Tag Archives: Tennessee

Let the Music Flow

We always enjoy emceeing the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, but this year the job had two big bonuses.

First, a combination of thoughtful performer choices, near-perfect weather, and on-the-day professionalism has made this year musically superior to others. Sigean, Maidens IV, Night Crossing, and the debut of the charismatic and very silly Kryss Dula and Taylor Morefield, along with whistle player Martha Egan, the Irish Skye Dancers and Sandra Parker on Celtic harp, has given the year a more acoustic and genteel flavor.

I wouldn’t say gentle, because there’s been plenty of hard-driving fiddle and a high energy bodhran or two, but the overall ethos has been people drawn together by the quality of the music rather than showmanship. This year has also lacked who’s-on-first band crap. That’s been very pleasant.

During his set Kryss spoke to the festival’s theme, Scottish Independence (election Sept. 18) and talked about the “civility of political discourse” he’d been watching when reporters asked people on the street whether they’d be voting for or against–and why. “We should have that kind of unscripted, friendly dialogue in America,” he says. “We’re all one people. We should talk to each other.”

It was that kind of call for community all day at the festival, and it was really answered. Audiences sang in harmony, clapped to rhythms, and helped get the tent sides back up quickly when a peal of thunder threatened our little corner of paradise with rain in the sound equipment.

A day of dwelling in harmony, indeed.

And then, last night at the concert, as the sun went down and we watched a thunderstorm pass us by the west, a bright yellow full moon began to rise above those storm clouds. Full moons have traditionally been thought to excite, but people listening to Night Crossing’s lovely vocals and smooth blend of whistle, fiddle, bodhran and guitar were wandering out of the tent with little smiles on their faces, some clutching a partner’s hand, to watch as peeking became rising became shining. Mare’s tail clouds wisped over its bright-pale surface as Denise, their lead vocalist, sang a haunting Irish lament.

In short, it was pretty near perfect.

moonriseSouls that need soothing enjoy music. Souls that are celebrating enjoy music. And a warm night with just enough breeze to make it comfortable, listening to performers who are contributing together to a successful community event–well, throw a beautiful moonrise on top of that, and we all went home happy.

If you missed yesterday but live near Elizabethton, Tennessee, you can still make today’s musical moments. The festival runs 10:30-5. And if you can’t make it here, don’t forget that Big Stone Celtic is Friday night Sept. 26 and all day Saturday Sept. 27.

And as I look forward to these days, I will treasure yesterday, Sept. 6, like a shining moon on a calming sea.



Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch

The Extortionate Horse

Jack is leading his annual Scotland/Ireland tour, so Wendy is writing all the blogs until he returns – unless he manage to send us one. DSCN0078

Jack and I slipped away to our shack in the Tennessee woods recently. This is the cabin that doesn’t have a clock or the Internet, so we enjoyed chilling out, and finally managed to get together with our nearest neighbors (a half-mile away) Jim and Patti.

The cabin dwellers back in these woods tend to maintain friendly distance from one another, but since Jack and I don’t live in ours year-round, Jim and Patti keep an eye on the place. We wanted to say thanks and have a nice social evening, so we walked up to their place Saturday afternoon and invited them for Sunday dinner: Jack’s famous-in-six-countries-outlawed-in-two veggie curry.

They arrived bearing a gift of traditional homemade Appalachian liquid craftsmanship in raspberry and butterscotch flavors, so we knew we were going to like them right away. (If that description is not clear, google “artisanal moonshine.”)

Jim and Patti’s land stretches down to the main road, more than a mile beyond their ridge-sitting home, and they keep horses in the flatter end of the pasture. That end borders a little white church that some locals attend, held in a building so old, it has separate doors for male and female entrants (no longer used). Last I knew, the congregation numbered about 15, twelve of whom shared the last name “Bledsoe.”

Jim and Pattie have a horse named “Nasty Jack,” a beautiful golden boy of sophisticated breeding–and perhaps behavior. The horse figured out that, come Sundays, yon big box with the pointy top filled with people. And people, of course, were the source of all good things: apples, marshmallows, carrots….

Nasty Jack positioned himself by the fence just outside the church window as the congregation–which does not use musical instruments–swung into a hymn. And he joined in. Matching rhythm with hoof stomps and key changes with creative snorting, Jack whinneyed along until the congregation wheezed to a halt, too breathless with laughter to sing. The pastor shook his head, and asked if anyone had brought “something suitable for a horse” to the weekly potluck. A few apples were produced, and a child dispatched to “keep that horse busy” until the requisite two hymns had been sung.

Next week, Jack did it again. The pastor dispatched a child with a handful of carrots from a veggie tray. At the luncheon, the pastor asked if people would bring a few horse treats for next week. “We’ll designate a horse feeder each week from the children.”

Cabin dwellers being fairly self-contained, the story took a couple of months to reach Jim and Patti. When it did, they were mortified.

“I called the pastor up and apologized, said I’d move Nasty Jack to the other side of the road before Sunday,” Jim said, his round blue eyes twinkling as Patti repressed a giggle. “And the pastor said, ‘No, please. Our congregation has practically doubled. Every child in the valley wants to be the horse feeder’.”

Balaam’s donkey has got nothing on Nasty Jack.


Filed under animal rescue, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Things I Vow Never to do Again

Note to self:

Dear Self –

The next time you are asked to speak as the visiting author at Allandale Mansion in Kingsport (a historic home of castle-esque proportions now reserved for weddings and Junior League flower shows and the Kingsport Women’s Book Club to which I had been invited) do not wear Birkenstocks. Your long flowing skirt and flowered blazer were fine; retro is always somewhat charming in an author and you had the good sense to braid your hair so that it looked like you weren’t trying too hard. This worked in your favor amidst those lovely Spring Pastels and beautiful stylish bobs. But there are limits, and you should not try to find them. Next time, wear ballerina flats.

Dear Self II –

The next time that man who collects cans in the neighborhood asks if he can sit on your porch and drink a beer, say no. It is one thing to be nice to someone life has clearly run over; it is another to watch him spend the next fifteen minutes drinking from a can the size of Texas, spitting over your porch rail, and panhandling customers going out the door. Learn to say no, dear; it is a life skill you must acquire now that you are in your forties.

Dear Self III –

The next time you demand your husband fix something and he heads off with duck tape in hand, follow him. That way you will learn just how he intends for those el cheapo fly screens to last the summer, or the water hose on the washing machine not to flood the garage. And you can save time, and possibly your marriage, by not having to cope with a sudden new water feature in the garage. The sound of water splashing over rocks is lovely–outside. Indoors on concrete, not so much.

Thank you, self.

Best wishes,



Filed under animal rescue, bad writing, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, VA

Sorry for the Delay, Kinda

I’m sorry about missing yesterday as a blog-writing day, but I had an unexpected appointment. Jack was scheduled to record radio programs at WETS, the university public radio station across the border in Tennessee. He does a month at a time ahead and Celtic Clanjamphry runs Sunday mornings at 7.

Impulsively, said, “Hey, come with me and we’ll go out after and get lunch and walk around the antique stores in Kingsport and have a general good time.”

I hesitated. “You mean, like a date?”

Jack scratched his head. “I don’t remember if that’s what you call them, but we can pretend we’re not married and just starting to like each other again?”

“Darling!” Men in general tend to have romance as a recessive gene. Jack… well, he’s very good around the house and he tells funny jokes.

In honor of the occasion I looked out a linen dress that is form flattering. Just to make sure it still fit from last summer, I slipped it on – and discovered my handy-around-the-house husband had washed it in warm water with the other white laundry. The built-in slip hung two inches below the somewhat tighter dress.

Jack cut the slip off with my crafting scissors and gave me an appreciative look; apparently the curves worked just fine.  Smirk.

The next morning he wore a good flannel shirt over a clean tee, and I knew we were going to have fun, fun, fun til Mommy took the t-shirt away. So we raced down to WETS, whipped out his three radio programs, with me a guest on one just for fun, and tripped off to lunch at Jack’s favorite Indian restaurant.

Which is closed on Mondays.

Okay, regroup and find another curry house. We did, and sat outside in the sunshine, but as Jack pushed felafel around on his plate, I could tell he was being a good sport. Asian yes; Middle East, not so much for him.

Never mind; off we went to Kingsport – where the recession had not been kind. Jack and I remembered it as a land of never-ending bargains, true antiques among kitsch, shop after shop.

Now many teeth were missing from this downtown’s smile; empty shop fronts boasted low rents; inside the antique stores, shopkeepers greeted us with hungry eyes and appraising glances. Browsers or buyers?

Browsers, it turned out. For whatever odd reason, antiques become luxuries in a recession; prices had gone up instead of down. Way up. When we saw a simple folding metal music stand like the one I use for my harp music, priced at $70 (got mine for $10) we packed it in.

But as we wandered, somewhat disappointed, out of the shops, Jack laughed and pointed. Yarn bombers had been at work. Tree trunks with knitted casings. Statues sporting shirts. Here and there a random wraparound, crochet stitches stretched to capacity.

Jack grinned. “Day’s not a total loss. You got to see yarn. I got to see you in that dress.”

Ah, such a nice date!


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA