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.”