Grant Harbison and Ron Lopez 

The pipes, the pipes are calling

When the clock strikes 6 p.m. this Friday, March 14, Grant Harbison and Ron Lopez will stand in the center of Boise's Crescent "No Lawyers" Bar and empty their lungs into their bagpipes and play the opening notes of "Minstrel Boy," a 19th century Irish anthem. "Let Erin Remember" and "Wearing of the Green" will follow in the first of many medleys, as Harbison, Lopez and their fellow Boise Highlanders launch another St. Patrick's Day celebration.

The Highlanders--who are so popular that they'll need to split into four separate groups to play Friday, March 14; Saturday, March 15; and Monday, March 17 (St. Patrick's Day)--are the Treasure Valley's go-to pipers. In fact, they'll go to pretty much wherever you're celebrating--Boise Weekly counted more than 40 gigs on this year's calendar.

"I think I've spent more time getting ready for this St. Patrick's Day than ever before," said Lopez, the band's manager.

Lopez is the "pipe major emeritus" of the Boise Highlanders, handing over the title of pipe major a few years ago to Dr. Grant Harbison, who spends his days working with patients at the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

In preparation for their big weekend, BW sat down with Harbison, 41, and Lopez, 73, to talk about their unique art form and what exactly lies beneath those kilts.

How many members play as Boise Highlanders?

Lopez: We have 27 pipers; that's pretty big for a pipe band.

Harbison: About a third of them are women.

And how does someone learn to play the bagpipes?

Lopez: Each Tuesday night, October through May, we have a class. For $150, you get lessons, a tutor book, flash cards, a CD and something called a practice chanter: That's a recorder-like instrument.

What are the ages of the students?

Harbison: A lot of them are adults, 25 to 35 years old.

Lopez. But we do have some young ones. There's a little guy who just turned 8.

Harbison: And my son; he's 12.

At what point do you go from a chanter to a full set of bagpipes?

Lopez: All you have to do is decide that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life.

How long have the Boise Highlanders been playing?

Lopez: We were established in 1961. I joined in 1964, and that's where I met my wife. We got married 14 years later. Years later, my son Ryan was giving lessons to a girl, eventually asked her to go steady and they got married.

Hold it. Are you telling me that bagpipes are some kind of aphrodisiac?

Lopez: Oh yeah; love has really hit a lot of our pipers and dancers.

Grant, how did you get to become the pipe major?

Lopez: He was the best.

Harbison: The pipe major in our band is elected, but generally, pipe bands are not a democracy.

Your St. Patrick's Day weekend looks like it's packed to the gills with performing.

Lopez: So far, we're signed up for 46 gigs. We charge $200 per performance and we haven't raised our prices in 10 years.

I'm presuming that this is your biggest source of revenue?

Harbison: Oh yes. We also have two major performances each year: the Robert Burns Banquet for the Idaho Caledonian Society in January, and the Treasure Valley Highland Games in September. Plus, we perform at a number of weddings, and we did about 40 funerals last year.

Lopez: But St. Patrick's Day is crucial for the survival of the band. It produces more audience satisfaction than anything we do.

This is a pretty aggressive schedule, going pub to pub; can you drink in between performances?

Lopez: I don't have a rule against it, but I wouldn't want to do it.

Harbison: It depends on the performer. Some are comfortable drinking while playing.

Do you have favorite places to play on St. Patrick's Day?

Lopez: I like Hannah's, the Crescent and Hyde Park Pub.

Talk to me about audience reaction.

Lopez: Well, you know some women can be horrible with a man in a kilt. If I asked what they asked, I would be accused of sexual harassment.

So here's the question: What do you wear under your kilt?

Lopez: Shoes.

Harbison: When people ask, I usually pull my kilt up and show them my boxers. Then they're happy.

Do you have pipers who don't wear anything underneath?

Harbison. They call that "going regimental."

Lopez: I don't want to know.

You must love doing this.

Harbison: It's awesome.

Lopez: There are people like me that get goose bumps whenever they hear the pipes. We call that having "the piper's soul."

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