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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Abingdon Festival Pays Tribute To Celtic Music

Jack Beck and Wendy Welch will perform during the Virginia Highlands Festival Celtic Weekend on Aug. 2-3 in Abingdon. (Contributed Photo)
Jack Beck and Wendy Welch will perform during the Virginia Highlands Festival Celtic Weekend on Aug. 2-3 in Abingdon. (Contributed Photo)


Published: July 24, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier.

Roots grow far deeper than those in the backyard. Roots can reach from whence you stand to clear across the big pond to Scotland, Ireland and England.

Pay attention to Southern dialects. Check the origin of Southern terminology such as the word "poke," which is a bag, and which comes from Scotland. Or just listen to Appalachian music.

Whatever, folks can hear interpretations of the source for Appalachian music via Wendy Welch and her husband Jack Beck on Aug. 2-3 during the Virginia Highlands Festival's Celtic Weekend in Abingdon.

Welch hails from Greeneville, Tenn., and has the Appalachian side covered. Beck hails from Scotland.

"We offer almost all traditional Scottish songs and ballads with a mix of stories," said Beck from the couple's home in Big Stone Gap, Va. "I play guitar. Wendy plays mountain dulcimer. About two-thirds of the songs are accompanied by us."
Which means about one-third of their songs are performed a cappella, songs sung without instrumentation.

"The main reason I sing more and more a cappella is because as soon as you add accompaniment you are imposing harmonies on the song," Beck said in his thick Scottish accent. "It allows us more freedom to change the dynamics of the song but also gives the listener more freedom to apply their own harmonies on the song. I actually prefer singing a cappella."

Beck's music experience dates to the late 1950s. Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, Beck was among droves of teenagers to latch onto the skiffle craze that raged throughout Great Britain.

"Lonnie Donegan virtually invented skiffle," Beck said. "He listened to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, and then interpreted them in a very English way."

Skiffle amounted to music played with an acoustic guitar, a washboard and what Beck calls a "tea chest bass," a variation on the washtub bass.

"That became phenomenally popular," Beck said. "Skiffle influenced Eric Clapton, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Skiffle was very accessible to young people. So that's what I did, too."

In time, Beck adapted traditional Scottish music to the basic elements of skiffle. As with the pioneers of skiffle, Beck concentrated then as now on older tunes.

"I do sing some recent songs written in traditional form, but about 80 percent of our songs are old songs," he said.

Whereas The Beatles grew out of a skiffle group named The Quarrymen and became superstars above the song, Beck said that music according to his way of thinking overrides the singer. Translated, it's the song and not the singer.

"The song is the thing," he said. "If you're singing songs 400 to 500 years old, they survived."

Virginia Highlands Festival attendees can hear for themselves via multiple opportunities. Whether watching Welch and Beck, Bristol's folk-rocker Annie Robinette (July 26), blues singer Katherine Davis (Aug. 1-2) or any one of the dozen or so musical acts scheduled to perform, variety rules this and most years at the festival.

"I really enjoy it," Beck said. "It's a very nice festival."

Who: Wendy Welch and Jack Beck as part of Celtic Weekend
When: Aug. 2, 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., and Aug. 3, 10:30 a.m.
Where: Virginia Highlands Festival event tent on Stonewell Square, Abingdon
Tickets: $5 for a weekend pass, children 12 and under are admitted free
Info: (888) 489-4230 or

— Click here for more on Celtic Weekend.