Tag Archives: radio

A Notable Occasion!

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post appears on Wednesday again – amazing!
Wendy and I have been so busy with other stuff the last couple of years that we haven’t been running as many events in the bookstore as we used to. But we still do from time to time and usually at the instigation of someone else who just thinks it’s a cool place to stage something.
Which is how we ended up with an amazing and wonderful house-concert on Sunday evening.
But this story really starts about seven years ago when I was contacted by a woman in North Carolina, who’s daughter had just won the junior section of the US Scottish fiddling championships. She asked if I’d like to interview her on my weekly Celtic music radio show – so I did. The daughter, Maura Shawn Scanlin, was fifteen years old and quite shy, until she started playing!
A couple of years later her mother again contacted me as Maura Shawn had now won the senior championship. So, once again she was in the studios of WETS in Johnson City and was now a much more confident young woman. The next thing, she was invited to compete in the Glenfiddich World Championships in Scotland – which she won! Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/YL0GCNsuEJE
Finally, a couple of months ago Maura Shawn, who now lives and studies music in Boston, herself emailed me to say she’d be in the area and would we be able to host a concert in the bookstore. The only problem was that it would have to be on a Sunday, which isn’t a normal day for us to run events. But we decided to take a chance and I also decided to record the concert for a future radio show.
I now record my shows at the home studio of a very expert friend who lives close by, so Dirk was up for giving it a go. Except he was short of some essential mics and stands, which is where another couple of friends, Mark and Alan, stepped in.
Maura Shawn, like most professional musicians can only survive financially by playing in various bands and line-ups and for this she would be half of a duo with a guitarist called Connor Hearn, who I’d never heard or heard of. I was a little nervous but shouldn’t have been! I was also very nervous whether we’d get an audience at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon!!
Maura Connor
I set out fifteen chairs, then added a couple more – and more, as they all started arriving until we were completely full.
The concert was wonderful, with a tremendous rapport between Maura Shawn and Connor, who’s guitar playing was magnificent. Everyone who attended was completely enthralled (including our dog Bert who was surprisingly well behaved). The next day Dirk sent me a recording of one of the music sets and it was also magnificent!
So maybe we should get back to doing more of this sort of thing! It felt very soul-restoring.




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

Here, There and Everywhere

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post is a day late –

I continue to be somewhat amazed at how small the world has become, and it’s not just the number of people from far afield who visit our wee bookstore in rural Appalachia – even this week when it was snowing.

Just yesterday I had an email conversation with a gentleman in Rome, Italy called Massimo. It started first thing in the morning with a request for the words of a song I recorded with my old group Heritage on our second album back in the early 1980s. I was intrigued and in a subsequent message he explained he was a big fan and had spent years collecting all the available recordings that I and the group had made over the years. As of this morning there are two CDs he didn’t know about winging their way to him via the USPS and Poste Italiane!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the presenter of a folk music show that airs on a radio station based in SW Scotland and we have begun to exchange programs. The ones I’m sending him are mostly digitized copies of cassettes that were made of a live show that I did back in the 1990s on a different (and now defunct) station in Scotland. But these cassettes were stored here at WETS which is the station where ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ is based, because back then I sent them over to be re-broadcast here. So a show that originally went out live to rural Perthshire has gone through a series of different technologies, traveled the Atlantic twice and is being heard by listeners of Folk n’ Stuff over the internet in (among other places) Tallahassee where there are, apparently, a loyal group of fans!

Sticking with the radio theme, I had the great pleasure of interviewing a lovely Irishman called Liam at the WETS studios on Monday morning, who is a visiting professor at ETSU just now, and made a good friend in the process. We concentrated on two themes that are part of his research focus and will also be the subjects of presentations he will make here. One was the importance of the culture of small geographical areas and the other was the challenge of Brexit for Ireland (North and South).

On Tuesday Wendy and I had our guest blog post for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum published and that also has a transatlantic theme.


Meanwhile I continue to fine tune the arrangements for my annual small group tour of Scotland at the end of June, which also entails a fair amount of international communication.

It’s all a mad gay whirl I tell you – – –


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

Timing is everything

Jack’s (fairly) regular Wednesday guest post –

On Sunday we had the third Clanjamphry Live concert at the beautiful Lincoln Theater in Marion Virginia. This is a twice a year link-up with my Celtic music radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ and we were delighted that our friends Alan Reid and Rob van Sante were touring over here and available just when we needed them.

