In the late 90s we brought Ed Miller to Sarah’s house at Cowboy Poetry Gathering time. He was part of the Gathering’s showcase that year of Scottish cowboy tradition.
John and I, throughout the week, invite out-of-towners to dinner at Sarah’s, and Ed agreed to come. That evening after the meal he played guitar while we sang, and told stories, and jokes. The house was crammed with food, drink, poetry, music, and laughter.
Scottish folk revivalist Miller, presides at Robbie Burns dinners, and folk gatherings throughout the world. After Sarah’s evening Ed extended Sarah an extraordinary compliment when he termed her gathering an authentic Scottish ceilidh (informal social gathering for storytelling and singing). There’s no performance at a ceilidh; it’s unrehearsed and everyone contributes.
This year, 2006, Sarah’s gathering moved to a higher level.
During the evening poet Milton (Australia) recited, John (Washington state) played bagpipes, Pablo and Armando sang Argentine folk songs, and Cowboy Celtic (Irish by way of Canada) played harp, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. A woman’s yodeling was accompanied by Irish drum, tin whistle, and guitar, Cowboy John told a story, and a young woman from Lamoille recited original poetry.
Sarah’s house was jammed to the walls. Cultures overlapped and meshed. Pablo and Armando were encouraged to sing a few songs from Argentina, even though they’re rawhide braiders not professional musicians. Armando had a guitar, so Pablo was persuaded to pick his way through folks seated cross-legged on the floor to the front of the room where they sang to us melodies from their homeland.
As if that weren’t enough, the mood of the evening inspired Cowboy Celtic’s Kerri and Denise, and they made their way forward with harp and guitar to link with Armando and Pablo, amidst giggling as they tried to match chord progressions. Neither Argentine speaks English, but that didn’t matter. The ceilidh became an unrehearsed, spontaneous expression of community.
Armando and Pablo had been invited by the Western Folklife Center to share with us in North America their way of life. That evening the link between two cultures moved to a deeper, intimate, level, without stage and choreographed performance, but up close and spontaneous.
I caught Pablo’s eye at one point, and a shy smile wrinkled his chiseled young face.
No matter where we live on this globe, no matter what our culture, each of us longs for intimate connection with other humans. We merged that night, and the world became smaller.