Bagpipe comforts Knoxvillians, and it's not the instrument's first pandemic

Published: Mar. 25, 2020 at 11:31 PM EDT
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As self-isolation continues for another week in Knoxville, many neighborhoods are sitting in silence.

“Everyday is exactly the same,” Tyler Roy said. “We’ve been cooped up for days and days,” Jeff Rusk said.

Rusk lives in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood in North Knoxville. Wednesday was another day inside until Rusk said he heard something different. "I thought — there’s something going on out here.”

It was the sound of a bag pipe marching through the streets of Rusk's neighborhood.

“I loved it,” Maria Melton, another neighbor said. “Do something fun with it — cheer up people’s day,” Travis Goodspeed said.

The man behind these pipes is Tyler Roy, or as he calls himself: The Vol Piper. “To be able to bring that cheer into people’s lives in this moment of darkness we’re all in.”

Roy started playing in his neighborhood just a few days ago. He said he noticed neighbors coming outside and the community together despite isolating.

He's now spreading that tone across Knoxville. Bringing a bag pipe concert right to your front door during the coronavirus pandemic. Roy's pipes actually have ties to a different epidemic.

"The AIDS epidemic back in the early 1990's -- my uncle was one of the first casualties. He was a bagpiper."

His name is Bill Powell. Roy's pipes actually belonged to him. Roy said his uncle used to play through the streets of Mechanicsville and North Knoxville. Now decades later, Roy is playing them and has been for more than a year.

“It took a long time to refurbish them and get them to where they could play again. But it was definitely worth it,” He told WVLT News reporter Robert Grant.

The pipes are playing to the tune of hope, the same way they did with Roy's uncle.

"His story is one of hope. He didn't live very long. But he started Knox Heritage. He inspired a great number of people."

Bill Powell died in his early thirties, but his story, and bag pipe, is inspiring communities in a time of darkness yet again.

“I play these as a tribute to him. He loved North Knoxville so much. This is a really special time.”

The Vol Piper said he is also raising money for Second Harvest Food Bank. Roy said the non-profit is struggling alongside many other organizations during the coronavirus pandemic. He's already raised more than $1,400.

Roy said he plans to visit a new neighborhood every day. Next he looks to visit North Hills Thursday.