Red Hot Chilli Pipers

Scottish "bagrock" band the Red Hot Chilli Pipers are headlining both nights of this weekend's Celtic Festival.

Courtesy photo

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers' first performance of their patented "bagrock" in the U.S. will happen here in Missoula this Friday and Saturday at the Celtic Festival.

"We're permanently on the road," said Kevin MacDonald, one of the band's bagpipers and the band manager.

The Scottish band plays about 200 shows a year, drawing on a reservoir of upward of 40 members. For this touring, they're bringing their nine-person lineup: three bagpipers, electric bass, electric guitar, a percussionist, a drum-kit player, a keyboardist and a vocalist.

Due to requests from fans, the band will headline both nights of the Celtic Festival, said organizer Shannon Lukes.

MacDonald, in a phone call from Scotland, said there will be a core set but variations for those who want to come both nights. One night might feature their cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," and the Who's "Baba O'Riley," while another could boast Avicii's "Wake Me Up" and the traditional "Amazing Grace."

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MacDonald started playing bagpipes when he was 7 years old with a local community pipe band.

He said the pipes are a difficult instrument to learn, as evidenced by those who didn't learn it well.

"It's not a pleasant instrument to hear if you have ever heard someone who's not a perfectionist," he said. "You may want to leave the area."

He said the instrument is "a bit of a hobby" and a bit of a profession for most people.

He's "fortunate to make it more than just a hobby," he said. "I have to confess I never set out to be a musician by trade."

He joined the band at the very beginning 13 years ago. As his day job, he has a practice as a certified public accountant.

Thanks to the Internet, he's able to maintain both the touring life and the professional one.

He said there's no shortage of downtime in the touring musician's life. At a festival, for instance, there's an hour or so to perform and the rest of the day to fill. He's never suffered from boredom himself – there's always more paperwork from his day job.

Regarding the Missoula performance, though, he said it's "high energy and a lot of fun."

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The group's newest album, "Octane," was released earlier this year. It's their eighth album overall, and their fifth studio record.

"There were a lot of good ideas and new stuff and a new feel," he said.

Their previous two albums were "said to be very bright in orientation," he said.

This time, they "tried to go for a bit more of a darker edge."

The album has covers of the White Stripes' "One Nation Army," Van Halen's "Jump," plus tunes by ZZ Top and some traditionals.

With so many members, he said the inspirations for the Pipers' cover selections come from all over, even something as simple as the guitarist catching "Baba O'Riley" on an episode of "Grey's Anatomy."

The pipers all contribute to the arrangements of the pipes, which frequently take the place of lead vocals and guitar lines.

Their work has racked up impressive numbers on YouTube: A BBC Radio 1 performance of "Wake Me Up" has 3,384,709 views as of this writing; and in terms of physical copies, their biggest album, "Bagrock for the Masses," has sold 150,000 copies worldwide.

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