Pipehacker Travelogue: Glengarry Highland Gathering at Maxville, Ontario

The pipe band competitions at Maxville and the Glengarry Highland Gathering are the biggest scene you will find this side of the Atlantic for piper, drummer, and bagpipe junkie alike. For even the most jaded pipeband-er, the final massed bands are pretty spectacular. Multiple waves of bands enter the field and it is quite the marathon ceremony and an impressive sight. And, of course, Maxville has probably the largest beer tent in the world. The shenanigans that ensue late into the evening, now that the fabled Montreal beer tent is a thing of the past, rival those on the streets of New Orleans at Mardi Gras, but always with a Highland twist.

The band competitions are a big deal across all grades with many bands from all points in Canada and the USA making long distance trips to be there. When the timing is right on the calendar, the day is the ultimate tune-up for the Worlds. The pace and the vibe are very similar to Glasgow Green and it is good training. It is one thing to prepare and play in a pipe band competition circle. It is quite another to do the same in a high-stakes event with a large and knowledgeable crowd and there is no substitute for that kind of real-world practice. The Grade 1 circle is often packed solid with bodies and this year was no different, everyone crammed together to watch the top level bands perform.

Very few eastern US pipe bands made the trip this year unfortunately, but the USofA was well represented in the upper grades. The Stuart Highlanders finished an impressive second behind the New Westminster Police pipe band from British Columbia, showing everyone that a lack of competition in their home region with an empty eastern Grade 2 field has not held them back. The Grade 1 saw an unprecedented three American pipe bands make their way into the “grove” this year. Oran Mor had strong runs in both the medley and MSR events to finish fifth overall, including a more than respectable fourth in the MSR event against the local Ontario favorites. That is one step closer to the day when we all live to see an American Grade 1 band take the top prize at Maxville.

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