Something For Everyone

Something For Everyone


One of my favorite parts about going camping is the incredible variety in how you can “go camping.” For some, it’s an Army Navy surplus tent, tacos made on a Coleman camp stove, and marshmallows around the fire. For others, camping means taking the comforts of home into the great outdoors in a stylish and well-stocked RV. Other people still don’t consider it “real camping” unless it’s living out of a heavy backpack on a thirty mile trail, with only the stars, wildlife, and blisters for company.

Since I started to broaden my approach to the bagpipes nearly ten years ago, I have been similarly struck by how much diversity there is among the players and fans of not just highland pipes, but other types of pipes too. As a young piper, ahem…


…there’s really no way I could have imagined how many fun and varied playing experiences the instrument would bless me with. A lot of my friends in the competitive piping scene describe piping as a “lifestyle” probably because of the intensity of so many events, friends, bands, gear, and awesome music that one can experience as a player in that tradition. What I’ve come to realize is that there are in fact multiple piping “lifestyles” out there, each equally valid and delightful in it’s own way.

Highland Piper Lifestyle


For a solo or band player at any level, any given Saturday may play out like this:

05:00: Wake up to the alarm, put on the coffee and cook a hearty breakfast. While that happens, double check the pipe case, make sure all parts of the uniform (kilt, hose, shirt, ghillie brogues, flashes, belt, sporran, jacket, and glengarry) are prepped by the door.

05:15: Eat breakfast, shower.

05:45: Make sandwiches for lunch and make sure sunscreen and cooler are prepped.

06:00: Pack pipes, uniform, lunches, cooler, and lawn chairs into the car. Drive for two hours to the highland games.

08:00: Arrive at the games, and haul stuff to the band tent.

08:15: Check in with piping table and the steward at your competition platform.

08:30: Pipes up! Tuning for the piobaireachd.

09:00: Play the first competition of the day – solo piobaireachd. Brush out the drones and make sure the reeds are dry afterward.

10:00: Tune up for the MSR.

10:20: Play the MSR. Brush out the drones – make sure the drone reeds are dry too!


10:45: Tune up for the Hornpipe Jig.

11:00: Play the hornpipe jig competition. Relax for 30 minutes, eat a snack, and then…



12:45: Scarf the sandwich.

13:00: The band warms up with a 10 minute tune-up, and 20 minutes of running through the competition material. This is to check the pipes for issues and get everyone comfortable for band competition.

13:30: This is as close to “down time” as we will get today. Walk around with buddies, check the final solo results, people watch, or sit in the shade of the band tent and take a nap. The pipe major needs you back at the band tent with pipes out by 15:00 sharp, and (as you’ve learned the hard way) you’d be a fool to not to heed those instructions!

14:50: You’ve been hydrating. Hit the bathroom and then get that band pipe out! IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to tuck your glengarry into your kilt.

15:45: Band contest!


16:30: Massed bands again, and awards.

17:15: Pack up the instrument, gear, and clean up the band tent. Then head over to the beer tent to catch up with old friends.

18:45: Head out to dinner with some bandmates. In the Northwest, odds are pretty good that this means Red Robin. Yum!

20:15: After a leisurely supper with a lot of laughs, head back home.

22:15: What a day! Exhausted, you unpack your gear and head straight to bed.

Now repeat this process about ten times every summer. Throw in plenty of indoor piping competitions, recitals, and pipe band gigs, like parades. Add weekly band practices, daily solo practices, and, let’s be honest, a ton of pipe band drama 😛 There you have it!

Renaissance Piper Lifestyle


If you’ve ever been to a renaissance faire, you know that they can be hilarious, weird, raunchy, and charming all at the same time. When I was approached about joining Tartanic, I had never had the pleasure of attending one of these festivals. Boy was I in for a treat! Where else can you find fluent Elvish language speakers rubbing elbows with expert leatherworkers (tanners?) and hoisting a tankard with masters of medieval swordplay technique? Why not stroll over to the demonstration put on by 14-time Guinness World Record Holder for Whip Cracking?

I’m guessing that other countries likely have renaissance faires of their own, but to me it really does feel like a great fit for American culture: the variety, the escape from the day-to-day realities of a 9-5 job, the turkey legs, and the whimsical atmosphere where adults and children marvel at the same spectacles (although plenty of cheeky humor will be lost on the latter).

