A Newbie’s First Time at The Chicago Pipe Show

Lori Brown
So, Kevin tried his best to prepare me for an overwhelming experience at The Chicago Pipe Show, and he asked me to write an article about my first experience at the largest pipe show in the world for PipesMagazine.com. I have written a few articles for Pipes Magazine before, but was very nervous about this venture because of all of the warnings that I was going to be totally overwhelmed…not just from Kevin but from several others as well. This show is HUGE! To be completely honest, I was dreading it. But I am so grateful to have expected the worst, because it was the exact opposite … I had a blast! I was ready to go home on Monday, but sad at the same time. I met some amazing people, bought eleven pipes and entered the annual Slow Smoke contest, which included with the entry fee an amazing Artisan pipe by Luigi Viprati … that makes twelve newly acquired pipes. I had only four pipes before we left for the show.

We arrived on Thursday, April 30th in the early afternoon. It was so nice that when we first arrived at the Pheasant Run Resort, which is where the show is held, to see some friendly faces of people I had met in Milan at the Neat Pipes Party 2.0. What a great surprise! This made me feel immediately more comfortable. Some of them had come from Denmark and Luca Di Piazza of NeatPipes.com was also checking in as he had just arrived from Milan.

Once we settled in, Kevin took me on a tour of the property and showed me a sneak peek of the massive exhibition hall where the show is held. We then went to the smoking tent that I had heard so much about. They were holding a cigar event that afternoon, so it was especially smoky. We greeted and I got to meet a few people I had not met before, such as Steve Morrisette, but after about 30 minutes my eyes could not take the cigar smoke anymore. I wondered how in the world I was going to handle that for three more days.

Pipe Maker Steve Morrisette (L) and PipesMagazine.com Publisher Kevin Godbee (R) at Pheasant Run Resort

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at one of the only restaurants at the resort, Jambalaya. This restaurant/bar, I got to know very well and quickly discovered that the portions were massive … almost too much for two people.

Giant Portion Club Sandwiches. We could have shared one, but the other half made for a tasty late-night snack when we got back to the room. (We also stocked our refrigerator with other snacks and refreshments.)

After diner we returned to the smoking tent to see if we could find the famous Pipes Magazine Radio Show host, Brian Levine, so that I could finally meet him in person. It was great to meet him. He is just as sarcastic and funny in person as he is on the air.

We were on a mission, as well, to find a site that Steve Morrisette could use to shoot the next Pipe Babe. The resort recently put a new policy into effect making most all of the rooms non-smoking. We ran into Frank Burla, who used to be the Chicago Pipe Show head coordinator, and he asked Kevin if he had found a place for the photo shoot. He offered up his personal smoking suite for the shoot. This was very kind of him and a big relief for Kevin.

We took our time getting up the next morning. The first place we went was to the smoking tent. We needed to find Frank to see if we could scout out his room for the photo shoot on Saturday. When we found him he had an even better suggestion. Apparently there is a very large smoking condo that used to be the home of the original owners of the resort. The condo is open to certain show attendants to use to smoke during the duration of the weekend. It supposedly had balconies and two floors. It sounded fantastic! Kevin walked over to scout it out and thought it would work well. We then took Steve over to see it and get his opinion on whether it would work for the shoot or not.

It was like walking back into the 1970’s/80’s. Nothing had been updated but you could tell that it had been opulent for the time. It had great space, rooms and balconies and Steve agreed that it would work wonderfully.

At 3:30 we were slated to be at the annual United Pipe Clubs of America meeting (UPCA) as Brian and Kevin were going to be recognized. This was a board meeting of different representatives of different pipe clubs around the U.S. Kevin and Brian both received honorary lifetime memberships to the UPCA for their work in helping to expand and grow the pipe hobby.

Brian Levine (R) receives his certificate from Mike Garr, President of the UPCA

Kevin Godbee (R) receives his certificate from Mike Garr, President of the UPCA

That out of the way, it was time to head back to the room so that Kevin could rehearse a bit for this presentation that evening. He was to speak at 9:00pm about Pipes Magazine: how it came about and flourished into what it is today while maintaining its mission to help to expand and grow the pipe hobby. Besides a bit of tweaking it was the same presentation he gave in Seattle.

Annually on Friday night, the Pipe Club hosts a very large buffet dinner for all in attendance. This is quite a feat and I can’t imagine the expense, since they do not charge for it. It was in a huge banquet hall with around 200 people. The food was very good but we had to eat fast so we could get all the equipment set up for Kevin’s presentation.

Panorama of Friday Night Buffet (Click for large version.)

Kevin had a very nice group of people in attendance at his presentation. It went very well and at the end he had many people come up and speak with and take pictures with him. (My boyfriend, the pipe world celebrity.)

