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.
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.