Catch the Charleston Pipe Band reveling during its “high holy day”
The Charleston Pipe Band in the 2017 Charleston St. Patrick’s Day Parade
With Saint Patrick’s Day falling on a Saturday this year, festivities are sure to be jovial. And while you’ll probably hit up a parade or pub-crawl and call it a day, one set of locals—the roughly 30 bagpipers and 23 drummers of the Charleston Pipe Band—will bounce around from North Charleston to Hilton Head the weekend before, then spend the whole of March 17 celebrating on the peninsula.
“It’s the ‘high holy day’ for bagpipers,” confirms Senior Pipe Major JD Ingraham. The band marches in two downtown parades, then pipes from King Street Public House to Tommy Condon’s to Blind Tiger, “hitting all the best places in between.” Ingraham explains, “We’ll play our way into a bar, perform a couple sets, have a pint, carouse with the patrons, then eventually play out onto the street again.”
Member Heather Pastva plays at Park Circle’s block party.
Ranging in age from 12 to 70, many members are of Irish, Scottish, and Northern European descent. At least eight are local first-responders. The 23-year-old group was founded by former Charleston police chief Reuben Greenberg, with help from Senior Pipe Major Sandy Jones, and the tartan of their kilts was custom designed in blue, gold, and black to honor current officers, as well as those who have fallen.
In addition to weddings, funerals, and Scottish festivals, the group—divided into “grades” based on level of expertise—competes at Eastern United States Pipe Band Association events throughout the Southeast. Recent years have brought notable success, including a grade-level Eastern United States Champion title in 2016.
In Washington Square before last year’s Carolina Day parade
Want to join in? On Wednesday evenings, members gather at The Citadel to teach classes; some 20 students are currently enrolled. “People who already read music and are very adept can be ready to perform in public after six to 12 months,” says Ingraham.
Photographs by (parade) Adam Heimerman & (Pastva & band members) Deirdre C. Mays