Chatting with PipesMagazine.com Forum Members After the Presentation
(From Left to Right: SamCoffeeman, Shaintiques, Kevin, and Dino)

What a busy day! Finally to the pipe tent for the actual first time that we were able to sit down, relax and smoke a pipe. However, when we got there, it was so crowded and there were no seats available at the time. We decided to go back to the room and rest up for the big show on Saturday.

The big day had finally arrived. When we entered the exhibition hall around 10:30 it was quite busy. The hall was massive and they definitely filled it with as many exhibition tables as possible, a little over 300, I believe. I have been to many conventions before that were similar so it wasn’t as overwhelming as I expected, but from the standpoint that it was all about pipes and tobacco, it was incredibly impressive!

As we started looking at pipes, I started noticing that I had a preference for certain pipe shapes. And then, I started eyeing them and picking them up. All of the sudden the pipes started to become like a piece of artwork to me. That was when I fell in love with a GBD Briar Wood ¼ bent Prince with a gorgeous honey colored acrylic stem. It all went downhill from there.

Lori Brown (The Author) & Kevin Godbee Standing by the Iconic Giant Nording Pipe Display

After breaking for lunch we went back to the expo hall and continued around to the different vendors. I was on a bit of a buying spree, and having a hard time controlling myself, so around 2:00 we decided to call it a day. I even had to buy a pipe bag to hold my newly acquired works of art. I bought a gorgeous leather bag that would hold seven pipes. I had brought two with me from home and by the time we finished up on Saturday, I had filled the bag with five more pipes. We decided to go to the smoking tent and maybe finally have a relaxing sit down smoke. Ironic that we had been there since Thursday and had not smoked a pipe as of yet, but every other time we were there, there was no place to sit even though the tent is a huge 6,000 square feet. (Kevin said it seemed like there were less "living room" spaces set up with couches, chairs and coffee tables than in the past.) This time the tent was only about half full and we were able to kick back and enjoy a smoke on one of the couches. Brian joined us and I chose to smoke my newly acquired GBD pipe.

Brian Levine, Lori Brown, & Kevin Godbee

Saturday evening we attended the annual cigar dinner. Brian was to receive the distinguished Doctor of Pipes award for the Business side of the pipe world. The room was beautiful and we were served an amazing Filet Mignon dinner. Dennis Congers first received the Doctor of Pipes award for the hobby side and then it was Brian’s turn in the spotlight. He was his ever-witty self and had everyone laughing during his acceptance speech. They almost had to play music to end his speech. Mike and Mary McNiel were also presented an award for winning the Chicago Bowl Tobacco Contest with their Virginia No. 27.

After dinner, we went back to the smoking tent and amazingly got seats on the couch. After a short time, feeling completely exhausted, I left Brian and Kevin to smoke and catch up and I retired to the room.

Saturday Cigar Dinner and Awards Ceremony

All former Dr. of Pipes recipients attend. Mike McNiel wearing his Dr. of Pipes Medal.

Mary & Mike McNiel Receive the Award for winning the Chicago Bowl Tobacco Contest 2015 with McClelland Virginia No. 27. Craig Cobine, Show Director presents the award.

Mike Reschke (L) presents the Doctor of Pipes Award to Dennis Congers

Brian Levine (L) Receives his Doctor of Pipes Award from Mike Reschke

Sunday morning we set out with a purpose. Besides the slow smoke contest, which was to start at 1:00, I wanted to buy a good lighter and a nice tamper. And we had not yet acquired any tobacco samples yet. I tried very hard to resist buying any more pipes, but to no avail. I was really enjoying shopping at the estate pipe tables. In fact, we were getting ready to head to lunch when Kevin saw someone he needed to speak briefly with. He may have been gone ten minutes and when he returned to me, I had purchased two more pipes. I was out of control. He had to get me out of there. In case you were wondering, we did manage to find a great refillable lighter for very inexpensive ($3), so I bought three of them.

At lunch I told Kevin that after the slow smoke contest, I wanted to go back and get more of the lighters. They were such a great deal!

At 12:45 we headed to the tent for the slow smoke contest. I really only entered because it was fun and because of the gorgeous, artisan Luigi Viprati pipe that came with the $50 entry fee. It was worth way more than that! I joked that I probably would not be able to even get my pipe lit with the two matches that are provided.

There was already a line and they finally let everyone in at about 12:55. There was a record turnout of over 100 people. Once everyone had chosen a seat, they proceeded to go over all of the rules.

They take this really seriously. Everyone smokes the same pipe and tobacco (this year it was the Seattle Pipe Club’s Deception Pass), gets the same measured amount of tobacco (3-grams), only two matches, one sheet of paper to gather the tobacco together for packing, five minutes to pack your pipe and one minute to light it. Once your pipe is lit, you can only tamp it when it is in your mouth or you are out of the contest. Every table had a moderator, as well. If you can manage to keep your pipe lit for ten minutes, then you win a bottle of water.

