Sunday, August 21, 2011

Big Stone Celtic: A Photo Journal

 Big Stone Gap, here we come! I took this as we headed down the mountain into the Powell River valley and the little town of Big Stone Gap.

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.
 When we arrived we stopped first at Miner's Park to pick up a program for the festival and to listen a bit to the band 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.

 As I was walking to the ballads workshop, I passed this sign. Whoa! I knew John Fox was from this area, but here was his house? I made a mental note to go back after the workshop, which I did.
 This is the porch of Fox's home, a lovely place for rest and reflection. No wonder he was so inspired here that he wrote about 500 stories while living here.

 Coyote Run came to the Fox home to present a program far different than their stage stuff I'd seen. I liked both!
 Some workshops were held here in "the cabin." I did not have time to learn the history of the cabin and only got to hear the last 10 minutes of Jack Beck's ballad workshop. Next year we need to start our trip earlier! At least we'll know where everything is next time.

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)
 The ol' Granny got into the dancing too (only for the last dance, but next time it will be more. Too much fun!)

After the dance people congregated on the book store's porch for more music. A young fiddler tried out her chops with the positive encouragement of seasoned musicians. She played Soldier's Joy, Sally Ann, Cluck Old Hen and several others, an amazing repertoire for one so young.

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.


annie said...

Too bad, I didn't get to meet you, this is my neck of the woods. Glad you enjoyed it. I went last year, personal things kept me away this time around. Jack & Wendy, and the others who put on the festival are great people. Hope you make it round again.

Granny Sue said...

I'm sorry we missed you too, Annie--maybe next time.

Mama-Bug said...

I bet you had a grand time! Checked out Coyote Run's link; they're quite interesting.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

According to scientific research the following things make people happy
- keeping active
- co-operating with others
- physical contact with others
- lively music
In other words Take your partner by the hand and dance!

Granny Sue said...

I'll take that advice, John!

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