Tag Archives: Burns Night

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


Alex Long delivered ‘The Immortal Memory’










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


Wendy and I sang some Burns songs











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













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














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



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

It’s Not as Bad as it Sounds, Haggis…

Fair fa yir honest, sonsy face – – (beautiful is your plain but healthy face; Ode to a Haggis)

haggisEvery year around Jan. 25 we host our bookstore Burns Supper. Robert Burns is, of course Scotland’s National poet/songwriter and our bookstore is a kind of local Scottish consulate so…

Our haggis was piped in – loudly – by Randy Stanley, Wise County’s resident piper. We always wonder what the neighbors think, because despite the frigid temperatures just now, we throw open the windows to let the sound out–and because 25 people in our upstairs cafe really turns up the body heat. The sound of the Great Pipes wafted out across the snow–and every dog within earshot began howling. We love bringing these special moments of cultural celebration to the town.

Besides pipes, an absolute necessity is a haggis – the subject of an address written by Burns. Finding a haggis in the US used to be a problem, so this year ours came from New Jersey. Haggis, for those of you unfamiliar with the substance, is sheep intestines stuffed with oats, minced bits of the rest of the sheep, and spices. The more it tastes like liver, the better.

If you’d like to see the piping in of the haggis or hear Jack recite the Ode, both are on our bookstore’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tales-of-The-Lonesome-Pine-LLC/166114776736491?ref=hl

Our excellent chef, Kelley, came up with what attendees probably saw as the counterbalance to the Haggis; she made perfect champit tatties and bashed neeps. And Jack contributed his homemade scotch pies and Cranachan. (Google it; just try not to lick the screen when you see what’s in it.)

Burns Nights have presentations that must take place at them. One of these is The Immortal Memory, a brief description of Burns’ life, mostly trying to reconcile the ying and yang of his incredible poetry celebrating women, and his devious usury of them in real life. This year’s Immortal Memory was for the first time in our bookstore’s history delivered by an Englishman, Donald Leech. (And Donald said afterward it was his first Burns Supper, so kudos to him for a lovely job.)  The Toast to the Lasses (which Jack gave) was  Responded to by Susan Hamrick–those of you who are on Clan Hazel will recognize that name, and the Grande Dame sent salutations to the assembly.

And we enjoyed local singer Rita Quillen making her debut as a soloist. Rita normally accompanies other performers, but she gave a lovely rendition of Lea Rig. Rita will also debut in another way next month when her first novel, Hiding Ezra, comes out. https://www.facebook.com/ritaquillenhidingezra

The evening was a mixture of laughter and poking at the haggis and licking the Cranachan bowls clean and cracking jokes and enjoying music that would have delighted Rabbie Burns. In the packed-out cafe with the windows flung open and the sky darkening with snow outside, it was a lovely, warm night.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Definitely Worth the Trip!

Jack Beck guest blogs today on the Hylton in the Highlands weekend we participated in at George Mason University, and the memories it brought back.

Long before our little bookstore (or even The Little Bookstore) was a gleam in anyone’s eye, Wendy and I each pursued careers as itinerant folkies – festivals, concerts, summer-schools etc. The bookstore is a welcome anchor to our lives, but we still enjoy occasional requests like the one from Katie, events coordinator at Hyltons Performing Arts Center, inviting us to take part in a Scottish weekend at George Mason University.

Back when we did such events full-time, I developed a sixth sense for what was coming based on how things kicked off, so when our six-hour drive turned into ten through freezing rain and a blizzard, I was prepared for anything.

“Anything” has, in the past, included trying to sing while background muzak continued to blare over speakers, having no way to sell our merchandise, being billed as “Jeff Beck” (you never saw so many disappointed people) and even never being given a copy of the schedule because “no one knows where they are.” Wendy once toured with noted performer Sheila Stewart, and after being assured their evening concert should be “very informal,” they walked into the hall in blue jeans to find the audience in ball gowns and tuxedos.

The moment we arrived in the gorgeous Hyltons Center, with its copper rib walls and soaring ceilings (and its backstage hospitality room rife with excellent food) we repented our doom-and-gloom memories. Rarely have we experienced such well organized, welcoming and downright professional folk, from the aforementioned Katie (Events Organizer) to Rick (Executive Director) to Matt, Chris, and Kevin (the sound guys) and other staff.

The workshop we did Saturday on Scots-Appalachian story and song connections.

The workshop we did Saturday on Scots-Appalachian story and song connections.

Only when we returned from our day of rest at the magnificent hotel (complete with Wendy’s favorite appendage, a pool) to the sold-out Sunday evening Burns Supper for 200 did we experience a moment of “Ah yes, we just knew this was too good to be true.”

Silk, velvet and cashmere everywhere, guests sparkling and smiling from every corner—oh dear. I have experienced formal Burns Suppers and usually feel very out of place at these four-fork “dos” (and agree with our table companion Bonnie Rideout’s comment that Robert Burns would have as well).

Slated to deliver The Immortal Memory (me) and the Response from the Lassies (Wendy), we were piped to our table with the notables. In addition to Ms. Rideout, this included Rick the ED; Representative of the Scottish Government in N. America Robin Naysmith; and two officers of the British Regimental Army overseeing the pipe bands.

Expecting stuffed shirts, we were instead regaled by ice-breaking jokes about tartan trousers leading to genuine conversation on the prettiest places in America, and the sharing of addresses and websites for the best U.S. Scotch pies and homemade haggis. At one point an army officer leaned in and said, with some trepidation, “D’ya think they’d mind me getting seconds at the buffet?”

So you never know what an event is going to be like, and life continues to be an adventure. Sometimes it all goes wrong—and sometimes, it is just perfect.

But – we still have to drive home and there’s talk of freezing rain – – –

Bonnie Rideout in her fiddling workshop on Saturday.

Bonnie Rideout in her fiddling workshop on Saturday.


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

Burns Supper: Eating the Offal Stuff

bud in harpAs I’m Scottish, many of our bookstore events have a Celtic theme: the St. Patrick’s Day ceilidh dance in March; a celebration of St. Andrew’s Day just before Thanksgiving; welcoming the New Year with a Hogmanay party into the ‘wee sma’ hours.

Don't get the idea that it's all drinking. There are just a lot of toasts... Chris led the Immortal Memory toast.

Don’t get the idea that it’s all drinking. There are just a lot of toasts… Chris led the Immortal Memory toast.

But the highlight of our Scots calendar is the Burns Supper we hold at the end of January. In common with Scots around the world we host a traditional observance of the birthday of National Bard Robert (Rabbie) Burns.

And the highlight of this night is haggis.

Jodi happens to be a vegetarian...

Jodi happens to be a vegetarian…

Ah, haggis! That mixture of oats, blood and bits of sheep that normally get thrown away but Scots keep and consume with enthusiasm. I love haggis–although for some strange reason Wendy isn’t quite as enthusiastic as me. I’ve had many adventures over the years involving haggis, including once escorting (ok, smuggling) an enormous one through customs to a British consulate Burns Supper in Istanbul.

David reciting the Ode to the Haggis. Note knife in left hand.

David reciting the Ode to the Haggis. Note knife.

This event has always been packed out at the bookstore, and is the main reason we put castors under some of our bookshelves, so they can be moved to create extra space. We serve the traditional ‘champit tatties’ (mashed potatoes) and ‘bashed neeps’ (mashed rutabagas) alongside the haggis, not to mention Cranachan (whipped cream with honey and whisky, topped with toasted oats). Last year, a woman licked her Cranachan plate when she discovered the serving bowl was empty.bells with haggis

The haggis is piped in by our friend Randy and is handed ‘round the assembled company—some of whom look rather dubious as it passes from their hands—while the ‘Ode to a Haggis’ is recited. After the food, we have ‘The Immortal Memory’, a few Burns songs and stories from Wendy and me, and the hilarious Toast to and Response from the lassies. (Think Simon Cowell meets Hilary Clinton in a battle of the sexes.)

Jack delivers a Burns song

Jack delivers a Burns song

It’s a fun night, and to me the highlight of our events year. ‘Course, I would think so, being Scottish, but in addition to loving it for itself, I delight in the facial expressions of Americans trying haggis for the first time. And I have wee drams ready for those who look as though they’ve swallowed something offal. Heh heh. Get it? Offal?

For those interested, Wendy and I will do two Burns Suppers this year: at our bookstore Jan. 24th, and the weekend of 25th/26th Jan. at Hyltons Performing Arts Center in Manassas, VA, as part of their Highlands Festival.

toast to lassies


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA