Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

The State we’re (not quite) in.

Jack’s guest blog post is a little late this week –

In the middle of all the hoo-ha in NC just now with big music stars cancelling appearances in protest against the so-called religious freedom legislation, I noticed an appeal by Malaprops bookstore. An author scheduled to do a signing had cancelled and they argued that he should have come and shown solidarity with a business that opposed the new law.

I suppose because it is one of our favorite bookstores (and Wendy has done a signing there herself) it made me pay a bit more attention to the question.

Of course this has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with blind prejudice.

It’s ironic that many of the early European settlers braved a dangerous journey across the Atlantic in small sailing ships in order to escape prejudice. Over time, of course, it would be their descendants who would revert to putting up the shutters against Irish, Italians, Japanese, Jews, Mexicans, Hispanics etc., etc. You don’t have to dig too far into that list to see religious overtones either.

The worst example, and its legacy is still with us, is color prejudice – something so deeply rooted that I fear it will take many generations to completely die out.

A further irony is that one of the things that makes the United States distinctive in the world is its culture – the art, music, dance and storytelling traditions that mix and blend threads from all the individual cultures of the incomers along with the Native Americans who were already here.

It’s the artists who are in the vanguard of this latest battle and I salute their integrity in the face of this degrading, politically populist and downright rabble-rousing move. Wendy and I love Asheville and visit the city frequently to enjoy its cafes, shops and very European atmosphere. It’s very hard to believe what’s going on in the state as you wander through its downtown mingling with the street musicians, mime artists, dog walkers et al.

And, what of Malaprops’ cancelled signing? For what it’s worth I think that got more attention than a few words on the day would have.

 

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To Caffeine or not to Caffeine? That is the question.

bean memeSo most of you know I turned in the manuscript to Fall or Fly, my journalism-storytelling book about foster care in the Coalfields, and then got sick. For a week I was down, during which I basically didn’t eat or drink much.

Two weeks later, down I went again with something viral. With the end result that no coffee has been in my body for almost a month. Nor iced tea, nor hot tea, nor other caffeinated beverages.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been monitoring how that changes anything – do I sleep better (possibly, jury is still out) feel better (the same) see any other advantages (I get out of bed ready to go as opposed to needing 30 minutes with the mug) or disadvantages (there really isn’t anything to order at a hotel for breakfast except expensive “juices” that don’t taste like real juice).

So, those of you who have kicked the habit, or who haven’t, any words of wisdom? Booksellers who don’t drink coffee are not unheard of. Booksellers who don’t drink coffee OR hot tea (Earl Gray, hot) are a bit more unusual. What will I drink at the salons? What about when out with girlfriend booksellers? Or just girlfriend posse members? There’s a whole social aspect to coffee, as there is with cigarettes. Will I miss the rituals? Will I miss the camaraderie?

Send thoughts. Send chocolate (I do still partake of that caffeine source). And thanks!

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Moind me Harp

It’s the morning after the night before – some footage of what we were up to:

In which Jack demonstrates how not to dance!

Here’s our intrepid band ‘Sigean’ and our long suffering dance leader Cynthia West.

Nine years ago we started our annual St Pat’s community ceilidh dance here in the bookstore, but it soon outgrew the available space. Up stepped our good friends at the next door Presbyterian Church who kindly offered their fellowship hall, so that’s where it’s been ever since. Sigean have provided the music at every one of them and Cynthia West and her country dancers have kept a straight face as we did our best to follow their dance instruction.

Slainte Mhath – –

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Kiss me – I’m Irish (kinda!)

In his weekly guest post Jack reflects on his Irish connections

Since I have a fairly distinctive Scots accent it’s not unusual for folk to come into the shop and ask if I’m Irish – go figger. begorrah and jings !

But, actually, I don’t particularly mind as the Celts tend to hang together and I have cousins who were born and live in Ireland so that’s OK. Of course it’s also the time of year when we are approaching St Patrick’s Day so everything is turning green and even Big Stone Gap will have its annual St Pat’s ceilidh dance this Friday. That’s something Wendy and I are involved in organizing since it actually started out in the bookstore. As the space available to dance got smaller we eventually moved a block up the street to a local Church hall and, with the help of our good friends in the Celtic band ‘Sigean’ as well as dance leader Cynthia a goodly crowd have a great time.

However, this year the Irish season gets extended a bit as it’s the Centenary of the 1916 ‘Easter Rising’ – the failed rebellion against British rule which resulted in the shooting by firing squad of the seven leaders but also led eventually to Ireland’s independence.

Even here there is a Scottish connection, as one of the seven executed was James Connolly who was born in Edinburgh. Poor James was badly wounded in the battle, which centered on the General Post Office in Dublin. Not expected to live anyway, he was nevertheless tied to a chair and shot for treason.

Of course it’s hardly surprising that there should be interest in things Irish in this part of the US. We’re very close here to where Danial Boone’s wilderness trail branched off westward from the great wagon trail which brought the ‘Scotch-Irish’ settlers down from Philadelphia. Some continued further South, some headed West into Kentucky, but a great many just stayed hereabouts. They brought their thrawn Presbyterian attitudes with them and being a thrawn Presbyterian myself I find that I fit in real well here!

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If you’re within traveling distance our ceilidh dance starts at 7 pm and is in the Big Stone Gap Presbyterian Church hall just one block up from the bookstore. You aren’t required to dance – you can just come and enjoy the music.

