The Pied Pipers of Palo Alto

Last night, this little band of blowhards led a procession of 100 adults through the nighttime streets of Palo Alto on a “pub crawl.”


The pipers and people came together in this way for the 13th consecutive year to celebrate the birthday of Smokey Charles. Smokey is known about town for his wisdom and generosity.

The party started at Smokey’s house, which is where the picture was taken. It was soon dark, and the other pictures I took of the parade-in-action didn’t come out. We visited seven bars. At each bar, the band went inside, found a corner, and went at it. There were two drummers, not pictured here.

To get from bar to bar, the band led us along the sidewalks in the heart of town while playing, and the adults, pretending to be children, frolicked behind.

My favorite part was when they tuned up. The blowers would line up in front of the band leader (also not pictured here), and one at a time, they would approach him, and as they blew, he would tune their pipes by twisting them and adjusting the length. They did this several times throughout the evening. It reminded me of any tender grooming ritual that any other species might do for one another.

And then, there’s the sound. The droning, ceaseless root note upon which all is built. The high notes that are grasped at but never quite reach full throatedness. The heritage, the culture, the pride that says, “Okay, so it ain’t the prettiest sound ever made, but it’s ours. And if you don’t like it, drink more.”

It was great fun to watch the people watch the parade. There’s nothing quite like a marching column of skirted wheezebags to bring a smile to a face.


  • bastinptc Posted December 14, 2009 2:02 pm

    I with you on the tune-up.

  • Hambone8705 Posted December 15, 2009 12:38 pm

    Dude, I totally get it. There is a church right across the street from a home game I have been regularly attending for a while. Every Friday a group of 5 or 6 “skirted Wheezebags” gather in the parking lot for a couple hours of practice. I have walked over for a closer listen a few times, very cool.

  • phat mack Posted December 16, 2009 11:36 am

    What kind of welcome did they receive at the Cameo Club?

  • Tommy Angelo Posted December 16, 2009 11:58 am

    “What kind of welcome did they receive at the Cameo Club?”


    Marco told them they could have their own poker table and dealer, but if they wanted to play their bagpipes, the rake was going to be double. 🙂

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