My favorite part of a Renaissance Faire is the music. As Patricia Wrede said, “Music and magic are brother and sister.”
At the third annual Mid-South Renaissance Faire, we are fortunate in having excellent musicians.
- Haggis Rampant
- Frieman the Minstrel
- Melandra of the Woods
- Wind, Wood, and Wire
- Roger Awesome
- Donal Hinely
- John Ross and Jeremy Wessel
Haggis Rampant is not only one of my favorite RenFaire bands, but they include two of my three favorite pipers, Steve and Gillian Brownlee. (The third is Eric Rigler of Bad Haggis.) Naturally, with a name like Susan Murrie Macdonald, a member of Clan Murray by birth and Clan Donald by marriage, it’s no surprise I like the bagpipes.
Who are Haggis Rampant? They’re a bagpipe and bodhrán trio. They’re a family playing together. They’re music with an attitude. And Heaven have mercy, are they loud!
Normally, Haggis Rampant is a trio consisting of father Steve Brownlee and daughter Gillian Brownlee on the bagpipes and mother Pam Brownlee on the drums, both bodhrán and big bass drum. Daughter Morgan Brownlee sometimes accompanies them; Morgan is a dancer, a drummer, and a fiddler.
They’ve been at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival since 2000, and at the Mid-South Renaissance Faire since 2015. They have CDs for sale if you want to hear their music, and appear in the ABC book R is for Renaissance Faire if you want a pictorial souvenir. They also perform at Highland Games, Celtic festivals, music competitions, weddings, funerals, boat christenings, inaugurations, etc. They did an impromptu performance at the Parthenon in Nashville, TN after the eclipse., which led the crowd of eclipse-watchers into spontaneous dancing.
Steve Brownlee, an award winning piper, has been playing bagpipes since 1996. He has a wicked sense of humor, such as playing “Scotland the Brave” as he pipes the actress playing Queen Elizabeth of England to the front gate of the RenFaire, or playing “Rain, Rain, Go Away” during a shower. (I’ve never heard that song on the bagpipes before, and I probably never will again.) Pam Brownlee is an award winning bass drummer, who took up playing the bodhrán because accompanying Steve was the easiest way to spend time with her husband. Gillian Brownlee has been a piper since 2003, when she was only a “wee beastie.” She plays the fiddle as well as the Great Highland Bagpipe, although her competition victories have been as a piper, not a fiddler. Morgan Brownlee plays bodhrán, tenor drum, and violin, as well as dancing. She’s won a competition or two herself for her solo drumming. (What can I say? They’re a family of overachievers, with talent to spare.) Their shows include joking and teasing between the family members as well as great music. Most of their music is traditional, but they do a bit of contemporary now and again.
Their first album, Haggis Rampant (hard to find, may be out of print), is traditional, as is their third album, Trì. Their second album, Wee Beastie, includes some of Steve’s own compositions as well as traditional Celtic music. Their fourth album, The Silver Glens, is what they call their “quiet album” (or as quiet as a bagpipe CD can be). “This album is a different mix for us. We’re usually playing music that makes our audiences want to jump up and shout “Freedom!” This time, to heck with creating energy; we wanted to record the music that stirs our souls.” Their fifth album, Burly!, includes Ken Petrie on the electric guitar and bass for a wild musical extravaganza. Their sixth album is still in the planning stages, and they’ve not yet announced the theme of it.
If you’re lucky enough be to able to catch one of their performances, by all means do so. If you live too far away to be able to hear them in person, check out their CDs. Remember, they’re the letter R in my alphabet book R is for Renaissance Faire, autographed copies available for sale at the Mid-South Renaissance Faire, unautographed copies available through Amazon.
Photos by Tom Sweeney, R. B. Macdonald, Reggie V. Miller, and Susan Murrie Macdonald