The trouble was that we had originally intended to hold the concert on Saturday night but at the last minute the theater had a request from their long established ‘showcase’ – Song of the Mountains – and couldn’t realistically turn them down. In the end we opted to move to Sunday afternoon, but had absolutely no idea if that would work. Was there an overlap of potential audience that would choose one or the other but not both? Would anyone come out to a concert on a Sunday afternoon?


As usual we peeked out from the wings and were somewhat nervous when, with five minutes to go, saw a pretty sparse crowd. However we then had to get organized as Wendy and I were starting things off. To our surprise and great relief when we stepped out onto the stage we saw that we had just as big an audience as we’d had for the previous concerts in the series.

Even better than that it seems that we may now have a loyal audience that trusts us to give them an experience they value.

But, despite everything, I suspect that we should try to avoid Sunday afternoons in future!

Alan and Rob got a standing ovation and an encore, which didn’t surprise me and was richly deserved. What the audience didn’t know was that they had just completed six gigs in six days with lengthy drives between and were pretty exhausted. Luckily we had booked a cabin at nearby Hungry Mother State Park for Saturday and Sunday night, so they could get some R&R before and after our concert. That meant we could also share our gigs from hell stories too!

Celtic Clanjamphry airs on WETS.fm on Sundays at 9pm, WETS HD2 on Mondays at 8pm and Saturdays at 10am. It also goes out in the Marion area on WEHC.fm on Sundays at 5pm. http://www.wets.org

Alan Reid and Rob van Sante can be found herehttp://www.reidvansante.com/


Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized

Dae ye need yer old lobby washed down?

Jack’s guest post is a wee bit late this week, but here’s why –

I started my working life by serving a five-year apprenticeship as a painter and decorator in my Dad’s firm, and then eventually took it over and ran it. Finally, I started teaching apprentices in the local college and ended up as Head of the construction Dept.

Nowadays as I redecorate around the bookstore I often reflect on the things I learned along the way that help reduce the time each takes. What I’m talking about is, of course, after emptying the room and before refilling it.


On Tuesday I emptied out my office/studio and on Thursday I put everything back, so I had one day to paint the ceiling, walls and woodwork (two windows, two doors and the baseboard). Being a 1903 house the doors were paneled and with moldings, while the baseboards were deep.

What I noticed as I worked were a number of things –

1 – how much time had been spent learning brush skills; how to work equally well right or left handed; how to load just enough paint on the brush; how to cut in neatly between different colors on walls and ceiling and baseboards.

2 – That I knew how to load and use a roller without spraying paint around.

3 – that I knew the order in which to paint a four paneled door – moldings, panels, rails and stiles.

4 – that I knew how to apply paint evenly enough to maximize the chances of covering in one coat.

Wendy was impressed that I didn’t have any paint spots on my clothes or shoes, or on the floor. She asked if I’d enjoyed it, and I had to think about it. That’s when all these thoughts came to me – had I enjoyed it? Not especially, but it was very satisfying.

The worst thing was clearing out the room, because I kept discovering long forgotten things and just had to sit and read or look at them. Just as bad was deciding what should go back, what should go the attic and what should get dumped.


Lest this sound as though I’m back in the game, however, anyone needs a room painted I suggest you consult yellow pages!





Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, Life reflections, Uncategorized

Not Like Radio

When I used to tell stories for a living, I dreaded radio gigs. Telling a story on the radio was like being in a black box; you knew there were people out there but you couldn’t see or hear their reactions to what you were doing, be guided by them in how you told the story.

You could only say what you had to say and hope for the best.

Writing Little Bookstore reminded me a lot of telling stories on the radio. Just say what you mean, mean what you say, and make your deadlines with the editor.

So one of the delights of being a bookstore owner who wrote a book about her bookstore is having people who’ve read the book show up at the bookstore and tell you about their experience reading it.

Wednesday saw 21 readers of LB wander through our place. 18 were from two book clubs run out of Pike County Public Library in Kentucky. The others were a solo traveler and a girlfriend team. The book club asked questions about Scottish history and compared notes on small town life from the book to their life experiences.

The solo traveler was an 81-year-old lady named Virginia from a small town two hours up the road, whose children had forbade her to visit us alone. “But I could come today and I knew you were in today–last time I came you two were away–so I just ignored them and came anyway.”

