Tag Archives: friendship

Celtic Connections

Jack’s weekly guest blog ruminates on the connective threads of here, there, then, and now

Now that we’re back from Wisconsin, things are beginning to get busy around here. And they appear to be taking on a British Isles tinge, I might add.

Yesterday I started teaching a series of five weekly classes on Scottish ballads and folk songs at the Higher Ed Center in Abingdon. This is always enjoyable and I’ve been doing it semi-annually for a few years now.

At the same time I am gearing up for the annual small group tour that I conduct around Scotland every year at the end of June. Everything is pretty much in place as I write this. The tour is another ‘labor of love’ – something I enjoy doing that ends up introducing me to a most interesting and diverse group of people. Since I always go over a few days before the tour starts, I get to catch up with friends and family. This year Wendy will finally be joining me after it ends, something we’ve been hoping for since I started this crazy venture eight years ago.

On top of that, as one of the group that organizes Big Stone Celtic (Sept 26 and 27, so mark your calendars!) I’m beginning to put together the program. For the first time we have an internationally famous headliner, Barbara Dickson, making her debut this side of the Atlantic, so I’m in the throes of applying for her work visa – a steep learning curve! Who knew the American government would require so much paperwork?

Just in case that isn’t enough I continue to put together my weekly radio show Celtic Clanjamphry (known affectionately now as ‘ClanJam’). Now in its sixth year (whoda thunk it, as they say in Southwest Virginia) my ongoing quest is to cover as many of the Celtic Nations as possible via music ancient and modern.

And finally, of course there are our regular bookstore events. Irish storyteller (and our good friend) Liz Weir will be the centerpiece of our evening of Irish stories and food tonight. Second Story Cafe owner Kelley is preparing Beef and Guinness pie, Colcannon and Apple Crumble to complete the Irish feast.

Now, the great thing about all these happenings are the connections between them. Liz attended our wedding in Scotland, and she hosts my tour group every second year. Folk who listen to ClanJam come on the tour and folk who have been on the tour drop into the bookstore and come to our events. Others who attend my classes come to the bookstore, listen to the radio show and will be on this year’s tour. Big Stone Celtic fits right into all that and brings hundreds of visitors to our small town every year. It’s a nice circle, on a background of plaid and emerald green!

Leave a comment

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


Jack’s guest blog today is on the soothing powers of music and bookstores.

I’m always struck by how quickly the bookstore makes a space for people, embracing, accommodating, enfolding, even harmonizing….

Today I had a phone call from my old and dear friend, Greg Fields – one of the folk I met when I first visited Appalachia back around 1991, long before I ever dreamed of being a permanent resident.

Greg was calling to see if I’d be in the bookstore today as he wanted to visit. He had been once before, not too long after we opened, but not since, and Wendy and I have been traveling a fair bit lately. We’ve actually missed the peace and enfolding embrace of our shop, ourselves.

An excellent singer, Greg is a banjoist and guitarist specializing in old-time and bluegrass; he teaches music at ETSU in Johnson City TN. When we first met he got intrigued with my Scots songs and my finger-picking guitar style; each time we’ve met since then (all too rarely) I find his repertoire has more Scots songs in it. He has a sympathetic approach to these songs, not attempting a false Scots accent and choosing those that ‘chimed’ with his own culture.

When Greg arrived today, everything else (read: all the projects and cleaning in the bookstore that had accumulated while Wendy and I were in New York City for a week) went on the back-burner for a few hours as we caught up and exchanged our latest guitar licks and songs. It was delightful to start singing an old Scots song and suddenly hear a bottle-neck second guitar part harmonizing along, just as it was equally wonderful to play a second guitar part to Greg’s fine rendition of ‘Trouble in Mind’!

But this is how the bookstore works: back burner or no, it rumbles forward. As we were playing and singing, one of our regulars arrived. He is mentioned in Wendy’s book, a man with schizophrenia fixated on guitars. He has had many guitar lessons from me over the years here in the bookstore. As he sat down with a cup of coffee and began quietly listening, the expression on his face turned to pure bliss.

No trouble in mind…..

So an old friend I rarely see brought a very special gift to another friend I sometimes feel guilty about not paying enough attention too on the many times I see him. And the bookstore offers the space to make them each feel important, even as their friendship makes me feel important to them. Now that’s a real gift!


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA