STARKVILLE – Ask a simple question, get a simple answer: “Partly childhood dream, partly opportunity, partly chicks dig it.”
That was Michael P. Keating, a recent Mississippi State University alumnus, talking about his appreciation for the bagpipes.
Keating is a native born American with Irish heritage, not Scottish, but the pipes have intrigued him since he saw the movie “Braveheart.” When he was an undergraduate student in Maryland, one of his professors offered a free lesson.
“I became friends with him and his family and got to learn more,” the 28-year-old said.
That was about six years ago, and he brought the bagpipes with him when he came to Mississippi to further his education. He started at the University of Mississippi, where he played on game days in The Grove.
“I even got to play on the Walk of Champions about five minutes before the team got there. I timed it perfectly, and people were, like, eight-deep behind me,” he said. “I think I played ‘Dixie.’ Everyone was going so berserk. I couldn’t even hear what I was playing.”
After he transferred to MSU, he got the maroon-and-white fan experience at The Junction.
“I ended up on the Dog Walk just a few minutes before the team arrived on the buses,” he said.
The bagpipes are a social instrument for Keating, who posts videos to Facebook as “The Celtic Warrior.” He likes to play at gatherings but has to be careful. If his listeners have been drinking too much, they often forget to tip.
Tips also explain his attire. When people see the bagpipes, they expect to see a kilt.
“Once I got to where I could make some money, I realized, you’ve got to dress to impress, and the girls like it,” he said. “You’re like a celebrity at that point. It’s an act of performing.”
He’s also available for subdued events. He was asked to learn “The Skye Boat Song” for a wedding. Some know it as the theme from the TV show “Outlander.”
“That’s actually a very old Scottish song,” he said.
He’s played “Amazing Grace” at funerals, but people with connections to Scotland usually request “Flower of Scotland” or “Going Home.”
Keating said he prefers the traditional tunes, but he’s not adverse to breaking out the “Star Wars” theme, AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” or “Happy Birthday.”
He practices at least once a week, more when he’s learning new material. He has to take special care about where he cuts loose.
“I get out in fields in the middle of nowhere to practice,” Keating said, “but I’ve had cops called on me. That’s usually a good way to get business, because police officers love the bagpipes.”
He’d tried the guitar and the ukulele, but neither instrument connected to him. The bagpipes just worked, and that goes beyond the fact chicks dig a bagpipes-playing man in a kilt.
“It’s a great instrument. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “It’s fun when you show up at a party and it gets everybody riled up.”
His playing funded a trip to New Orleans for St. Patrick’s Day earlier this year. He marched along Bourbon Street, collecting tips all the way. One group of revelers hollered down from their balcony and invited him up.
“I played for them. They gave me tips and drinks, then I left, but they said I made their St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “You make people’s events more fun. They talk about it being the highlight of their day. You end up making friends, too. What could be better?”