Playing with Tartanic at the faires it really hit me – there is something for everyone here. And there’s a huge appetite for piping! Playing in Tartanic was a lot of work but I was amazed at the energy and appreciation from the audiences – especially children – for the pipes.

Although sadly I haven’t made it out to play with Tartanic at a faire recently, I’ll never forget the camaraderie, friendliness, and eclectic nature of these incredible events.


Folk Piper Lifestyle


It’s really a shame that I never designed and marketed that mobile app or algorithm that allowed me to retire wealthy at the age of 25. If time and money were unlimited I’d probably continue to play in pipe bands and join Tartanic at the faires today. However, like so many musicians, as I’ve stepped into adulthood it’s become necessary to balance my love of piping with the requirements of day-to-day life.

Balance is the key word. I often think of a headline from The Onion: Find the Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do it On Nights and Weekends For the Rest of Your Life. It’s a sad truth that too many people are forced to put their creative passions on a back burner in favor of a more “traditional” career, like data analyst.

Another memory that I think of in the context of balancing creative pursuits with the costly reality of life in America is a third grade school exercise from my elementary school in Oakland, CA. As a way to get us kiddos thinking about jobs and careers, we designed business cards. I still remember how mine read, in this order:

Micah Babinski – Piper and Surgeon

Anyways, my view is that when you are a musician in your heart, you owe it to yourself to give it your best shot, and fight the urge to give up the gift of that music. So, two years ago I founded Dram and Go, my folk piping trio based here in beautiful Portland, Oregon.


It’s been a slow, steady process to get Dram and Go to where it is now (more on that in a future post) but it allows me to stay connected to piping, avoid the six hour round trip to band practice, and really explore traditional Scottish, Irish, Cape Breton, and other forms of folk music that are really old but new to me.

Last weekend we took our act to the Galway Bay Irish Pub in lovely Ocean Shores Washington. The Galway Bay is also a restaurant, Irish import shop, and cigar shop. I admit I was a little worried that not too many folks would be visiting the Washington coast on a rainy weekend in February. Ocean Shores is a charming town, but it’s not on any major coastal highway, such as US Highway 101.

My worries evaporated when we arrived and began our set. The restaurant was full, the patrons appreciative, and the staff was excellent. Galway Bay hosts all kinds of different Celtic music acts, with an emphasis on Irish music and a healthy dose of rock-n-roll thrown in.

Playing in a folk band is a whole different universe from playing in a traditional pipe band or renaissance faire band. For one thing – it requires a set of skills including marketing and banter that I’ve really had to work on! No one expects an engaging chat between sets when you are in the ranks of a pipe band. And pipers in Tartanic must be friendly, but the real heavy lifting of crowd interaction is handled by Adrian, the charismatic drummer and frontman. Additionally, there’s additional gear to haul, a stage to set up, and appreciative audience members (and hopefully future fans) to chat with on breaks. Also, you have to determine whether this is a massive glass of Guinness, or the door to the patio:


More Alike Than Different


Although the schedules, routines, and aesthetics differ greatly between a highland games, renaissance faire, and lively Irish pub, they have a tremendous amount in common in their effects. All three offer an escape from the cubicle and the monotony of the work week to both performers and audiences alike. The different piping lifestyles I’ve sampled all allow for exploration and innovation while staying rooted in tradition. As life goes on I’m full of gratitude for the experiences and friends that piping has bestowed upon me, and excited to see what comes next!

Letter to Gordon

Letter to Gordon:

A Decade Without You


Image from Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust

Dear Mr. Duncan,

We’ve never met, but I feel like I know you the way kids in the 1960s who dreamt of outer space felt they knew John Glenn. I’d guess that countless other pipers and piping fans feel the same. I had the chance to hear your Piping Centre recital at Piping Live in Glasgow in 2003 but I succumbed to jet lag and took a nap instead – a decision which turned out to be the biggest musical regret of my life.

Now a decade has passed since you left the world and pipers play your music more than ever. Watching a documentary about your life, I was struck by the words of Alan MacDonald, another piper/composer/hero of mine who said of you, “He extended the boundaries of traditional music. He knew that this was the only way forward. There are only nine notes on the chanter but he was capable of composing a tune…and valued the importance of tunes.”

