Category Archives: small town USA

Celtic Connections

Jack’s weekly guest blog ruminates on the connective threads of here, there, then, and now

Now that we’re back from Wisconsin, things are beginning to get busy around here. And they appear to be taking on a British Isles tinge, I might add.

Yesterday I started teaching a series of five weekly classes on Scottish ballads and folk songs at the Higher Ed Center in Abingdon. This is always enjoyable and I’ve been doing it semi-annually for a few years now.

At the same time I am gearing up for the annual small group tour that I conduct around Scotland every year at the end of June. Everything is pretty much in place as I write this. The tour is another ‘labor of love’ – something I enjoy doing that ends up introducing me to a most interesting and diverse group of people. Since I always go over a few days before the tour starts, I get to catch up with friends and family. This year Wendy will finally be joining me after it ends, something we’ve been hoping for since I started this crazy venture eight years ago.

On top of that, as one of the group that organizes Big Stone Celtic (Sept 26 and 27, so mark your calendars!) I’m beginning to put together the program. For the first time we have an internationally famous headliner, Barbara Dickson, making her debut this side of the Atlantic, so I’m in the throes of applying for her work visa – a steep learning curve! Who knew the American government would require so much paperwork?

Just in case that isn’t enough I continue to put together my weekly radio show Celtic Clanjamphry (known affectionately now as ‘ClanJam’). Now in its sixth year (whoda thunk it, as they say in Southwest Virginia) my ongoing quest is to cover as many of the Celtic Nations as possible via music ancient and modern.

And finally, of course there are our regular bookstore events. Irish storyteller (and our good friend) Liz Weir will be the centerpiece of our evening of Irish stories and food tonight. Second Story Cafe owner Kelley is preparing Beef and Guinness pie, Colcannon and Apple Crumble to complete the Irish feast.

Now, the great thing about all these happenings are the connections between them. Liz attended our wedding in Scotland, and she hosts my tour group every second year. Folk who listen to ClanJam come on the tour and folk who have been on the tour drop into the bookstore and come to our events. Others who attend my classes come to the bookstore, listen to the radio show and will be on this year’s tour. Big Stone Celtic fits right into all that and brings hundreds of visitors to our small town every year. It’s a nice circle, on a background of plaid and emerald green!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Wisconsin Teachers Rock!

Jack’s weekly guest blog

I love singing and telling stories in schools, something I haven’t done in a fairly long time. This week Wendy and I are in Appleton, Wisconsin doing school and library appearances as part of The Fox Cities Book Festival.

DSCN0174Back when we lived in Scotland I used to do quite a bit of song-writing sessions with kids in the upper classes of primary schools, and got a tremendous kick out of working with that age group. The equivalent over here is grade 4 or 5 in elementary schools. It’s my favorite age group because they still have enormous curiosity and enthusiasm, and haven’t yet glimpsed the approaching diversions of the teenage years.

During this week we sang songs with them and told stories, and then fielded a host of wildly different questions – “How many cats do you have? Do you wear a skirt in Scotland? Is a loch something you find on a door? Have you seen the Loch Ness Monster? How many books are in your shop? Etc, Etc – - -

It’s become obvious to us why Wisconsin schools have such a high reputation! The ones we visited were bright and cheerful, with enthusiastic and engaged teachers, artwork adorning the walls, kids controlled and respectful while also cheerful and inquisitive.

And yet, this is the state where “collective bargaining” for teachers turned into AWOL senators, people taking the doors off the Capital’s central chambers, and names hurled with more fury than accuracy on all sides. It might puzzle some people why teachers so maligned in those days remain committed to their profession. Seeing them in action this week, we can say without a doubt that their first allegiance is to the children. God Bless the teachers of Wisconsin! (And the rest of the world, come to it.)

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Filed under Hunger Games, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing