a note from Bob...
Since the last time you got one of these notes, Kentucky weather has stayed sorta looney for November. I mean, we're better than halfway through the month, and after a couple cold days wherein we kept the stove heated up, we're back to using no heat at all --not even the electric-- of an evening.
Twelve or fifteen years ago, the "Bottom of the Barrel Bunch," one of the finest old-time string bands I ever heard, was around McGoffin County, and at least twice a year they threw wonderful parties. They were called "swarpins" --a McGoffin County term-- and were centered around a century-and-a-half old log cabin and a fire-pit in the
Inside there was the band, and square dancing, and when the BotB guys got tired, someone else would pick up the idle instruments. Outside, around that fire pit, there was gossip and story-telling and um, bottles of various sorts. Always, there were two or three mason jars going around with some white homemade liquor, and if the talk slowed down, there generally followed some discussion about which particular jar held the best "stuff." And of course, that inevitably led to more stories.
Those were the best parties I ever went to, anywhere, anytime.
One year somebody brought a ninety-some-year-old man to a swarpin, from North Carolina. He was spending a few weeks at Berea College, teaching the ancient arcane art of chair-caning. About the time the party got to rolling good, he looked around and asked if I'd ever heard about the "play parties" people had back in the twenties and thirties. I told him my folks and grandparents had talked about those things, and he said, "Well, son, this is exactly what they were like." I thought on that a while, and then thanked whatever fates exist for letting me ride that particular time machine.
There was a specific little kid at the swarpins, who every now and then sat in with the Barrel Bunch, generally playing mandolin, but occasionally switching to playing a very impressive fiddle. That was Jesse Wells, the son of the Barrel Bunch's fiddler, and he grew up to become part of the faculty at Morehead State University's "Kentucky Center for Traditional Music." Jesse and a fine clawhammer banjo player went with Julie and me to the Kentucky Educational Television studio the other day to tape a program --more about that to follow-- and when it was done we stood around outside the studio talking, and seem to have decided that sometime next spring we'll have a swarpin here on this place, up around the barn. By then the mud from the loggers ought to have grassed over.
When it gets time to do this, I'll toss an invitation out on this newsletter, and I hope those of you close enough to make the party do come to it. And maybe some who live what would at first glance be "too far" will think about it too.
We'll have hours of the kind of music our grand- and greatgrandparents played and danced to, a carry-in dinner, a fire pit, and probably a few mason jars floating around in the crowd.
As they say, "Stay tuned for more details."
NOVEMBER 30th (TUESDAY), 8:00 P.M. is when the KET program will air. It's a one hour program with three segments (me, a lady storyteller, and a piece about a jazz club that holds poetry readings in Louisville. We did a brief interview, and I read two pieces that may be familiar to some of you. One's about the behavior of birds at my second cousin John I's funeral, and the other's about a dog named Rock who lived back on Holly Fork, over fifty years ago, who's not forgotten. And there's music: the aforementioned Jesse Wells and Brett Ratliff back me up on fiddle and banjo, respectively. First time I've ever read with music, and I'm real interested in seeing how it comes out. After it runs, if
any of you all see it, let me know what you thought.
DECEMBER 4th (SATURDAY), NOON UNTIL TWO P.M. I'll be signing books at Morehead State University's "Appalachian Craft Fair." The craft fair is an all-day deal, an opportunity to Christmas shop for all manner of home- and hand-made products. There'll be other writers there besides me, but noon until two is my slot.
DEC 17th (FRIDAY) I'm reading --and signing books, if anybody wants them-- at the Whitesburg Coffeehouse in Whitesburg KY. A very nice guy named Sam Adams is the organizer of this event, and if you'd like details, call him at 606-632-2325, or e-mail Sam.
There'll be other things going on, and I'll let you know about them as schedules get firmed up.
STUFF JULIE AND I DID SINCE THE LAST NEWSLETTER:
The Western Kentucky Book Fest, in Sturgis KY was great. Charlie Hughes, who runs Wind Publications, has taught me to go to these things to have fun, not with an expectation of selling a mess of books. That way, if you do sell books, it's like gravy, a nice extra. Book Fairs for me are a chance to have fun, to visit with some people I don't see anyplace else. A good book fair like the one at Sturgis will have an "authors' reception" the night before, with good stuff to eat and drink (preferably from an open bar). This one was held on the grounds of a World War II prisoner of war camp, in what was the old dining hall. Beautiful place, made more so by the murals done by a German prisoner who died before he got back home. . .
The Kentucky Book Fair was a good time, not least because lots of friends stopped by to say "Hi," including Jim Tomlinson and Gin Petty from Berea, several folks from the Clear Creek Writers Group in Shelbyville, Brenda Vance from Owingsville and a whole bunch of others. You have no idea how much seeing friendly faces in a place like that helps the day go by easier. We sat next to Homer Ledford, the musician/instrument maker, and he was a good neighbor to have, especially whenever he picked up the fiddle he told us he made from a hog-lot hickory on his father's farm. Last year we sat between two writers of cookbooks, who kept the aisles so full of their customers anybody who was looking for Julie and me probably missed us. (Note to writers: if you want to sell the hell out of a book, write a cookbook: those are always the biggest sellers at book fairs.)
Julie and I went to the Folk Art Center here in Morehead to hear Mary Ann Taylor-Hall read from her collection of short stories, "How She Knows What She Knows About Yo-Yos." It's a fourteen dollar paperback
from Sarabande Books in Louisville, and if you like really fine short stories, find a copy of this book. It is flat out wonderful.
We heard Silas House read in Morehead, and were glad to be there too. It's nice to see a young man like Silas find success after working so hard for it.
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You all come and see us. . .