There was a huge projection screen at the front. They first had it set to countdown from five minutes. They handed out the tobacco and started the clock. I had no idea what I was doing. Kevin had briefed me a bit, so I just looked at what everyone else was doing. I crushed the tobacco, gathered it into the half fold of the paper and packed my pipe like a novice. When the five minutes was up, everyone had to stop.

Next the two matches were passed out, the clock set for one minute and the contest began. By some small miracle, I managed to light my pipe with the first match. I could not believe it! I thought for sure I was going to win the first out trophy and jar full of matches.

Well, after ten minutes, I was awarded my bottle of water. I have no idea how I managed to still be there except that I was somehow figuring out how to keep it lit by my method of tamping. At the twenty-six minute mark, I could tell right away, my pipe was going out and I had lost control. But hey, I was pretty darn proud that I made it that long. I had no idea what a fun experience the contest would be. I loved it!!

Kevin went out around thirty minutes. The winner was Lev Vasilyev at 1 hour and 32 minutes. 2nd and 3rd, respectively – Steven van Puyvelde, 1 hr 30 mins, and Mike Garr, 1 hr 15 mins. Here is the complete list of times in a PDF, which was provided by The UPCA.

The Demographics of Pipe Shows Have Evolved in the last Few Years. Amanda Hall & Scott Byers wait in line for entry to the Slow Smoke Contest. Amanda did an excellent time of 51 minutes, 52 seconds, and Scott went 1 hour, 7 minutes, 19 seconds. Wow!

The Winner of the Slow Smoke, Lev Vasilyev at 1 hour and 32 minutes is awarded his trophy by David Bull of The UPCA.
(Photo courtesy of UPCA.)

We were going to go to the expo and then come back for the awards, but we were exhausted. We went to the expo and I went back to the table with the lighters. I offered the guy $40 for a case of 24 lighters. Ha! What was I thinking? What am I really going to do with 24 refillable lighters? I am just a sucker for a good deal… Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas?

That night we had dinner reservations at Harvest Restaurant at the resort. Thank goodness, because I was getting a bit tired of Louisiana style food. Brian was joining us but we decided to go early to relax and have a drink at the bar before our reservation. We ran into our friends, Greta and Zack Hamric. Zack is a local pipe maker in Sarasota, FL.

Greta & Zack Hamric, Lori Brown & Kevin Godbee

We had a wonderful dinner with Brian. It was very nice to finally feel relaxed. Most people left that night so the resort had quieted down quite a bit. I brought all of my new pipes to show Brian. I felt kind of silly, because I am so new at this, having Brian look at them all, but Kevin said he would love it. And he did.

So all in all, it was a marvelous experience! I was really shocked at how much fun I had, when before I was dreading the trip. In case you were wondering, I left the show with twelve new pipes: 1 unsmoked Peterson, 1 Gefapir, 1 Comoy, 1 Lorenzo, 1 Hilson, 1 Luigi Viprati and 5 GBD’s (one of them unsmoked, which Brian said was a great buy and I should save it as a collectable). I believe I am now officially a pipe collector!

The Show is Over

Back at Home with My Newly Acquired Pipe Rack

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15 Responses

  • Fantastic write up and pics! I’ve selected one sentence for scrutiny later on the forums, which could be fun.
    I hope you used Kevin’s credit card!

  • It was my first Chicago show, too. It was great to meet you and Kevin at the PM get-together on Saturday.

  • Another very well written article! I think the highest compliment I can give a writer is that my mind didn’t wander once while reading!

  • Thanks for an excellent write-up and all the pix. I really enjoyed the read, and I appreciate the effort you put into organizing the sequence of events. I felt like I was there too! …but twelve pipes? Really? I hope you find a nice pipe rack soon.

  • Thanks everyone for all the wonderful compliments! It was really fun to write! And Cortez, I did buy a pipe rack that holds them all. I am sending the picture to Kevin so he can post it.

  • I added in the new pipe rack at the very bottom. It looks great in the china hutch, and is safely out of the sun.

  • What a terrific article! Brava!
    I really enjoyed meeting you and Kevin at the Show.
    By the way, as soon as you got your second pipe, you became a collector. Welcome to the club.

  • Another great job, Lori. I love your reports because they are so interesting, clear and straightforward, and you always include wonderful photographs. It was fantastic to meet you, though, like you, I wish we all had had more time for everything. You are Kevin are becoming an invaluable team to the pipe hobby. My only regret at this year’s show was that Kevin’s talk and Rob Cooper’s talk were scheduled at the same time, and I was with two young pipe enthusiasts from Europe and I had promised Rob that we would attend his talk — addressed to young pipe smokers. I really wanted to hear Kevin’s talk and heard nothing but great reports afterward.

  • Thank you Rick and Dino! It was a pleasure meeting you both. So glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Good on you, Lori. It sounds like to you got a great deal out of your trip, and it was a pleasure to share the experience through your report.
    (The case of lighters might possibly indicate that you need counseling of some sort, though.)