Sorry, Virginia’s family, but we really enjoyed your mom. She is a hoot, and so intelligent and well-read. She asked us lots of insightful questions about biography writers and epochs of American history. When she left about 5, we thought the day just couldn’t get better.

In walked The Lady From Bristol. She had read Little Bookstore and loved it, had several questions to ask Jack (I was out running an errand) and told some stories of her own about setting up business in a small town. She bought two whacking great stacks of books, refused help carrying them to the car, then came back inside with an armful of bakery boxes.

“Here,” she said. “From one small town success story to another.” She had a dozen doughnuts, several decorated shortbread cookies, and a Key Lime Bar from Blackbird Bakery, in Bristol. (Bristol is a town half in Virginia, half in Tennessee; I don’t know which side of the street Blackbird is on, but it’s well known for its confections. With good reason.)

“Thank you for opening a bookshop, and for writing this book,” she said, set the baked goods down on the counter, and walked out at 6:02.

It’s sweet to be given baked goods. It’s lovely to entertain intelligent conversationalists in the shop. And it’s flat out wonderful to hear directly from people how your book touched them, and why.

Black box begone. Life is good. *munches doughnut*


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, Life reflections, publishing, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing


Last week some friends and I organized a cash mob in our tiny town. We got 40 people to swarm a local gift shop in the two-block downtown shopping district. It was fun: fun to set up, fun to execute, fun to hear about afterward. In the immediate aftermath, I got asked to do a radio program on independent bookstores because of my upcoming book. So when I sat down to organize my thoughts for the interview, here’s what I could unpack from the whole cash mob experience:

1)      The way we live now is not the way I want to live.

My husband and I made a pact about six months ago: we would stay out of Wal-Mart as much as possible, buying there only what we absolutely couldn’t find from any independent retailers in our area.

Four days. We lasted four days, and then I needed a picture frame, and guess what? In the whole two blocks of downtown, nobody sold one except Wallyworld.

Is this how we want to live? I didn’t want to give $6 to a corporation in return for that frame; I wanted a neighbor to have it, so she could spend it at the diner and the diner owner could put it in her church offering plate, and the church could use it to stock the food pantry with day-old produce from Bob’s Pantry and Grocery, and Bob could buy his kid some books at our shop. But I sent it zipping out of state, out of reach. I would have paid $10 to a local shop to buy the same thing.

Remember when box stores were weird, not the norm? I want to live with my neighbors, trading books from my shop for haircuts, or getting my bicycle chain repaired. I want to put tomatoes in a basket at the front of the bookstore next to a set of scales and a note that says, “$1 per pound: Make your own change from the honor box.” That’s still possible in Big Stone, and I don’t want to lose that camaraderie. I’ll pay more to stay out of a box store and keep my neighborhood functioning as a cohesive unit. Happily.

Sure, some of us have to be more careful with money than others. But that “hidden cost” thing, that unexamined consequence of big box stores taking over downtown places, making someone back in another state rich and leaving a lot of former business owners poorer, that’s a real cost. And it makes us, the community members, poorer as well.

2)      “Just plain ordinary people” are powerful—very powerful.

There was a lot of inquisitiveness as soon as the cash mob was over on how it had come to be organized, “who” had done it. The cash mob came from a group of friends getting together. We wanted to have some fun, and we were kicking around the idea of a flash mob. But that was a lot of work for one—pardon the expression—flash in the pan that didn’t do much good in the world. My friends and I are cynical altruists, the kind of people who do the right thing with sarcastic comments about how it won’t make any difference. But we keep doing the right thing. And when we googled flash mobs and saw a reference to cash mobs, well,  we knew what to do.

This bothered some people, because it was just us, not an organization, not even people who were connected by blood or marriage to the store we chose, just “a bunch of girls.” And that bunch of girls made good stuff go, just because it was good stuff.

To get it going, Jessica and Elissa, the tech-savvy members of our gang, used Facebook to create a secret list, then the eight of us added everyone we knew who lived within about 20 miles of downtown. The list went up and down in size as people who’d been added decided to stay or not, and added their own friends. (Not many people left.)

That was it. An hour to get the mob list set up, a month of gathering names, and one day to swamp the store. It was lovely, and it was low investment in time and money. And it was just people. Not a chamber of commerce, not a government scheme, not a political wrangle: just eight friends, a Facebook page, and 200 people who signed each other onto the list. And about 40 who went shopping, and made a local store owner feel like a million bucks.

