When he’s not piecing together clues and clearing through mounds of paperwork, Detective Nate Boggs dons a uniform other than that of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
A black glengarry atop his head. A leather sporran with blond horsehair around his waist. White flashes at the top of his dark green hose and white spats to cover his shiny black shoes. And most notably, a green plaid kilt.
Boggs has both been a detective and played the bagpipes for just over two years, but the timeline is coincidental, he said.
While at a Saint Patrick’s Day event in Sarasota, Boggs and his family wanted to see the bagpipers play, but they didn’t show up due to bad weather. He said that moment started the conversation of how the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office didn’t have it’s own bagpiper. When he worked for the Boone County in northern Kentucky, just a half hour from Cincinnati, he said bagpipers were more common there than on the Gulf Coast.
The bagpipes are a like-it-or-hate-it instrument. Some people think it sounds like a bag of cats dying a horrible death, and some people really enjoy it.
Manatee Det. Nate Boggs
“Being from Cincinnati, you’re either Irish or you’re German for the most part,” he said.
When Irish immigrants came to the United States, most of the work they could find was in dangerous fields like the police and fire departments, Boggs said. If someone died in the line of duty, the traditional bagpipes were played at the service.
“Now it’s not really necessarily for the Irish,” he said, adding that most sheriff’s offices have a bagpipe player to perform with their honor guard.
His wife asked him if he thought it was a shame Manatee didn’t have their own bagpipe player, why didn’t he do it?
Boggs couldn’t think of a reason not to.
Four months later, he got himself a practice chanter, the part of the bagpipes that makes a tune, but quickly learned that he would need a teacher. He had taught himself how to play guitar at age 15 and branched out to bass guitar, drums and even the banjo, but having to constantly keep air pressure in a bag that has four holes in it requires determination and multitasking.
“It’s by far the hardest thing that I’ve ever undertaken,” he said. “It’s something that when I’m old and gray, I’ll still not have mastered. Every day you learn something new.”
He’s really good at it. It really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Manatee Det. Cyril Niklinski
When he brought the idea to the sheriff’s office, he said everyone was pretty receptive to it.
“To finally have him on board, we can have somebody go out and perform with us, it gives us a greater entity that we missed so dearly in the past,” said Detective Darryl Davis, a 14-year member of Manatee’s honor guard. “It gives more spirit to the team, an added addition that we so desperately needed.”
Detective Cyril Niklinski, also with the honor guard for 20 years, said that going to the annual police memorial in Tallahassee, he always thought the bagpipes brought a special touch to the ceremonies.
“He’s really good at it,” Niklinski said. “It really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”
Deputies showed their support by chipping in to buy him a set of bagpipes or making jokes about his kilt.
“The bagpipes are a like-it-or-hate-it instrument,” he said. “Some people think it sounds like a bag of cats dying a horrible death, and some people really enjoy it. Some people want to have a beer with you.”
Boggs typically plays memorials, funerals, marches in parades and performs for elementary schools. His favorite song to play is “It’s a Long Way to the Top” by AC/DC and loves seeing people’s faces light up when they recognize a tune.
But one instance of playing stands out in his memory above most.
On the way to Kentucky for a camping trip with his 9-year-old daughter Rozlynn, they hit traffic in Chattanooga, Tenn.
He saw people climb out of their cars and wave the American flag. Boggs had his bagpipes with him to show his progress to his father, who is a retired Kentucky State Police trooper and a Marine Corps veteran.
“I opened the trunk, pulled the bagpipes out and walked to the side of the road and just started playing,” Boggs said. “This is a talent God gave me to share with people. And thought, ‘Why not, I’m here, let ’er rip.’”
He didn’t realize it immediately, but a motorcade was passing by carrying one of the fallen Marines who died during the Chattanooga terrorist shootings in 2015. As he played, he noticed motorcyclists on the road waving Marine Corps flags.
“When the momentum of that hits you, it about takes your breath away,” he said.
Boggs added that he thinks the most difficult group to be with is the honor guard.
“I think it takes a very special person to be able to do that, to be able to function when everyone else is mourning.”