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Down to Shepherdstown!

Heading back to the Upper Potomac Pipers’ Weekend on Jan. 18/19. Can’t wait!

A typical gathering at UPPW … this event is called “Round Robin” … where everyone willing will get up and take a turn playing a tune for the group. Photo by Joanie Blanton

Coming up this weekend, I’ll be reunited with all sorts of piping buddies for the Upper Potomac Pipers’ Weekend (abbreviated as UPPW) in Shepherdstown, WV.

What a great event this is—personally it feels like a breath of fresh air.

Pipers from all over the U.S. head down to this once a year for a weekend full of workshops, jam sessions, and just plain fun. It’s always held during MLK weekend, which of course, tends to be a dry period for piping events seeing as it’s during the dead of winter.

So to have something like this during such a down time for music activity—what could be better?*

Robert Felsburg (dark hair, on right) running one of his always popular “Fix It” sessions at UPPW. Robert is a highly accomplished smallpipe and reed maker—as such, his skills are highly valuable for folks who may have some issues that they aren’t quite sure how to fix with their instruments. Photo by Daniel Bell.

EJ Jones, a good friend and fellow performer at the Maryland Renaissance Festival was kind enough to call my attention to UPPW a few years ago, and I’m extremely thankful that he did. With all of the hustle and bustle that can sometimes accompany my playing pipes, sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s something that I truly enjoy, and play for the fun of it. The atmosphere is extremely laid back, but you’re also learning all kinds of fun new tunes and techniques.

UPPW is rather centered around “alternative bagpipes” … i.e., non-Highland pipes. Lots of folks attending also play Highland pipes, but I think it’s fair to say that Highlands get plenty of attention most of the time. Sometimes it’s good to let the others come out and shine. So there’s lots of Scottish smallpipes (far and away the most abundant instrument there), border pipes, uilleann pipes, and Northumbrian smallpipes.

Even better, one of this weekend’s many excellent guest instructors is another good friend, Rosalind Buda. She and I happened to meet way-back-when one evening during a Boston-area jam session (at the Burren, maybe?). I think she was in the area for grad school. Otherwise she hails from North Carolina, so I only ever get to see her every once in a blue moon. She’s a bassoonist who also plays many forms of bagpipe, and also bombard. It’ll be great to connect with her once again.

Many other friends and familiar faces will be there as well in the event’s lineup, including:

  • Tracey Jenkins and Sean Heely — Also fellow performers this past season at the Maryland Renaissance Fest, they’re an excellent fiddle and piping duo.
  • Iain MacHarg — Longtime friend from the New England piping scene. He leads the Catamount Pipe Band and is the director of the Vermont Institute of Celtic Arts, and his father (Michael MacHarg) is a highly revered pipe maker, and has been for quite some time.
  • Bob Mitchell — Excellent piper overall, and a wonderful human from head-to-toe. Met him the first time I attended UPPW, and I was in awe of his overwhelming enthusiasm for all things piping.
  • … and soooo many more, though the above folks will likely demand most of my attention in the workshops this weekend. It’s really hard to see and do everything, there’s just so much packed into one short weekend!

So that’s where I’ll be this coming weekend. After that, I’ll on the road for several weeks with Cu Dubh … more on that trip in another post or two.

One of many jam sessions throughout the weekend at a pub nearby UPPW. Many hours of folks sipping beverages and playing tunes. Such is the atmosphere one enjoys at this event all weekend long. Photo by Bob Mitchell.

* N.B. — Highland pipers will likely try to call me out on the fact that another big piping event happens this weekend as well—Winter Storm out in Kansas City, MO. It’s MASSIVE … for lack of a better term. For Highland pipers, it’s become one of the biggest events in the world for solo competitors.

An awesome event to say the least, and believe me I’d love to head out to that one of these days. But as noted above, UPPW holds a special place in my heart and mind, as it’s low key atmosphere is -just- what I need to remind me of my true love of piping. One of these days, I’m sure that I’ll make it out to Winter Storm, but I can tell you now, I’ll be doing so whilst looking for options to still get out to Shepherdstown a.s.a.p.

Cheers & chunes,

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