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What You Can Learn From Serving Food?

This month we were invited to help out the Scottish Cottage with feeding the hungry masses and keeping customers happy while they waited in line. From slinging haggis to singing and playing Scottish tunes, we got to see and learn about how important it is for people to connect with their ancestors' culture. And along the way, we were reminded how important it is to do what you can to be of service to others.

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Julie and Josh in front of the Scottish Cottage

It's summertime in the Appalachians, and for us that means it's one of the peak seasons for performances, festivals, and Highland games. For the second year, we joined Mark and Martha Ferguson and the team from The Scottish Cottage at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games to keep the horde of hungry attendees filled up with haggis and eggs, shepherds pie, and barbeque. The Scottish Cottage even included a new dessert tent which served sticky toffee pudding and a berries & cream dessert called cranachan (pronounced cra-knock-an). The Scottish Cottage has become a mainstay at many Celtic events up and down the east coast for a number of years and they have been wonderful advocates of Scottish culture during that time. In fact, Mark is also one of the founders of the newly formed Asheville Celtic Festival, and it is through his generosity that we were invited to perform there earlier this year.

From Friday to Sunday afternoon, people came from all over to eat haggis. Many were uninitiated and were having it for the first time. We handed out samples, and most people loved it. As surprising as it may sound, it was rare that people didn't get a whole plate after trying some of the best haggis in America (a verified our opinion at least!)

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Mark Ferguson, founder and owner of the Scottish Cottage.

For those of you who don't know, haggis is a combination of oats, barley, heart, liver, and kidneys from both sheep and cow.

Traditionally lung is also included, but FDA regulations make that ingredient illegal in American-made haggis. Like most Americans, neither of us particularly likes organ meat. And yet, we both love the haggis from the Scottish Cottage and have yet to get sick of eating it. There's some kind of magic going on in the kitchen there, and it shows when people keep coming back to order more.

The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is located on top of a mountain at a place called McCrae Meadows in Linville, NC. In order to accommodate the parking needs of the thousands of patrons that come every year, vehicles are parked at the bottom of the mountain and people take shuttle buses to the summit. This reduces the traffic congestion at the games, but logistically it means people have to wait in long lines to get back to their cars at the end of the day.

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Performing for the shuttle line

It just so happened that our location was right next to the shuttle line, so throughout the day we had long lines of people waiting to leave as well as order food at different times. Mark hated seeing all those people standing in the hot sun for over an hour waiting to leave, so he asked us to go play music for the crowd. We happily did so and were excited to be joined in that performance by our friends Mitch and Kelly who play music with us in Roanoke (side note: Mitch also works for The Irish and Celtic Music Podcast, the best podcast for Celtic music...period. Definitely check it out!). The crowd was an incredible audience and many came up to say thank you for keeping them entertained. A number of those people even came by specifically to eat at the Scottish Cottage the next day because of it!

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The top of Grandfather Mountain

The next day proved to be a wet one, which meant like yesterday the people in line weren't having the best time. From Mark's suggestion yesterday, we went out and performed for the people waiting in line for their food, and most of them stuck around, even as it started to lightly rain. Though the rain was uncomfortable, people still seemed to appreciate the music and warm food, and we hope that helped make their day a better one.

There seems to be a lesson we keep coming across when we work with Mark and Martha, and that is to put every ounce of joy and work you can into making other people happy. I believe many entrepreneurs start out knowing this and seem to forget it along the way. But the best businesses, those who stay around and become the most beloved are always putting their customers first. As musicians working on building a business of our own, it's a humbling and inspiring lesson to be reminded of. It can also be embarrassingly easy to forget. The truth of the matter is that self-promotion and telling your story on social media work really well for building a brand. People who like and respect what you put out there want to know you and see your growth over time.

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Josh serving haggis and eggs

That can be a great thing in the right context, but the point of playing music is not really that different from cooking food: it's there to nourish people and bring them joy. Both bring to life a piece of culture and history for people to experience, and the amount of care and love you put into that process directly correlates with how deeply other people connect with it. In effect, we are there to serve as a conduit to our Celtic heritage to the best of our ability, and that is what matters the most.

We want to thank the Scottish Cottage again for having us back, we had such a great time!

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