There have been many moments in my piping career where I have felt afraid. There’s only nine notes. What do I have to offer by playing this music? What if I make a mistake? Am I in tune? What if the tune I am writing has already been written? What if this tradition is not compelling, and should fail to grow with time?


Image from Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust

Time and time again, the sound of your music and your spirit makes those fears disappear. If I had to pick one word to describe Gordon Duncan the man and the musician?


I’ve heard your tunes played by a top Grade 1 band at the Worlds on Glasgow Green. I’ve played them with a gang of fiddlers, guitarists, and percussionists at the Ben Nevis Pub. I’ve watched YouTube videos of Breton teenagers playing your music like it is second nature to them. Even the BadPiper, the “punk-rock” piper who rode to fame on the back of your musical legacy, knows in his heart that you managed to banish fear from our music and allowed us to continue the tradition with vigor and wild abandon.

Every time your tunes are played, the edge that distinguishes Scottish music gets sharper. The fire burning in the souls of Celtic musicians the world over gets hotter. The chains of stagnation and staleness which threaten to bind our music are broken.

Thank you Gordon. You will never be forgotten as long as wind fills a bag and causes reeds to vibrate somewhere. My musical world owes you a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid.


Yours Truly,


Dram & Go Milestone – Our First CD!

Dram & Go Milestone – Our First CD!

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve finally crossed the finish line at a race we started running nearly 11 months ago – our first professionally-recorded CD! If you’re not familiar with Dram & Go that’s ok: I’m happy to fill you in.


Dram & Go is many things. In the most obvious sense it is a folk band heavily influenced by my background as a Scottish piper. Personally, Dram & Go represents a choice to not only keep piping in my life, but to expand the range in which I engage with the bagpipes.

Allow me to explain. For 10+ years I worked hard to attain a decent sound on the pipes. The main focus here was solo competition


…pipe bands















…and a healthy mix of side projects thrown in for good measure.

Like many of life’s most worthwhile activities they were equal parts rewarding and exhausting. I met and kept lifelong friends, played some amazing music, and learned a great deal about leadership, camaraderie, discipline, and respect.

Today life is different. The demands of a full-time job, a loving spouse (who wants to see me on the weekends!), and the need to save and plan for the future has made life as a bagpipe rambler…less tenable. So, rather than let all those hours of doubling exercises go to waste, I started Dram & Go. Here’s us doing our thing:


With Dram & Go I can express my own enjoyment of Scottish music alongside Rachel, our awesome fiddler, and Avery, our multi-instrumentalist and Irish music expert. Who’s going to sit around in a pub or festival grounds listening to a three hour borderpipe set, you may ask? It’s a question I’m still trying to answer! What I can say is that since solidifying our lineup we’ve had the opportunity to play at highland games, local pubs, and folk festivals. And people like it!

The Portland region has a lot of great Irish bands. Some are strictly traditional while others mix it up in wild and unpredictable ways. Na Rósaí, Hanz Araki, Colleen Raney, and anything playing at Sam Keator‘s house are always favorites. The hard work of these musicians and their contemporaries is further amplified by the esteemed gentlemen at the helm of 67 Music, Portland’s concierge to Celtic music.

My sincere hope for the future is that Dram & Go can inject a little Scottish “juice” into the turkey of local Celtic music (can you tell Thanksgiving happened recently?) Our mission is to deliver to audiences the hard edge, the attitude, and of course the immense joy that Scottish and Celtic music have given us.

So please, preview and buy the CD on CD Baby, attend our CD release party at Biddy McGraw’s, and follow us on facebook to see what happens next with Dram & Go. Who knows – you might be surprised at what Portland’s Celtic music scene has to offer!

Yours Truly,


Announcing: Dram and Go!


Announcing: Dram and Go!

Hi friends, I am very pleased to announce that I have teamed up with an awesome fiddle player named Tricia Fairman, and have formed a new group called Dram and Go. We play traditional and contemporary Scottish and Irish music, including a couple of our own compositions.

We are making our performance debut on Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, playing first at the Firking Tavern on March 14th from 6-8pm, and then on St Patrick’s Day itself at the Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River from 8-10 pm.

