Brian Kidd: The Unipiper!
Brian Kidd was just your average college student taking free bagpipe lessons, until a fateful night when his eye was caught by the glimmer of an abandoned unicycle laying in a trashcan. As his hand gripped the cold metal of the wheel, the mystic power of the cycle shot up his arm and he was forever transformed.
Now, Brian rides through the city streets in a Darth Vader mask, his kilt and cape swaying behind him in a breeze, the bellowing of his bagpipes echoing through the town like a godly proclamation to keep Portland weird. He is a symbol. A myth. A legend. He is... The Unipiper!
I first encountered The Unipiper while living in Seattle. I was walking up Pike Street when I came across throngs of people waiting outside the Emerald City Comic Con. I passed ridiculous costume after ridiculous costume, then I saw it... the most ridiculous thing of all. Riding atop a unicycle in a Darth Vader costume and playing the bagpipes, a masked crusader was bringing joy and hilarity to all who saw him. People cheered as he passed and kids ran up to meet him. Among the costumed masses was a real superhero.
And he's our hero. When I learned The Unipiper lived in Portland, I knew I had to meet him.
Like most superheros, Brian maintains a normal life outside of his masked adventures. When he's not unicycling, Brian works for a remote sensing company that makes maps by shooting the surface of the earth with lasers in low-flying planes. And aside from the kilt he wore to our interview, he was otherwise nondescript and, simply put, a really nice guy.
“No one recognizes me when I'm not dressed as The Unipiper,” Brian told me. “(Well, one time a woman did ask me if I was the Unipiper, but she was the only one.) I almost feel like I have a different personality when I am The Unipiper. It gives me a certain degree of freedom; I don't have to worry about what people will think of Brian. I've had a lot of opportunities and experiences because of it that I wouldn't have had otherwise.”
Brian was born in Virginia and learned to play the bagpipes while attending college in North Carolina. After learning to ride a unicycle he found in the trash, he combined his two hobbies and started playing on the boardwalk near the beach. He eventually moved to Portland, sight-unseen, after hearing about how great the city was from his friends.
His love for his adopted hometown is apparent: "This Machine Keeps Portland Weird" is embroidered on his bagpipe, and he somewhat jokingly calls himself a symbol for the city.
In fact, The Unipiper was featured on Travel Oregon's latest ad campaign, you can see him piping along the bottom of their iconic "Beervana" poster.
Once settled in Portland, Brian continued his unicycling and bagpiping, and added the Darth Vader mask when auditioning for America's Got Talent. While he didn't make it onto the show, he continued playing across town for fun, and ended up meeting Sarah, the woman who would become his wife, while performing.
It was an especially hot day and The Unipiper was performing at the Saturday Market. He took a break from playing, hopped off his unicycle, and noticed an ice tea set on the ground for him from a member of the audience. Brian held up the cup and turned to thank his mysterious admirer, but just as Sarah tried to catch his eye to say "you're welcome," Brian was taken away by the Portland police.
As it turned out, a belligerent bagpiper had been performing at the market the week before and had been warned not to return. The unfortunate case of mistaken identity had kept the two from meeting, but like Peter Parker and Mary Jane, the two were meant to be. They were later matched on an online dating site, but since Sarah only had a free trial, Brian couldn't see any of her photos. So she ended up finding him on Facebook, where she discovered he was the very same The Unipiper she had bought the iced tea for at the market.
“She said she had a thing for guys in kilts,” Brian said, “even though she was a little bit worried that I might be a bum or something.”
They went on that first date, and ended up getting married in 2012.
Brian has recently upgraded his act to include a bagpipe that shoots flames. While he's most famous for his Darth Vader costume, the YouTube video of him dressed as Gandalf while playing the Lord of the Rings theme has almost two million views. Brian also dressed up as a dragon and played the Game of Thrones theme while circling Sarah, dressed as Khaleesi.
“I have a lot more ideas for videos,” Brian said. “The problem is finding the time to do them all.”
In addition to his YouTube channel, Brian is also trying out the Solowheel, a project of a company called Investist, out in Camas, WA. The company has created a “people mover” (an electric unicycle) they call "the greenest personal vehicle ever invented.”
In late January 2014, Brian performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live. It was just another in his long series of television spots. The Unipiper has been featured on BoingBoing, MSN, Buzzfeed, Inside Addition, The Soup, and Good Morning America.
“The one thing I'd say about The Unipiper is that, regardless of the attention it might get, this is what I'd be doing for fun anyway,” Brian said. “The fact that other people think it's cool is really just icing on the cake for me.”
That's what I love most about The Unipiper: he's genuine. Brian doesn't perform in the hopes of becoming rich, he doesn't have a sponsor, he doesn't advertise for anything (except, perhaps, for our fair city). The Unipiper exists because Brian happens to love playing the bagpipes while riding a unicycle.
So when you go to bed tonight, you can thank The Unipiper for working so hard to keep Portland weird. After all, someone's got to.
The Unipiper makes regular appearances in the city when the weather is nice, and is asked to appear at events both near and far. He will be performing March 15-16, 2014 at the CelticFest in Vancouver, BC. You may also spot him at the Emerald City Comic Con at the end of the month. In May, you can catch him as the halftime entertainment at the Portland Stags Professional Ultimate Frisbee game. (Yes, we have a professional Frisbee team.) Check out The Unipiper's official website and twitter for the latest scheduled (and impromptu) appearances.