Bagpipe Busking across the USA

Photo courtesy of Dave Wilson

By Lauren Witherspoon

Widespread redundancies are now commonplace, but Rob Calder saw it as an opportunity to do something different. After uninspiring interviews and no clear vision of what he wanted to do, the bagpiper from Edinburgh had an epiphany.

“I was actually just coming back from football one night thinking to myself; “what am I going to do this summer? Then I thought, I’ll just go travelling and take my bagpipes with me and busk? And it was one of these ideas that just really blossomed. I decided to do it to raise money for charity.””

“The thing about American’s is that they all love to find out about their identity and origins,” said Rob. “If they’ve got Scottish connections, ninety percent of them just lap it up and they want to know more.”

Unfortunately, one American didn’t want hear any more, as Rob was given a New York welcome on his first day in the Big Apple. “Somebody threw a bucket of water out a first floor window” Rob explained. “Most of it missed me but it made me feel miserable, I was just about to knock it on the head but this guy asked me to keep playing and in the end I made about 50 bucks.”

Ignoring advice on wearing earplugs, Rob played every day of his seven-week one-man tour that saw him travel from the East to West coast of America. Starting off in New York and heading south through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and then crossing the continent through the southern states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, and finally making his way to San Francisco through Arizona and Colorado. “I’d commit to doing it every day, and there was some days when I thought I just couldn’t face it and I was getting so stressed out about it, but I always played. Even if it was nine o’clock at night outside a football ground or a baseball ground I forced myself to play.

“Once you get started it’s always fine but there was always that feeling of “Oh My God, can I really face drawing attention to myself again with this bloody loud instrument? That you sort of think people aren’t gong to enjoy. You almost try to talk yourself out of it. I am really proud that I played every single day.”

In Denver, Colorado, the police came to the response of a complaint. “I thought I was going to get arrested but they were absolutely great, they really enjoyed the bagpipes. I had my picture taken with them and they were a real laugh.”

At the Grand Canyon Rob saw an opportunity to boost the money he would be handing over to the Edinburgh charity Ecas. “I just turned up and started playing.” The scenic views were a perfect backdrop,” Rob told. “…people were really emotional, it was just as the sun was setting as well so it was beautiful. People were really generous.  I met a Scottish couple who came across and we started chatting for a while, it was nice to hear a familiar accent.”

The most financially successful destination on route, Rob intended on repeating his Scottish serenade the next day but was turned away due to laws that protect the peace of the historic site. “It was a bit of a downer, but I’m glad I did it ‘cos it was a great place to play the pipes.”

For now it is back to the daily grind for Rob but would he take on another globe-trotting challenge? “I think the conditions would have to be right for met do it again because now I have got a job. It’s one of these things that if have a got a few weeks to kill then I’ll definitely go and do it again, maybe in a different country.”

Rob completed his busking tour in organisation the summer of 2009 and raised over £5000 for Edinburgh charity Ecas, which is a voluntary organisation dedicated to giving practical and friendly help to physically disabled people.