Tag Archives: Big Stone Celtic

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

Haste Ye Back!

As the year rolls around we have personal ‘seasons’. For me that includes ‘Festival Prep Season’ when I spend a month or so going around with little post-it-notes on every surface of the bookstore plus virtual ones in my head, all for the sake of Big Stone Celtic, our annual celebration of all things Celtic.

Now in its sixth year BSC, as it’s affectionately known, aims to make the connection between the ‘Scotch-Irish’ of Appalachia and their Celtic forbears. It’s unusual for two big reasons: modeled on traditional music festivals in Scotland, Ireland and Brittany it takes place downtown, using a variety of venues all within 5 minutes’ walk of each other; and it incorporates music, song, stories, workshops, dance, games and food to reflect the culture of all 7 Celtic Nations – Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, The Isle of Man, Cornwall and Galicia.

This year we are introducing an evening concert on Friday Sept. 27 up at Mountain Empire Community College, and then a full day of events on Saturday Sept. 28. Saturday kicks off as usual with a 26 mile bike race (The Tour de Crackers Neck). There are five music venues (up from three last year!):  The June Tolliver Theater, The Farmers’ Market, The Presbyterian Church, The Mining Museum and The Fox House.

Coinciding with the bike race is a gentler ‘fun bike’ for kids around the town Greenbelt, following the two rivers and meandering past the faces carved into the trees at our local campground. Workshops will be in our bookstore and samples of Celtic food (including Haggis, Cornish Pasties and Irish Potato Pie) will be served at the Presbyterian Church hall.

As if that wasn’t enough the library will also be hosting children’s activities throughout the afternoon, as will Miner’s Park; the ones at the park involve tossing lightweight cabers and getting dirty; the ones at the library involve crayons and music.

Everything is free except the food at the church hall, which is our festival’s biggest fundraiser; food is $5 per plate. Outside this, we are dependent on donations to pay for everything and are especially grateful to the many businesses and individuals who have donated once again this year, economic up-down swings and all.

All the flags in one!

All the flags in one!

The latest iteration of our schedule is up on the festival website but continues to be subject to revision – www.bigstoneceltic.com

Our main guest this year is Iona, a wonderful and very authentic group who play music from all the Celtic Nations. (And we are very grateful that a regional arts organization, PRO ART, has sponsored them!) As usual they will be supported by a wide range of other artists, including our ‘house-band’ Sigean and Doug Bischoff (of former Coyote Run fame). Doug’s wife Heather will be giving a workshop on creative writing.

Finally – not many people get the joke in the festival’s name. Most of the Celtic lands have ancient stone circles or individual ‘standing stones’ dotted around the countryside – big stones!

Y’all come. It’s going to be grand!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Could Haggis Be the New Hot Dog?

(In the aftermath of Big Stone Celtic, Andrew Whalen guest blogs, as Wendy and Jack lie in darkened rooms with cold cloths on their foreheads. Thanks, Andrew!)

 

Saturday past was the Big Stone Celtic Festival. I loped around with a can of dandelion & burdock, watched people try on druidic-looking cloaks, learned that a bombard was more than just something the Air Force does, and tried a wee bit of haggis dabbed on a slice of bread. And while I have loads of nice things to say about all the performers (no one tells stories quite like John Skelton… or laughs at stories quite like Tim Smith, whose Theremin I never had the opportunity to hear) I really want to talk about the haggis.

I was aware of haggis, but like most Americans I only knew it as a disgusting dish that Scottish people inexplicably pretend to enjoy. It’s made up of sheep “pluck” (organs) leavened a bit with oatmeal, onions and other spices. This is all stuffed into a sausage casing to the approximate plumpness of a grapefruit. It also comes in cans, leaving the market wide open for someone to make the first haggis pudding cups. It’s one of those dishes that inspires an entire culture of serious and silly events, like Burns Supper, haggis hurling, and haggis eating records.

Haggis tastes like polyps of large-grained brown rice held together by a savory paste. It has a similar richness to bone marrow, but less gloopy yolkiness. The brown mash that glues together the oats would probably be revolting alone, like licking a spoon of sludge. It has that umami ability to coat the tongue, leaving you feeling like your food is a lingering mouth guest. But with the oatmeal (and, if that’s not enough, whisky sauce or mashed potatoes) it becomes something rich in texture and taste.

It’s a best-in-small-doses kind of food, which makes me wonder why they only sell it in heavy softball-sized lumps. Why can’t I get this instead of a hot dog?  Where are all the food innovators? Surely the inventor of the corn dog or the White Castle scientist who thought up chicken rings could do something amazing with haggis. Or are you going to make me wait? I can see it now. The year: 2047.  Astonishing new technology has discovered a way to encase haggis into a more palatable shape. Served on a bun with some ketchup, it’s now the most popular snack at the mecha-laserball moon arena. Can’t capitalism make this happen any sooner?

