The queen of England cheered for the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, and so can Coloradans for the first time at this year’s Pikes Peak Celtic Festival.
“The queen was up in Edinburgh opening the Scottish Parliament, and we were booked to play for her,” said an email from Willie Armstrong of Scotland, lead bagpiper and founding band member. “Her lady in waiting sent us a letter to tell us the queen wanted to thank us for our ‘vivacious’ performance. Quite an honour.”
In addition to showcasing the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, this year’s Celtic Festival will feature three more Celtic rock bands and six bagpipe bands, plus Irish dancing, the Braveheart 5K and the classic Highland Games.
Though often mistaken for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, an acclaimed rock band, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers leave audiences tweeting, “I came for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I stayed for the Pipers.”
It all started with three bagpipers and two drummers who played for weddings and business cocktail events. After winning the 2006 national Scottish talent show, the band was bombarded with gigs and festivals. Now, 17 years later, the Pipers’ three bagpipe leads, backline percussionists and vocalist have performed for crowds of up to 90,000 people.
“Every musician that we recruited was (and is) world class,” Armstrong said. “I’ve heard too many really bad band performances, musicianship-wise, and I always feel let down. So I make sure our band is perfect.”
Imagine traditional bagpipe music colliding with rock ‘n’ roll. That’s the “Bagrock” sound the Pipers deliver.
“I’d like to think that when an audience is clapping away in time to the music, they’ve got a wee question in their head. And that question is: ‘Have I just heard bagpipers play “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey?’ Because if they did, then everything must surely be OK in the world right at that point.”
But as “things in life come and go,” Armstrong said, he emphasizes celebration of the Celtic heritage and traditions.
“They enrich us and get us to ask questions. It’s far from mundane, and I love to see crowds of children playing fiddles or bagpipes. It keeps the music alive. Let’s not forget, some of the tunes we play on stage are hundreds of years old.”
Colorado Springs keeps those traditions alive.
At the festival, the local Celtic Steps School of Irish Dance will have more than 30 performers in four shows.
“We hope that there are people that haven’t seen the dancing before,” said Shaun Casey, owner of Celtic Steps Inc. and president of St. Brendan’s Irish Dance Foundation. “We have such a high level and high caliber of dancing, and there will be a lot of people who haven’t seen this standard, so we are excited to showcase the dancers and the dance.”
Plenty of Celtic food tents will be on hand, one of them occupied by Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub and Ale House, providing “award-winning” fish and chips and Reuben fritters. That tent will “keep people from going hangry,” said Jack Quinn’s general manager Martin Troy.
So come to the Highland Games and throw a 20-foot-long log. Come for the Braveheart 5K and sport a kilt for your workout. Come for the dancing. Come for food.
And, in the words of bagpiper Willie Armstrong, “Come to our show.”
“We call it a show because that’s what it is. We’re all dressed the same; we have black kilts and red sporrans. We have movement, and we have the very best lighting and sound engineers coming along with us. You go away with a huge smile on your face, and you’ll really want to come back. Trust me, I’m Scottish.”
Sofia Krusmark, The Gazette,