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!