The Tartan Twang crew explore the Terlingua Ghost Town. Left to right: Sandy Devers, Naomi Mackay, Ewan Williamson, Maxx Greta, Cameron Reid.
Hello! (Or howdy, y’all!) You might remember me from the summer edition of the Cenizo Journal. I’m the guy from Scotland who told the story about cycling across the U.S. and being stuck in Far West Texas for a few days, meeting a range of interesting and beautifully weird people, enjoying the magnificent landscapes and generally, letting the outside world go by, while experiencing everything that Far West Texas had to offer.
I often recall my stay in the Big Bend. After an overnight stop in Marfa, meeting new friends, playing soccer and drinking too much, it was rhythmic pedal pounding to Marathon. Being stuck there with bike problems turned out to be the most beautiful thing for me. I was just hanging out, surrounded by curious, kind people who were scratching their heads and trying to work out ways to get me back on the road. It really was something to behold. I was informed at an early stage that it wasn’t uncommon for people to be stuck in Marathon with mechanical problems, and once that happened, that was them stuck there for life. In fact, it appeared that to the locals, my un-scheduled stay was a source of amusement and perhaps even good-natured schadenfreude. Marathon, it seemed, was like the Hotel California. I could check out, but I could never leave.
Throughout my life, it’s random situations like that which have brought a little bit of magic into my world. People seem to come along when you least expect it and quite often, they sprinkle some nice fairy dust all over the place. I guess I’ve been lucky over the years and on this latest occasion, the amount of dust being sprinkled could easily have left me with a sneezing fit.
That cycling trip was truly the experience of a lifetime and these long days on the road offered plenty of time for reflection on life thus far, life to come and, of course, it gave the opportunity to introduce myself to a huge variety of people and wildlife along the way.
Well now, let’s get up to date. There’s been a development. I’m a musician and if you read my last feature here, you may recall that I had my bagpipes in tow. After my trip came to an end and I was back in Scotland, I continued to link with my new friends here in Texas, with a view to starting exchange programmes for Scottish and Texan musicians. In just a matter of months, ‘Tartan Twang’ was born. In November of 2022, we brought three music students over from Glasgow, Scotland, for eight days touring beautiful Far West Texas, based mainly in Marathon. They were joined by a young musician from Austin, and together we performed in community venues, including libraries in Alpine and Fort Davis, as well as schools in Marathon and Terlingua. The ninety-minute shows included music, stories and traditional Scottish dance. There was even a trip into Mexico at the Boquillas crossing and two nights on a large ranch, where there was plenty of jammin’ and an opportunity to explore the wonderful landscape on offer.
So, for a few days, the skirl of the bagpipes could once again be heard here and there, drawing curious locals and kind words.
The young people from Scotland were blown away by the rugged, desolate beauty of Far West Texas and the charm and warmth of its people. The landscape couldn’t be more different from Scotland, with its verdant greens, refreshed continuously by the unpredictable and often rainy weather. For Scottish people, your landscape offers a peek into a completely different world. Even our participant from Austin remarked that the programme had given him the opportunity to visit places he would never have imagined seeing.
Storytelling is an integral part of Scottish culture, and this is also reflected in other Celtic nations such as Ireland. The oral tradition was revered in these lands. In Scotland after the failed rebellion in 1745, when bagpipes and tartan were proscribed, the country experienced elements of what is now called ethnic cleansing. Storytellers and tradition-bearers were key to ensuring that the music and legends were passed down the line to new generations. Known in Scots gaelic as ‘Seannachies,’ these storytellers played an important part in preserving the unique heritage that Scotland holds dear. The word ‘sean’ in gaelic means ‘old,’ and traditionally, the hand of history weighed heavily on these storytellers.
It is with the above in mind that we ensured the young people visiting Far West Texas had an opportunity to hone and share their stories about life in Scotland. Their efforts were warmly welcomed and everywhere they went, audiences appeared appreciative. One kind man, who said he was half-Cherokee and half-Scottish, insisted on taking us all for lunch, treating us after our performance. This was just one of many acts of kindness we encountered during our stay.
This first music exchange was a pilot, but the feedback from the young people on the programme was overwhelmingly positive, so it looks quite likely that from now on, two, three, or even more times per year, you’ll see a small group of pasty-faced Scottish young people, who will be bringing music, stories and dance to Far West Texas. If you do bump into them, I know you’ll be nice, but say “howdy y’all” and maybe they’ll give you a tune.
Next March, chapter two of Tartan Twang takes place, and I will be returning with some musicians of an older generation. We look forward to learning more about your amazing landscape, culture, lifestyle, and playing plenty of music along the way.
The following month, April, will see us take a group of young musicians from Texas and let them loose in Scotland for a series of performances and unforgettable experiences. The tour will have similar themes to the U.S. trip. There will be performances in places like Glasgow, a renowned music town. There will also be excursions to beautiful rural and rugged parts of Scotland, like the Highlands and the Scottish Borders. For one week, there will be a little bit of Texas in Scotland and we look forward to hosting more Texans along the way, as we develop our programme.
I’ve only been back in Scotland for a month or so, but I can already feel the magnetic pull of Far West Texas. It looks like I might be hooked. Maybe I’ll go for therapy and see if I can break loose. Maybe I won’t, though. Maybe this Scotsman is slowly going to become an occasional part of the Far West Texas landscape. Just maybe.
If you are a musician, an artist, a creative person, or even just curious, and fancy the notion of seeing Scotland, experiencing its music, culture and beautiful scenery, you can visit
www.tartantwang.com to find out more.
by Sandy Devers