The Music in Me – and in our Bookstore

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Swann2For all the musical events we hold here in our bookstore and the larger community, I had no interest in music until I was around 14 or 15. On what I seem to remember was the last family vacation, to Morecambe in Lancashire, I went to the fairground where they played music over speakers around the site.

That’s where I first heard Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and my life was forever changed.

From Holly, I became besotted with jazz – everything from New Orleans style to Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan. That led to skiffle, epitomized by Lonny Donegan who influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to the Rolling Stones.

From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to the discovery of my own indigenous traditional music in Scotland: ballads, folk songs and, somewhat later, the reels, jigs and strathspeys.

A dear old friend (hat tip to Davy Lockhart) once said that joining the music group ‘Heritage’ saved his sanity and his life. He and I played in that band throughout the ’80s and ’90s (with some modicum of professional success, I might add) and when I look back I can see what he meant. For the 25 years that I was a professor in my hometown college, music  provided a ‘bolt hole’, a place apart, something completely different. A “third space,” if you will.

Music has taken me to strange and exotic places I’d never have had any reason to visit otherwise, and introduced me to a history and political geography I’d never have known. I experienced wonderful food and made many good friends all over the world.

And it brought me to America, where I met Wendy and began a whole new life.

Here I sit, in Big Stone Gap, still immersed in music – helping to organize an annual festival, presenting a weekly radio show, running a bookstore that holds regular ‘house-concerts’ and still teaching and performing.

I continue to be amazed that a few musical notes, a bunch of wood and strings and a couple of vibrating vocal chords could have so shaped my life!

For some of Jack’s musical insights and to hear him in company with Dolly Parton, Pete Seeger and Doc Watson among others, pick up a copy of ‘Wayfaring Strangers’ (book and CD) from UNC Press.

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