Festival, Music, Ceilidhs and Unexpected Twists

Quote for the Day:

“What is heart?  It is not human and it is not imaginary.  I call it you.”


The root of the word COURAGE literally means “to act with heart.”  This is your preamble for the next story.  After I left the library yesterday, I went into a pub to ask for directions.  When I walked in, I immediately spotted two concentric circles of musicans playing all sorts of mostly Celtic instuments: boran, fiddle, penny whistle, guitars, accordians, and mandolins. It was obviously what we call in Eastern Canada a “kitchen party” sort of set up where musicians just come and play spontaneously together.  I got swept into this somehow by just entering the establishment.  I can’t say I was comfortable as the inner ring of musicians seemed to be running the show and the outer ring were excluded from participating- it was competitive and tense.  Usually, this scene would not have held my interest as I like more open-hearted, inclusive music environments but I felt a pull to stay so I did.  I didn’t know the kitchen party etiquette so I tapped on a musician’s shoulder and asked if singers were invited.  He responded with, “Och Aye.  Just join in.”  I clapped along for a while and atuned myself to the musicians like I normally do.  After one of the men uncharacteristically interrupted the jigs to play an American bluegrass song, I knew what I was meant to do.  When the song ended and there was a pause for the musicians to drink their beer, I introduced myself.  I said that I didn’t know many Scottish songs but I had a traditonal spiritual to sing with them.  I explained that gospel music is participatory and invited the inner and outer ring of musicians to play/sing along as well as the patrons of the bar.  I sang the first verse of “I’ll Fly Away” and slowly, the whole pub joined.  The tension melted and there was unity in the place.  I was honoured that after hearing that I play percussion, the boran player gave me his drum with a regular stick for me to play.  It turns out that I didn’t sing or play another song.  After that, I felt it was time to move on and quietly left after handing the boran back to the man without my directions!  I guess the magic of that moment trumped grocery shopping- as it should.  Here is a sample of that spiritual sung by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch:

In the evening, I went to the 15th Anniversary Concert of the HebCelt Festival at An Lanntair.  For a small community, they have a really shwank, state of the art facility with retractable seating so that people can dance on the hardwood floor!  The Pipe Band (as they are called) played all last night.  They are mostly local Gaelic men in their 20s that are expert pipers, fiddlers, drummers, and guitar players.  The concert was upbeat and moving.  I don’t know what it is about bagpipes but they speak to my heart somehow.  I highly recommend Julie Fowlis to you as well if you like traditional Gaelic music; she has a voice as clear as a bell that sends shivers up my spine.  She too is another Outer Hebrides girl from the Isle of Uist originally. 

The audience sang along with the band and Julie for many of the Gaelic songs.  I’d never seen so many kilted men in an audience before.  I managed to stay awake for the 11 pm ceilidh after the show and once I started moving, was totally alert again.  I danced for about an hour and a half straight with several of those men in kilts who definitely know what they are doing!  This was a workout, let me tell you.  I was sweaty and hot as I walked in my tanktop back to my hostel.  And all I can say is that I feel blessed to have participated in such an old and cherished tradition alongside local people. 

Tonight I move down the street a couple of houses to the B and B.  Last night there were nine people in my dorm.  Christine made room for festival-goers that were stranded.  After drinking all day, the people who normally don’t snore actually did so it was a symphony in the room!

I am heading over just now to the castle to do a willow sculpture workshop with a local artist.  It should be fun.  Tonight is the Afro Celt Sound System so I’ll get to shake what my mama gave me a lot more.  You KNOW I am always up for a good dance…


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