I would be very grateful if you would attend one or both of these events and show your support for my new project. I personally guarantee a rip-roaring good time!

Lessons of the Work/Life/Piping Balance

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I took for granted as a kid piper, compared with the challenge of balancing piping with the rest of life as an adult. When I wrote “Afternoon at the Green Monster” I was 14, playing my first year as a grade 1 piper, and thinking about nothing else than the next competition. I was also in eighth grade at Islander Middle School at the time, but looking back at my childhood, piping just seemed so much more important. I knew big things were coming, but could not have predicted what life and piping would be like ten years down the road.

My family – which included my mom, dad, and older brother – could not have been more supportive. My family drove me to lessons and highland games, wrote checks for lessons, and listened to the pipes in the house every evening, whether or not they were in tune. For that I am forever grateful.


For about a year from around 2011-2012 I would frequently go weeks, or even as much as a month without playing my pipes. This was for the same reason it seems so many promising, young players set them aside: I had burned myself out driving up to Vancouver, BC for band practice every weekend, struggling to compete against the array of amazing professional pipers on the west coast, learning to live on my own, taking courses at the University of Washington, and working a part time job. My relationships with friends in Seattle suffered as a result of me being gone every weekend during the summer. I knew this was the case when my college friends stopped asking if I was available when discussing their weekend plans, because they knew that I wasn’t. I felt I was missing out, and for quite a while I focused on honing my GIS skills, picking up the basics on the mandolin, and spending summer weekends climbing peaks in the Cascades.

Since moving to Portland, I’ve once again made piping into a major life focus. My first rented room in a shared house included a spacious upstairs where I would spend hours practicing, often to the frustration of roommates and neighbors. Still, it felt good to pick up the pipes again and begin to undo the atrophy that had affected my piping skills from so many months of limited commitment.

Eventually, my roommates, tired of hearing so many hours of piping from me and my students, politely asked me to not renew the lease. So I found a basement apartment that would be affordable for my girlfriend and I, and began renting space at a studio near my office so I could continue to practice and teach the pipes. For the first time in my life, I had strict limitations on when I could play, where I could play, and to top it all off had to pay monthly for the privilege of playing. I don’t think many pipers (especially young pipers who live at home) understand what this is like. Still, the important thing was I could still play, teach lessons, and work at my GIS job for the county.

Today, my situation is much the same. My girlfriend and I still live in a basement (it’s a very nice basement, so I’m not complaining), I work for the City not the County, and I now rent a VFW Hall for practicing and lessons.


The transition from living at home with no other care in the world other than preparing for a competition, to now living with my girlfriend, working, cooking, and piping has highlighted the benefits of parental support in ways I hadn’t realized. When I think back to practicing the pipes as a child, I used to remember the hard hour and a half practices, the endless recording sessions, and the tough lessons. Now, I also remember that dinner would just “appear” right after a tough practice. I remember not worrying about whether the oil was changed and the tabs were up to date if my parents were driving me to Canada for another competition. I didn’t have to worry if $250 in new reeds was in the budget. I didn’t have to worry about my family requesting that I not renew a lease with them.


So, to my parents and my older brother: thank you from the bottom of my heart. You put up with so much bad piping, and I’m forever grateful. To the adult pipers that I have learned from: I am newly impressed with the way you have fit piping into your life. The circumstances of growing up push us to set aside “hobbies” like piping at almost every turn. Life gets more complicated with each new year of life, and us adult pipers have to fight to keep piping in the forefront.


To any young pipers who may read this: congratulations on all the hard work you have put in. Just remember that without the support of those close to you, you would not have come as far as you have. As you age, other priorities will inevitably bubble up. Relationships, money, house, food, and social status will all present challenges to your continued excellence with the pipes. You’ll be faced with friends who are disappointed that you are always off piping on the weekends, at a time when you’re family and childhood friends are not there to fall back on. You may find yourself in a relationship where you have to compromise time spent piping for the sake of your partner. You may even choose to set the pipes aside for a short time. The fight to retain piping as a centerpiece in life while transitioning into adulthood will not be easy. In the end it will shed new light on the love and support you received in your piping past, while making you appreciate the hours spent with the pipes on the shoulder that much more.