Celebrating Burns

Scots and Southern Oregonians alike can celebrate the legacy of Robert Burns, "The Greatest Scot," at the seventh annual Evening of Scottish Music.

Ashland musician Brian Freeman will tout his Scottish roots and recognize the poet's birthday, Jan. 25, at a Burns "supper" (celebration), set for 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the First United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St., Ashland.

Freeman, on guitar and octave mandolin, along with pianist Don Harriss and vocalists Chris Williams and Jim Finnegan, will present Burns' songs in the Old Scots dialect, in which they were originally penned.

Born in Alloway, Scotland, in 1759, Burns was the product of the Scottish working class. He was, for the most part, unsuccessful at farming and tax collecting but excelled at wooing women and had 14 children in and out of wedlock.

Before he became known as "The Bard," Burns was a music collector and would listen in pubs and write down the verses, securing many of the original lyrics. Although an excellent writer, he saw little literary success in his lifetime other than the publication of "Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect" in 1786. His poems frequently addressed nature, war and women, although there were several bitter diatribes against the kirk (church), who did not support his immoral lifestyle, and American slavery.

"He spoke of the common man because he was poor and because he shared in the same travails ... and he had a great sense of humor in how he wrote his poems so people identified with him," says Freeman. "He was one of them, and he was a strong nationalist, which goes over well in Scotland."

Before his death at the age of 37, Burns had penned about 300 songs and thousands of poems.

Of his collection, Freeman will present "Ye Jacobites by Name," "Mary Morison" and "Kellyburn Braes," a funny song about a farmer complaining to the devil about his horrible wife "so the devil takes her to hell with him, and she is so horrible he sends her back," says Freeman.

While many of Burns' songs possess a toe-tapping, shuffling element, others exhibit beauty and pathos, says Freeman.

"I don't think anybody writes more romantically than Robert Burns," he says. "I don't need to write another love song because the best have already been written."

New this year, Freeman, Finnegan and Williams will read several of Burns' poems, including "To a Daisy," "Stanzas on Naething" and "A Poem Addressed to Mr. Mitchell," in which Burns is asking to borrow money to pay his rent.

"You would love this guy to owe you money just so he could write you a reason why he couldn't pay it," jokes Freeman.

"His (Burns') relationship to words is why I love Robert Burns," says Freeman. "He has a playfulness with words and beauty with words. He is my Shakespeare."

Harpist Kathleen Page and flute player Tish McFadden will accompany the readings on their respective instruments.

The second half of the evening will comprise traditional folk songs and original songs, included on Freeman's newest album, "Isle of Staffa," released in December. Upon visiting the Isle of Staffa in 2008, Freeman was inspired by the uninhabited island's majestic scenery.

"I was going to write about a sailor going to Staffa, but decided to write about the island itself, when I realized the song should be about the island and not about somebody's experience," says Freeman.

Tickets to the supper are $15 and $5 for children, ages 12 and younger, and are available at Paddington Station in Ashland. To reserve tickets or for more information, call 541-482-1915.

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