Governments—big or little—don’t help us; organizations, business centers, the big grinding wheels of expertise don’t help us. We help each other. And we are very good at it. People are powerful, more powerful than we care to admit, because we don’t like to be harnessed without good reason. But the cash mob, an entirely voluntary activity that asked people to spend money, had 40 people and 200 supporters and sent a store’s revenues sky-rocketing. No mess, no fuss, no voting.

3)      Money is not that expensive.

I spent $17 in the gift shop we cash mobbed. Had I gone to Wal-Mart, I probably would have spent $12 for the same goods. But the owners of that gift shop are now one thousand percent behind us doing another cash mob for a different business, and so happy to know that people appreciate their contributions to our town, and want them to stay there. For my extra fiver, I got a day I will remember fondly in my senior years, full of laughs with friends, a feeling of empowerment. I got more than $5 extra can buy anyplace else, by investing it within my own heart.

Again, I understand that some people must be frugal: students, senior citizens on fixed pensions, the unemployed. But the rest of us, so artful about what we value and how much we’ll pay for it, can we see what our savings cost? How much are we giving up by holding out?

4)      Being part of a community has both hidden costs and hidden values.

The day of the cash mob, Miss Bean, a shop owner across the street and one of Big Stone’s most beloved colorful local characters, appeared in the designated store first thing that morning, clutching a twenty-dollar bill. She asked the shop keeper, “Is this the day we’re supposed to spend ten bucks each in here?”

It kinda went uphill from there. By about two in the afternoon the owners knew something was up, but thought it might be the sun; that Saturday’s weather could not have been more pleasant. But by 3:30 they knew they’d been, as my friend Cyndi put it, “the victim of an uphold.” By the end of the day the place had done four times its normal trade—and every single shopper had asked the husband-and-wife cashiers, with a sly wink or tone, “Been busy today?”

Afterward, the shop owners told me, “It was exciting to do that much business in a single day, but what was special was seeing people we’d never seen before, or people who hadn’t shopped with us in a long time, coming through the door, looking around at what we had. And they talked to us. It wasn’t just the money; it was community. We started that downtown store so we could be a part of community; I’d always wanted to be that little downtown proprietor we all remember from childhood. I can truly tell you that we had a wonderful day.”

Thing is, the people participating had a wonderful day too. They posted back on the Facebook page about how much fun it was just to buy some trinkets from a local—and have a conversation with her.

Remember when downtown was the place to be on Saturday? Walk down the sidewalk nodding and smiling—and depending on the size of your place, knowing the names of half the people you saw; stop in the pharmacy for a soda; hold a conversation on the corner and talk through two “Walk” signs. Remember when customer service was normal, not special? Remember when you knew the shopkeeper by name—and she knew yours?

I taped a public radio program recently on independent bookstores, and what they do for our communities. Jack and I, as owners of a used book shop, see it happen often: people come in to “kill” fifteen minutes, wander ‘round the shelves, and their breathing changes. They breathe in that used bookstore smell, dust and ideas co-mingling, and they just slow down. They strike up a conversation, tell you whatever’s on their mind. They have a cup of coffee. And they leave smiling.

Of course, it’s not just bookshops. Greenhouses (little cheerful independent ones run by families or the like) family restaurants, craft supply places with a retired schoolteacher at the helm—all these sweet places serve more than their wares. They keep us grounded, connected, sane. The yarn store lady doesn’t just want to sell you her most expensive stuff; she looks at your hair and asks about your pattern and suggests a color and a wool style: chunky, angora, sportweight. She knows these things, and she knows what she has in her store, and she holds them up against your skin and says, “This makes your eyes stand out; this looks great with your hair; this is 100% wool and last time you were in here you said you were allergic, so not this one.”

In short, she knows you a little better each time you walk in, and you feel a little better each time you walk out. Is that too much to ask from a shopping experience? Because that sure as hell doesn’t happen in big box stores.

5)      Hanging with friends can lead us down some very lovely alleyways of life.

The cash mob came about because a group of girls-turned-women got together and said, “You know what we should do?” My friends are the greatest: smart, kind, and savvy. We all get by with a little help from our friends, don’t we? In retail and in life. Up the rebels, peeps!


Filed under folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized