On a warm May night in Casper’s “Big Tree” neighborhood, the mournful cry of Eric Willcox’s bagpipe pierced through the twilight with the opening stanza of John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace.”
It was an usual refrain in the neighborhood, a quiet collection of streets near downtown lined with historic homes, manicured gardens and, naturally, big trees. Casper residents Matt Mitchell and Paul Marquard — the band leader and owner of the house — ready their instruments next to Willcox and soon, Willcox’s lone cry swells to a three-piece crescendo.
The front-yard performance marked the trio’s first time playing together since the start of last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, which put a pause on their musical collaboration and other events that typically required their services. All three men perform with groups associated with the Casper and Lander fire departments, but pandemic precautions kept them away from one another.
While Mitchell said some bands drifted apart, theirs carried on: Their pipe major, Lander resident Melissa Bautz, conducted lessons over Zoom throughout the pandemic.
And this summer, for the first time in more than a year, the three men have a gig, playing with the Lander Volunteer Fire Dept. Pipe Band at Casper’s Annual Beartrap Music Festival on Aug. 8.
Currently, the three are helping to raise money for first responders and healthcare workers to attend the festival for free, and have already raised $6,000 toward the effort.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Melissa Bautz lives in Lander.