Tag Archives: music

Keeping on Keeping on

Jack’s guest post sneaks under the wire again –

What a week!

We just finished our annual Celtic festival which, while it’s a lot of fun and was very successful, is very tiring and draining. But Wendy had an away from home rural health conference immediately afterwards and I had the post-festival tidying and financial stuff to deal with.

Wendy got back last night and sets off for her own annual GMEC conference tomorrow and is away until Sunday.

Tomorrow evening the wonderful Scottish harper Billy Jackson (who headlined our festival) will be back for an overnight stay before we both head to the Lincoln theater in Marion for a concert on Friday night.

On Saturday night, a bunch of volunteers are coming to the bookstore for a get-together ahead of the November elections.

Meanwhile we have a menagerie of seven foster kittens plus our own three cats who all have various levels of need.

Alongside all that of course we also had –

  • Beautiful weather for the festival
  • Marvelous music from good friends
  • Wendy got a nice hotel with a tub in the bathroom
  • The kittens are delightful (and exasperating)
  • The weather forecast for Wendy’s conference is excellent

But, perhaps next week we’ll be able to draw breath!

Just before I got ready to post this I put a load into the washing machine and now it’s making beeping noises – – –

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Mony a Mickle maks a Muckle

Jack’s Wednesday Blog – yes – I know!

I’m one of those crazy folks who can’t stop getting involved with folk festivals and folk clubs. I’ve been doing it most of my life so I should have known better by now!

Every time I say ‘never again’ but then ‘again’ comes around and in I dive. I suck in unsuspecting and/or long-suffering friends and even complete strangers.

Right now, we’re 10 days away from the 11th Big Stone Celtic which is our local celebration of the culture of the seven (or maybe eight or nine) connected Nations that have links to this part of the new world. This is the time just before any of these kinds of events when anything that might go wrong is very likely to. It might be overlooked essential details, a last-minute performer cancellation, the complications of expanded offerings or just the everyday pressures of all the other life events that surround us.

Big Stone Celtic is quite unusual for a folk festival this side of the pond. It’s modeled on traditional music events in Ireland and Scotland that take place in small towns and villages using every space available. Here in the US they usually take place in parks outside of towns. Apart from a Friday evening concert in the local community college on the outskirts our festival uses all the nooks and crannies we can find for free in downtown all-day Saturday.

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Lest this sound like a ‘one-man-band’ I should also say that despite all the pressure (and maybe why I keep repeating the torture) it only ever works if there’s a team involved. Some have been in it from the very start and others have joined or left the gang as their other commitments allowed. We have a very strong and hard working group of folk right now, though and seem to have

Wendy and I started this off 11 years ago with a very tentative Saturday afternoon thing in a small local downtown park with no idea whether there would be any interest. Because all the venues are public spaces it isn’t possible to charge entry so we are completely dependent on donations and sponsorship which I’m delighted to say has increased year on year. Our biggest sponsor is the local arts organization ProArt and for the last five years they have enabled Friday concert as well as much of the Saturday music. We have reached the level now when we feature a world class performer each year. Past festivals have featured Barbara Dickson, Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante, Ocean Orchestra, Iona, John Skelton etc.

It’s not all music, though – we go to great lengths to identify all the Celtic Nations (including Appalachia) through food, costume, crafts and all kinds of athletic activities – even sheepdogs!

Anything I might have missed in this blatant commercial can be found here – http://www.bigstoneceltic.com

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

On the Road Again – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is on Thursday again – yawn – – –

One of the highlights of the tour I organize on odd-numbered years is the visit to Ballyeman Barn in Beautiful Antrim and the home of our old friend Liz Weir. Despite the fact that she’d only just returned from the US the day before we arrived, she was the perfect host as usual.

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Liz always cooks us a superb dinner before opening up the room for an old fashioned ceilidh with stories, songs and music. She always invites some of her local friends to join us and the entertainment and ‘craic’ is mighty (as they say in Ireland).

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What I wasn’t prepared for this time was the arrival of an old colleague from my teaching career in Dunfermline. I vaguely knew that John O’Connor was Irish but I didn’t know that he was from Cushendall and that he’d returned there when he retired. Just down the road from Liz’s place.

liz 4

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Jesus on the Main Line

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is actually on a Wednesday for a change –

Being an old curmudgeon and resistant to change I’ve always been averse to cell-phones. When I retired from my college job I went work as a ‘consultant’ for the Scottish Qualifications Authority and my boss, Paul, was way ahead of his time with these gadgets. He liked to be able to contact his team any time, day or night. Wendy and I had a pre-paid basic cell-phone each that we only ever used in dire emergencies and we swapped them back and forth. Paul would often phone me and usually got Wendy, who he then berated at length for not being me!

Much later when Wendy started working with the college she was supplied with a sophisticated I-Phone. Over time she has had hers replaced regularly with more and more up-to-date models that do everything except cook for you. On many shared car journeys she has handed it to me and asked me to talk to people or text them or check the route or the weather ahead. I have hated doing that as I have no idea how these things work and my fingers always hit the wrong letters or the wrong icon. She tries to talk me through it, but things like “Look for the little green phone” don’t bode well for a marriage when spoken while careening down the motorway at 70+ miles per hour.

