to allow the [PPBSO] to become involved, because they would ruin a good thing,” Bell added. “We do not really need the PPBSO for anything. I don’t really know what they would contribute to our event.”


  1. Although this event is overlapping the existing Alma Highland Festival in Michigan which hosts the American Championship and been a destination of several bands for years. Creating the Kingston games creates an unfair advantage at C.S. Points for bands in closer proximity to compete.

  2. Kitchenpiper – Caleb’s comment seems to be more about the advantage of gaining CS points at Kingston vs. Alma, and not so much about the driving distance/time. However, my thought is that a band should decide what is more important to them. CS points with the PPBSO, or an “American Championship”.

  3. Is this a sick joke?!?! $30,000 to run your piping and drumming??? I wouldn’t work with them either. Coming from an area that has always relied heavily on volunteer efforts who help run games that typically put the money back into the local scene, that kind of money would be a major blow to all of those that benefit from the income provided. Pushing money aside. I’ve seen countless games have success in bringing in quality judges that weren’t assigned by the operating association. To go on the side of the PPBSO: yeah, get together much earlier. Don’t show up and tell them how to run your event without wiggle room to “haggle” a bit more. A little stubbornness and pride on both sides seems to be keeping this from being the next big thing for North American bands. As for colliding against Alma. Not what it used to be. Same bands every year in an odd location without a proper grade 1 contest anymore.

  4. Perhaps the only area with an uinfair travel advantage is Cambridge/Kitchener/Waterloo: 15 minutes to Cambridge, 2 hours to Kincardine, 1 hour to Georgetown, Embro, and Fergus, 2 hours to Cobourg, 3.5 hours to Kibgston, 5+ to Maxville & Alma…….and all 3 Grade I bands practice within 1 hour travel distance.

  5. Caleb, I’ll snicker about your comment about the Eastern Ontario “advantage” for the entire 8-hour drive from Ottawa to Kincardine. And the 6-hour drive to Cambridge. And the 5-hour drive to Georgetown. And the 3-? hour drive to Cobourg. And the 2-hour drive to Kingston for this “unfairly local” event (or one hour to Maxville, for that matter).

  6. Why would the PPBSO be upset about an event hand picking its own judges ? Perhaps its worth giving a chance to this idea, because it is apparent to many that being qualified and being a good judge are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  7. In my opinion, the PPBSO should be happy to work with The Kingston Festival, who cares if they organized their own Judges, its less work for the PPBSO. I dont think Ontario will have Highland Games at all in a few years if it continues on this course. What is the big deal, the way I read it Scott Bell and his team has done all the work with this festival, so why all the fuss. Suck it up and help them out. Everyone will benefit in some way even the almighty PPBSO.

  8. Caleb, I fail to see your reasoning here. Isn’t your argument true of any competition on the pipe band schedule? there will always be bands living closer to the contest, and with the exception of Maxville, and previously Montreal, Eastern Ontario bands have been driving West of Toronto for years.

  9. Would be great to see another sanctioned event on the eastern side of Toronto. Unfortunately there isn’t a huge grade 2 presence in Ontario with the exception of Ottawa Police and 400 Squadron… Would be great to get to see those guys play up in grade 1, especially with rumours of the 78th Halifax coming to play with the other three Ontario grade 1 bands… I’m sure either the Ottawa Police or 400 Squadron could give those guys a serious run for their money! Not only could they say to the PPBSO that they run a smoother event, but that the band competitions will be more interesting as well!

  10. I don’t live in Ontario and am not a member of PPBSO, but I think PPBSO members should ask some questions. Who pays for what at a typical event, and how many bands & soloists typically show up? Does that $30K figure include the cost of all the prize money for Professional Solos & bands? Travel allowances for bands? Judges fees, mileage, meals and maybe a night’s accommodation? How many judges are needed for solos & bands? Who does the contacting to secure them? I think stewards are all paid a nominal fee by the PPBSO at each event, right? How many of those are there? Who arranges for them? Who collects and manages the solo & band registration fees? Who assigns the individual judges and draws up the order of play for each event. Who compiles the results and the prize lists, and hands out the medals, travel & prize money at the end of the day? Do all competitors and bands get paid everything they are owed even if the event doesn’t cover its costs on the day? Does the PPBSO also factor into their charges any overhead to account for permanent staff, off-season workshops, etc.? What does that all add up to? In the Maritimes (and, it sounds like, in Kingston), Games each cover these costs independently. All these duties are handled by a sizeable groups of volunteers at each different Games managed by other more experienced volunteers who are familiar with the P&D scene and are prepared to come back year after year to run the show. We like that independence down here, but expert volunteers willing to commit to multiple years of service are getting harder to find. Organization at some events can be hit or miss depending on the year, and competitors must be prepared to be more accommodating. It would be good to see the PPBSO and the various Games Committees in Ontario get together to see if there is a better way to share the costs, the risks and the revenues and keep the charges from all sources under control.

  11. Hats off to the organizers in Kingston who seem to have their act together on this one, enjoy the support of the community, have significant industrial sponsorship and look to be committed for the long haul. It sounds like it’s going to be a great event.



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