 

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You’ll tak the high road – –

Jack’s weekly guest post – –

A question I’m frequently asked since I moved permanently to the US is whether I miss my native Scotland. The strange thing is that I have probably seen more of my homeland since emigrating than I did before leaving. That may seem odd, but it’s because I’ve been running an annual small group tour for the last eight or nine years at the end of June. When I have the great pleasure of showing enthusiastic visitors around then I tend to discover places I just never got around to getting to when I lived there. I also make a point of going a few days before the tour starts to give me the chance to catch up with old pals.

Of course if this was a hundred years ago I would probably not get to go back at all and I think that would be very hard.

Something else that makes an enormous difference is modern technology; the world has become a much smaller place with the advent of computers and the internet. I’m in almost daily contact with friends and family back there, followed the nail-biting news of the referendum on independence and continue to soak up the ongoing political aftermath.

Another constant reminder of where I come from is the repertoire of songs and stories I’ve gathered over many years and whenever I sing anywhere I feel myself transported back to Scotland. It’s very rare on these occasions not to have lots of questions from folk afterwards and that’s always a good opportunity to point out the aspects of Scotland that folk over here tend to forget – the inventors, scientists and philosophers. It’s not all castles, tartan, bagpipes, golf and whisky (although there’s certainly that too).

One of the dangers that I’m aware of (from observing others that went before) is the temptation to become a caricature ‘Jock’ and adopt a false persona, although I suspect that’s less likely here in Appalachia if only because they’ve had to thole a few professional hillbillies themselves, so I try to be careful.

But I’m looking forward to heading back in June again; to drive past Loch Lomond and through Glencoe on the way to Skye and out to Lewis before heading back to drive round the north coast and over to Orkney. Then to Inverness and via Culloden to Aberdeen, my native county of Fife and finally to Edinburgh. Yes, there will be castles, tartan, bagpipes, golf and whisky – probably haggis as well!

Digital Camera

This not my car!

 

slàinte mhath y’all – – –

 

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The Best Laid Plans – – –

– sometimes go very well indeed

We had our annual Burns Supper on Friday evening, celebrating the life and works of Scotland’s national poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns. Everyone agreed it was one of the best we’d held over the 10 years we’ve been doing it. Well attended, excellent speakers, wonderful food and smoothly flowing throughout.

shuttle pipes

Randy Stanley – our resident piper

memory

Alex Long delivered ‘The Immortal Memory’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lassies

Sandy Huguenin proposed the Toast to the Lassies and Chef Kelley Pearson responded.

songs

Wendy and I sang some Burns songs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

haggis

Chef Kelley excelled with Cock-a-Leekie soup, haggis, tatties n’ neeps and shepherds pie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dessert

The ‘piece de resistance’ – Scottish cheesecake on a shortbread base topped with cranachan and a raspberry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s to next year – y’all come – – –

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

New Tech Tricks for an Old Radio Dog?

In which Jack is pleased with himself for getting his home studio going

I’ve been presenting Celtic music radio shows for more than twenty years now, in Scotland as well as here in the US, but I’ve always had the luxury of someone else handling the technicalities. Back at Heartland FM in Pitlochry in Scotland (of blessed memory) it was the ever-patient Alan Brown who sat across from me, running cassettes and dropping the needle onto LPs.

Yes, it was a long time ago.

Later Alan and I tried to get to grips with those new-fangled CD thingamajigs. That show went out live and was often built around a guest who brought favorite pieces of music. I interviewed them about why they had chosen them while poor Alan cued up tracks and cut over to two mics, all the time knowing that we were going out live!

These shows went out monthly for ten plus years, and wound up being re-aired as part of a weekly series of Celtic music shows on WETS in Johnson City, Tennessee – first with Keltik Korner and then in Music from the Stone Circle. So the shows were recorded (again on to cassette) as they were broadcast and mailed to the States.

Alert readers will have worked out that these were now (at least) second generation cassettes; those were the days, my friends…..

Wendy and I moved to Big Stone Gap following the untimely death of Denise Cozad, who had presented Music from the Stone Circle, so WETS no longer had a ‘home-grown’ Celtic music show. So once the bookstore was up and running (or tilting or walking or crawling, those first years) I emailed Wayne, the station manager, and within a week I was back on air. That was eight years ago and throughout that time I have always had someone else handling the technical stuff – all I ever had to do was talk.

Remember last winter? The one that had us snowed in for two solid weeks, no one driving anywhere?

I began to explore recording my shows completely here at the bookstore instead the three hour round trip and the hassle of pre-recording CD tracks to another CD in preparation. I downloaded Audacity, but being a bit of a technophobe just couldn’t make head or tail of it, going back every few months to work through the instructions but always giving up. Renewed impetus came with the discovery of DropBox and motivation from my pal Fiona, who constructs Thistle and Shamrock on a kitchen table in Scotland. She told me she used Dropbox to upload a complete program to a filing cabinet in the sky!

I now salute the wonders of Google, carefully constructed search terms and Youtube, for their assistance in unlocking the mysteries of Dropbox. Last night I was able to make the break through and do everything that I need to do to finally (I hope) schedule my radio time completely to my choosing! Wendy says I came downstairs on Old Christmas night with my face beaming as if I’d seen the Epiphany!

Maybe not quite that, but I was happy, yes.

PS – Although delighted at my new self-sufficiency, I must give most grateful thanks to the glittering array of true professionals who have sat on the other side of the desk over the years keeping me teched up – Alan Brown, Wayne Bean, Denise Cozad, Nick Roosa, Bob Hoffman and Wayne Winkler.

If you want to hear Celtic Clanjamphry, visit their facebook page for times and playlists.

 

 

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