But she now has one that seems much more forgiving – either that or I’m getting better. It’s not unlike guitar chords, really, when one thinks about it… Wendy says her directions have gotten better, but I’m going with my fumble fingers figuring things out.

Which has finally led me to agree to have one of my own again. I’ve been given a present of a redundant I-Phone 6  and all I have to do is choose a carrier and a contract.

Once again I’m clueless. Growing up in Scotland there was just one phone company and you paid whatever everyone else paid. Now I’m trying desperately to understand who gets the best coverage, the best data rates, text versus voice – and on, and on. It’s a minefield!

But I’m determined now and I will get there with the help of ‘Our Good Chef Kelley up the stairs’ (our tech savvy cafe manager), and ‘Mark along the road’ (our computer expert).

If they don’t get me there I could always try the main line, as the old song says—

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

The Farmer Feeds us All

The Monday book (on Tuesday) isn’t a book – it’s a recording – –

Jack is standing in for Wendy as she is ‘on the road’.

Into the Purple Valley – Ry Cooder

I got this back in the early 1970s when it first appeared as an LP and was completely blown away. We all have certain albums that constitute ‘milestones’ in our musical lives and this is definitely one of mine. I had never heard of Ry Cooder until a friend who already had this played it for me. I immediately got a copy of my own, I still have it and I still listen to it from time to time. But nothing can re-capture hearing it for the first time.

purple valley

The singing has a world-weary quality that perfectly suits the songs and the choice of songs conjures up rural America dealing with hard times. They come from a wide variety of sources ranging from Woody Guthrie to Leadbelly and Joseph Spence and all have been performed and recorded by lots of other people.  However, Ry Cooder through this wonderful album established ‘ownership’ of all these songs.

In the end, though it’s not the singing that makes this such a stand-out – it’s the arrangements and Cooder’s fabulous guitar playing.

My favorite tracks are Vigilante Man, The Farmer Feeds us All and Denomination Blues, but that’s just me – there’s not a dud on here!

Of course other albums followed this and there are great performances from concerts and TV shows on YouTube, but this was the beginning.

To get the full experience you should search out the original LP in good condition but failing that it’s been re-issued as a CD.

(Wendy will be surprised at my choice as the next Ry Cooder album after this has an Airstream on the cover!).

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Filed under between books, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, small town USA, Uncategorized

Let the Music Flow

We always enjoy emceeing the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, but this year the job had two big bonuses.

First, a combination of thoughtful performer choices, near-perfect weather, and on-the-day professionalism has made this year musically superior to others. Sigean, Maidens IV, Night Crossing, and the debut of the charismatic and very silly Kryss Dula and Taylor Morefield, along with whistle player Martha Egan, the Irish Skye Dancers and Sandra Parker on Celtic harp, has given the year a more acoustic and genteel flavor.

I wouldn’t say gentle, because there’s been plenty of hard-driving fiddle and a high energy bodhran or two, but the overall ethos has been people drawn together by the quality of the music rather than showmanship. This year has also lacked who’s-on-first band crap. That’s been very pleasant.

During his set Kryss spoke to the festival’s theme, Scottish Independence (election Sept. 18) and talked about the “civility of political discourse” he’d been watching when reporters asked people on the street whether they’d be voting for or against–and why. “We should have that kind of unscripted, friendly dialogue in America,” he says. “We’re all one people. We should talk to each other.”

It was that kind of call for community all day at the festival, and it was really answered. Audiences sang in harmony, clapped to rhythms, and helped get the tent sides back up quickly when a peal of thunder threatened our little corner of paradise with rain in the sound equipment.

A day of dwelling in harmony, indeed.

And then, last night at the concert, as the sun went down and we watched a thunderstorm pass us by the west, a bright yellow full moon began to rise above those storm clouds. Full moons have traditionally been thought to excite, but people listening to Night Crossing’s lovely vocals and smooth blend of whistle, fiddle, bodhran and guitar were wandering out of the tent with little smiles on their faces, some clutching a partner’s hand, to watch as peeking became rising became shining. Mare’s tail clouds wisped over its bright-pale surface as Denise, their lead vocalist, sang a haunting Irish lament.

In short, it was pretty near perfect.

moonriseSouls that need soothing enjoy music. Souls that are celebrating enjoy music. And a warm night with just enough breeze to make it comfortable, listening to performers who are contributing together to a successful community event–well, throw a beautiful moonrise on top of that, and we all went home happy.

If you missed yesterday but live near Elizabethton, Tennessee, you can still make today’s musical moments. The festival runs 10:30-5. And if you can’t make it here, don’t forget that Big Stone Celtic is Friday night Sept. 26 and all day Saturday Sept. 27.

And as I look forward to these days, I will treasure yesterday, Sept. 6, like a shining moon on a calming sea.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch