January 06, 2010


If you’re on the side of expanding our pipe band music, is there a better place to try that than Las Vegas? Vegas “is what it is,” as they say, but, really, it’s the most untraditional place on earth. I shouldn’t say that. Its tradition is this: no tradition.

As pipes|drums reported, the planners of the April 2011 $2-million pipe band gamble are considering creating a Grade 1 “Concert” competition event in addition to the traditional Medley and decrepit MSR events. They’re being super-accommodating, asking the bands themselves for their thoughts as to how the Concert competition could work. There’s really no need.

It’s Vegas, baby. If there were ever a place simply to see what happens, and let bands do whatever-the-heck they want, this is it. Personally, I would not have any problem with a band of Elvis impersonators, or a couple of Bengal tigers, or scantily clad showgirls tarting up their tartan show. Musically, bands can simply let ‘er dangle (as I write that, I’ll always hear Scott MacAulay’s voice), and go for it. Set a limit on time, but only for scheduling reasons. Fifteen minutes, no-holds-barred. Maybe require that Highland pipes have to be used at least some of time – but that’s it.

A few years ago there was talk, and even negotiations, with Florida’s Disneyworld to create the pipe band extravaganza that Vegas subsequently landed. It seemed like a good idea, until it became evident that the good people at Disney just saw it as a large group to pay to get into their theme park. For all they seemed to care, it could be a trombone festival, just as long as you brought your money.

At the time, there was something odd to me about placing a pipe band competition in the land of Mickey Mouse and Goofy, but it’s even more counter-intuitive to hold it in Las Vegas. If I were to identify a place on earth that is the polar opposite of the traditional Scottish world of piping and drumming, it would have to be Las Vegas.

Please, don’t mistake me. I think this is a golden opportunity. I love juxtaposing things in surprising and counter-intuitive ways. Mash-ups are one of the most interesting developments in music and the arts as a whole.

I have nothing against Las Vegas, but there’s a reason why its art museum closed in 2008. The only culture that people who go to Vegas want is no culture at all. Hold an anything-goes Concert event, have fun, let it all hang out for a weekend. Let it happen in Vegas.

And whether it then stays in Vegas is up to the pipe band world to decide.


  1. As a member of the Dunedin Highland Middle School back in the early 90’s, I can tell you that Disney is quite accomodating, but that it does still cost the band money to be allowed the “privilage” to play there.

    Vegas is exactly as you described it. I went for my first time with a small group of guys and when I got on the strip, I felt exactly how I did the first time I went to Disney as a kid. Your mouth drops open, and the sensory overload begins. Add to this a Military tattoo, and an open forum for grade one bands to compete and you have a tartan orgy!

    I pray to all of the gods that my band get’s invited.

  2. I don’t think the RSPBA will be at all worried about ever being shown-up based on this latest idea. This whole Vegas thing is already starting to look like a huge fizzer and missed opportunity. I’ll stand corrected but a nose dive is on the cards, IMHO.

    Andrew is right, the town itself is bereft of any culture, or genuine interest in anything but the almighty dollar, stag parties and entertainers who are ‘out to pasteur’.

    The novelty of an SFU playing on the main strip, a ubiquitous “tattoo” (yawn) and a contest out in the burbs is about the limit, one would think.

    As for the crowds of people who are expected to swarm this new act that hits town, it will be the usual suspects (devotees, family and supporters) turning for a very expensive weekend away, not sell-out crowds of first-timers.

    For over 20 years, North America has banged on about running a contest to rival the worlds. It has never happened and never will based on these sorts of ideas.

    And now here we are, with an enormous pot of loot to play with, and this “invitational” concept is perhaps the most exclusionist event known to pipe bands – the very thing that, for years, North America (with this site often leading the charge) has admonished the RSPBA about being all-controlling and anti. By comparison to what is on offer at Vegas, the worlds is extremely open and accessible. At least all bands can enter and participate at the worlds, even with a comparatively miniscule budget.

    A big pot of money and a dirty weekend away for UK bands will mean they enjoy it for what it is, however the big picture remains unchanged. You don’t have an equivalent to the worlds over there. If the objective is to present a big, expensive, over-the-top, schmaltzy [event], you’ll have great success!

    As for reformatting the music side of things. The fact that we can’t even agree on what is the best way, and always assume what we currently have is broken, highlights our lack of vision and our naive assumption that there’s this huge, untapped market of new listeners out there. Err….its the bagpipes! How many punters are going to sit still for that long? While the comment was tongue-in-cheek, dressing a band up like Elvis’ does nothing but make a mockery and cheapen what we do. A total sellout……and so Vegas.

    If the orhanisers had other ideas, I’d suggest it’s not too late to get back to the drawing board, fellas.

  3. I like it! What a great idea. But let’s not get too political. Why not just have some fun with it?

    One thing that would free up the ideas and still allow for traditional elements would be to treat the concert style competition as a separate event from the MSR+Medley Aggregate. Then award two 1st place trophies… Best Competition Band and Best Concert Band….

    For the Concert Band part:

    1) Split the original pot in half or 1/3rd vs 2/3rds and “have at ‘er”.
    2) Allow some sort of audience input for the concert winner. Maybe split the scores 50% audience rating and 50% judge panel rating for a combined score.
    3) For simplicity, have each audience members vote by ballot (back of ticket tub?) for their 1st place pick only (simplifies counting).
    4) Ties broken by the true measure of a band…Best Ensemble (judges’ score).
    5) Maybe open it up to GrI /GRII combined? (Logistics would dictate if this made sense or not).

    The Competition Band part should be self evident……

  4. “If the objective is to present a big, expensive, over-the-top, schmaltzy [event], you’ll have great success!”

    I truly believe that is the point of this Andy.

    “At least all bands can enter and participate at the worlds, even with a comparatively miniscule budget.”

    It’s affordable on a small budget because the bbands fork over ALL of the money to go. If your band has ever been paid by the RUSPBA to attend a summer games, then you are a lucky band. I say take this for all that it is, even if only for one weekend. Why should pipe bands be left out of the “What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” expierience? My bands going if an invite is offered, and we when we get back home I’m going to tell everyone the truth….”It was nice little games, nothing to crazy ;- )”


  5. Name a venue where there is more to do and enjoy for the other 71 hours of the three-day weekend. Frankly, after 20+ years on and off, I have grown weary of travelling far and wide for big contests only to spend most of the weekend holed-up in a beer tent or hotel room with the same group of [people] (love you all) with nothing else to do. See you at the pool everyone…. (Night At The Roxbury music in my head, unn tsss, unn tsss, unn tsss).

  6. Andrew’s blog is about a brand new event focused on a piping competition – A PIPING COMPETITION – with a TWO MILLION DOLLAR BUDGET, and the second comment about it is a negative one. Well at least we’re not unpredicatable here in the world of piping!

  7. I agree completely with Steve Serneels. I have been to Las Vegas MANY times and have never felt culturally deprived. There are many GREAT restaurants and so much to do other than gamble the night away.
    I don’t think it is fair to those who are trying to make it happen to do too much speculating about who will and will not be invited or what the bands might be playing or how the judges might be selected. All I know is any band that comes out with the Jubilee women as part of the free style performance will get a serious listen from me! I’ll bet (no pun intended) that many of the naysayers objected to “Amazing Grace” being played on the pipes even though that single tune probably did more to put piping into the worldwide cultural mainstream than any tune in the entire history of piping.
    We don’t know how this will turn out. I, for one, would love to see thousands of non-piping enthusiasts clapping their hands, tapping their feet with smiles on their faces listening to “our” music! I’ve seen, heard and read enough worn out stories about wavering drones, early “E’s” and missed grace notes and how they affected the outcome of our musical contests to last me a lifetime. Let ‘er rip and I hope to see all of you similar thinking, open minded lovers of pipe music in Vegas baby!!!!

  8. Yea go for it! I hope the organisers make full use of the opportunity. All kinds of possibilities – SLOT as the centre band, Chips and Stake snack vans on the field, choice of Sticking or Hitting for the Drum Corps, specially created uniforms ‘the Las Vegas Strip’ for the bands, one armed band-its,– bands to play three reels, judge presses a button,band spins round and when it comes to a stop the score showing stands. They could build in an option to ‘Surrender the band, and only lose half your stake’. The judges could operate from a table of Recognised Tactics, with the Score Sheets divided into Dealer Up, Soft Totals and a special Pairs section for the ensemble judging. Money in the Kilty to be used for prize funds. The instruction ‘Quick March’ to be replaced with ‘Eyes Down’. I hope the organisers have approached the pharmaceutical firm Procter and Gamble for funding. omg, I wish somebody would ask me to organise this. What a ball you could have, pipe bands in Vegas! The Heights of CASINO—drag me away – what a roller coaster——–I bet it’s a winner!

  9. I’m more disappointed than negative. I do, however, hope it is the pre-cursor to something better….but can’t see it.

    Take the location out of the equation and you have just a smattering of hand-picked bands, doing what they normally do. How can Vegas be the launching pad for anything more than some expensive hangovers and photo opportunities for the bands that are fortunate enough to get an invite….?

    With such a budget, this could have been anything….but appears to have put all the eggs in the ‘location, location, location’ basket. The general public will enjoy it, and then move on.

    With a budget that size, the focus could have been on getting as many of the top flight bands out as possible, putting a true international contest flavour on it and running the sort of event that North America has been talking- up for 20+ years.
    As a band, you can only beat the the other bands that play against you. However, one has to wonder how much credibility a win at this event will really have. It seems smaller than many ‘locals’ in the UK, minus the neon.

    Think bigger and more strategically, people.

  10. Andy, While I certainly agree and commend your larger strategic thinking, consider the the “uniquely American” aspect of the idea. Frankly, I’d prefer to see this event occur in Central Park on Sheep’s Meadow. NYC is my favorite place on the planet, and I think the draw for international participation would be strong. But consider that if the organizers are trying to create a gravitational pull, besides money and magnitude of the contest, the venue / location is imperative to success. Frankly, I am so tired of the “best” contest in N.America being in the dustbowl of Maxville. After the actual contest is complete, the let-down of the area is overwhelming. No wonder international bands are hesitant to spend the high five figures required to get there. From cost of travel and lodging, room availability, additional attractions for family and friends, etc…Vegas is near the top on this continent. Let’s not forget how many of our fellow competitors are takling time off due to family restrictions. Wives don’t like spending three days in rural Ontario. Trust me. What will kill this idea quickly is if they stick to the invite only concept. Eventually, after it is established, they will have to evolve to an open contest welcoming all comers and grade levels. And the exact venue could be a killer too. Don’t stick this 15 miles out of town in some park in the middle of a plastic suburb. That would stink. Frankly, inside the MGM concert auditorium might be best. Keep it centralized to the strip so that participants, family and spectators can take a quick cab ride or get on the tram. “User friendly” should be the name of the game….then “Blackjack”, and “adults only European-style pool.”

  11. I would complain…however, I don’t see anyone else making a valiant effort to produce something of this scale. We always see and hear people complaining of events such as the Worlds, but nothing is ever done. Why? Because it’s easier to judge, complain, and do what everyone else is doing than to even gather the resources to put something to contest with which we are all unsatisfied. Let’s have at it; who else is forking out $2 million big ones? Certainly not other areas of the world that have MORE culture, specifically to Scottish heritage, than Las Vegas….


  12. I’ll play anywhere where they have beer, titles and tourist attractions are not the reason I play. It’s nice to have different venues to play at, the Queen Mary in Long beach is about as good as it gets. Pure Class!

    We travel far and pay a lot of our own money just to sit in a hotel room with our own band mates, so when something like this event offers to pay the way, we should welcome it with open arms.

    Andy, I think your idea of Vegas is outdated M8! Vegas is all about Entertainment and most top musicians could only wish to get a permanent gig or show of their own there. If pipe bands don’t or can’t make it in Vegas, then expect to play in more dust bowls, but is getting [rained] on . . . the best we can expect from a World Class event?

  13. Definately go for it. One of the most popular shows in Vegas is Circe de Solei, or so I have heard. It has been running for a long time. People will support something which is good and I believe that a pipe band contest of a world class nature will attract a huge audience.



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