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA

OK, Last Time~

Today is the Big Stone Celtic Festival, when men in kilts take over the town and the sound of bagpipes echoes across the valley–and echoes, and echoes, and echoes…..
So all the prospective bloggers are busy today, and those of us left alive tomorrow will be in touch about how it all went. Meanwhile, please enter the last Caption Contest sponsored by St. Martin’s Press. This is the photo, and you can leave your entry in the Comments Section here, or back at Sept. 10, the first time the picture was put up. And we’ll catch up with you after the festival–once we’ve cleaned up after the sheep and horses….

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, small town USA

How Did it Get this Messy??!!

Our bookshop is a tip. (That’s Scottish for a garbage dump.) I was touring Andrew, our shopsitter for Sept. 20-Nov. 20, around the place. He arrived yesterday, and as I showed him from room to room, shelf to shelf, I realized Jack and I have been a little busy with other things lately, and the shop has… um…

Well, it’s not COMPLETELY our fault, you understand; the books themselves are not helping. Sure, they like to visit other places–the science fiction volumes sneak off at night to visit Christian romances and Patricia Cornwell, as I said before. That’s fine; their private lives are their own, but we really do need them to get back to their own shelves before dawn, and they’re not complying.

Plus, how did the Nature and Travel books all get piled in a jumble below Comparative Religion, since when is Homeschooling in the History section, and why oh why is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Cookery?!

Time for a tuck and tidy, as soon as the Celtic Festival is over. Between now and Saturday life is rather like bull-riding; just concentrate on getting through it without being trampled. Come Sunday, there’s gonna be some serious order imposed on this place. You hear that, you Westerns hanging out with the Harlequins? Don’t think I don’t see you there, or know what you’re up to: makin’ little short stories set in Texas. Well enough of that; we can’t find shelf space for what we’ve got!

Although, come to think of it, if we put the Westerns with the Paranormal Romances for awhile, what do you think that would do to the werewolf phenomenon? Would a new breed of cattle ranchers emerge, ones who can REALLY keep the wolves at bay and pack the women in? Or would the vampires just drain the herd? Hmmm…

Don’t forget that Caption Contest VII closes this Monday! Scroll back to Sept. 10–or was it 12, anyway back a week or so–and put your entry in Comments. And if you’re in the vicinity, Big Stone Celtic is Saturday Sept. 22 in downtown Big Stone Gap, VA!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA

A Steady(ing) Weight of Book Boxes

Boxes…. book boxes. They’re everywhere, coming in droves, full of hardback fiction, old textbooks, and occasional gems like the latest bestseller or an obscure Carlos Castaneda title. Jack reckons we’ve had 22 boxes of trade-ins come through in the last week alone.

These coincide with what might be the busiest two weeks of our lives. Big Stone Celtic Festival is Sept. 22. My book launches Oct. 2. I’m complaining about NOTHING, mind; The Celtic Festival is fun, and good for the town. My book is fun, and I’m so happy people are liking it, and it’s getting good publicity. (The Book News page has links.)

Through all the hoopla and the final arrangements of where to put the Shetland ponies (on the park lawn) and where to park the British Cars (outside the schoolhouse museum) and when the latest newspaper or radio spot runs for Little Bookstore (I don’t know) those boxes of books trudge like determined soldiers, reminding us that underneath everything else, our bookstore needs to keep running. Or limping, at least.

Between sheepdog trial planning and radio spots, the book boxes stack and empty as Jack and I try to keep the shop floor clear. That anchoring weight of books–solid, steady books–anchors us. Publicity is a wild ride. Running a festival is a wild ride. Books can certainly be wild rides when read, but triaging them for trade-in is a more staid activity. It’s like intellectual solitaire: categorize, value, stack, shelve. Repeat.

That repetitive motion of getting those volumes into places where customers can find them, buy them, read them, enjoy them, is the heartbeat that underpins everything else. We remember this, come happiness or high water, and we are grateful for that steady, weighted pulse, steadying us in the sturm and drang. Because when the festival is over, the hoopla past, and the publicity gone, it will be the two of us, and the book boxes.

What was it Thomas Hardy said? “And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be—and whenever I look up, there will be you.” The wild ride is fun, but it’s a ride. When it’s finished, more book boxes will arrive, and we will sort them, Jack and I. Then we will sit together amid our bookshop’s tightly-packed shelves with a sigh of contentment and a cat on each knee–ready to do the same again tomorrow.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA