When I was a teenager I used to sit around with a piper friend of mine and we’d dream of what it would be like to play the bagpipes for a living and be able to go on tour. We had it all figured out. We would stay in Houston in the fall, winter, and spring, and go waayyyy north in July. A few years ago when the band started playing the Grandfather Mt Highland games in July I realized: “of course… the mountains, with cool fog blowing in the middle of the day breaking way to welcome gentle sunshine and a nice high in the ’70’s” I have got to say it was wonderful having the whole band out to play a big weekend in this neck of the woods. And a big weekend it was playing all day and into the night Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The games itself is held in an idyllic clearing in the mountains of Western Carolina and when you first walk in you see a field ringed by clan tent pennants and a very well-kept dirt athletic field with a large Highland dance competition closest to the gate, then the sheep being herded and cabers being tossed mid field and then far, far away, the solo bagpipe competitions.
All the stage bands like us were playing in the “Groves”, real groves of trees big enough to hold hundreds in the sometimes almost too cool shade. We were blessed this weekend with good company on stage in the form of a new band previously call “Ed Miller and Friends” and now with a repertoire full of his lovely voice paired with the equally beautiful voice of Jill Chamblis and the amazing guitar of an old friend from years ago, Scooter Muse. It was so wonderful to be back on the road to this festival and I thought our sets went really well.
There’s a tune we used to do that we just brought back into the show called “Slip Jigs from Hell” and I was surprised and unprepared to find it on the set list on Sunday. Sometimes you just have to begin the tune and let the fingers remember what comes next. I was delighted to find that actually worked this time and we played a perfect rendition of the piece. At the end with relief squeezing out the last note I thought ” well that’s our freebie right there; we’d better practice it before the Mucky Duck next weekend or our luck’s going to run out and I’ll forget the harmonies being overconfident!”
The weekend was three long but fun days and the weather was perfect except being a little chilly on Friday (ha ha), a little wet on Saturday (crashing down for the 10 minutes I was competing), and truly, truly lovely on Sunday, but overall just beautiful most of the time.
After staying up all Sunday night playing tunes with the other musicians back at the beautiful Parkview Lodge hotel we dragged ourselves to breakfast and sat around the table for over an hour laughing and talking about the weekend. I had a good laugh at having forgotten my white oxford and having to wear a billowy Ren faire shirt in the competition while the rain poured on me, asking the judge for a few minutes to switch chanters from the low A one I play in the band to the Bb all the others were playing while my pipes slowly filled with water.
I hope Al’s recovered from the Sunday night jam where he seemed to know every song I had ever loved in high school and was being accompanied by Scooter on his restored banjo. I took a break from the Irish tunes to talk to some folks from another band and when I came back an hour later Al was leading everybody in a rendition of “Major Tom” in honor of the shuttle going up soon. A couple of hours after that and we were still up trying to accompany Scooter on “the Beverly Hillbillies” and Jill Chambis on “Crazy Man Michael”
Yep, still exhausted, but what a blast being back out to Grandfather Mountain with the band Clandestine.
Here’s a picture taken by Christina Alfieri of us all playing together to end the day on Sunday. The other folks in the picture are our great friends of many years, Scooter Muse, Ed Miller, Jill Chamblis, Kevin Hartnell, and Richard Kean.
This next photo was also taken by Christina Alfieri and is of Clandestine at the Saturday night concert in Grove 2. Thanks to Donovan for making all the logistics go off without a hitch!