I met Wendy Welch and her husband Jack Beck about 12 years ago at the West Virginia Storytelling Festival where they were performing. I'd actually met Wendy previously online on the storytelling listserve Storytell. At that time they were living in Jack's native Scotland while Wendy finished her doctorate. They later moved to Big Stone Gap and established a used book store in the town. I've stayed in touch and have looked forward to an opportunity to re-connect. When I read about the Big Stone Celtic Festival last year, I put it on my calendar as a gotta-do this year.
Big Stone Gap has been made famous by two novelists, almost 100 years apart--John Fox Jr. wrote Trail of the Lonesome Pine and The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (the first American book to sell one million copies) while living here. In 2000, Adriana Trigiani published her novel titled Big Stone Gap and it became a best-seller. She followed up with other stories in the Big Stone Gap series. I read Trail of the Lonesome Pine when I was about 12 years old and fell in love with the Appalachian culture (romanticized, to be sure) that it portrayed. When Trigiani's novel came out I read it as soon as it became available and recommended it to all my friends. A town that inspires such writing must be quite a place, right? It is.
Coyote Run, a Celtic Rock band that also performs more traditional material. The band's harmonies are to die for and they know how to engage any audience, rock, traditional Celtic or even old-time. I was struck by the juxtaposition of the miner's statue and the guys in kilts on stage. Such is our wonderful mountain world.
There was a lot to do during the day--a person could stay at Miner's Park and hear several different bands, go to workshops and performances at the cabin or the Fox home or attend jam sessions on the porch of the book store (which is housed in a beautiful old two-story white house in the middle of town). I opted for a workshop, a session in the Fox home, and two singing sessions on the porch of the book store. I thoroughly enjoyed singing with the people who gathered on the porch, and was happy to run into Joseph Sobol from East Tennesee State University there and share some ballads with him.
After the day's activities, many people gathered for the final ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) at a local church. Musicians from the day's performances provided the ceilidh band.
Our friends Jack and Wendy (she in the red and he in the kilt) cut a good figure dancing together)
We headed home before dark, sorry to miss the evening get-together that was just beginning. but had to stop for one last long farewell look.
Good-bye, Big Stone Gap. You are too lovely for words.