“What’s with the flower?” is a question John Brute has become accustomed to answering on March 1 each year.
Since his youth in the small Welsh town of Mochdre, which translates as “Pig Town,” he’s worn a daffodil in honor of St. David’s Day. It’s his homeland’s holiday, comparable to St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Leeks and traditional Welsh clothing are also worn as part of the celebration (women typically don a red cloak and a tall black hat), and there’s plenty of singing and dancing.
Since moving to the U.S. in 2004, Brute and his wife, Brenda (an Asheville native), have spent the annual feast day going out to dinner and having a private celebration. This March 1, however, Brute and his folk-rock trio, The Petticoat Government, will share Welsh heritage at Jack of the Wood with the help of Waynesville porch/soul six-piece Soldier's Heart and Atlanta-based Americana quintet Owner of the Sun.
“The reason I am making an effort this year is because I noticed that St. David's Day falls on a Saturday,” says Brute, who isn’t aware of any similar celebrations previously held in Asheville. “This made planning an activity more appealing, and I thought it would be a fun way of introducing people to Welsh culture through music.”
Dewi Sant, or St. David, is the patron saint of Wales, and many miracles have been attributed to him. The most incredible was causing the ground to rise underneath him while preaching at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi, a church council held around A.D. 545 in the central county of Ceredigion.
Several cities across Wales hold lively parades in celebration of St. David's Day. The largest is in Cardiff, the capital. There, streets are packed with people of all ages wearing their daffodils and leeks proudly, and waving the Welsh national flag with its red dragon high above their heads.
For the Jack of the Wood show, a Welsh flag will be on display throughout the three performances. The Petticoat Government promises to play a traditional Welsh song called “Dacw 'Nghariad,” which means “there is my sweetheart.” Fittingly, each band member will wear a daffodil.
Meg Proffitt Heathman and Amanda McGuire, who round out The Petticoat Government’s lineup, are not Welsh. They do share a Celtic heritage with Brute through Scottish and Irish ancestry. Some members of Soldier's Heart and Owner of the Sun probably can also claim Celtic lineage, though the primary reason they’re on the bill is in thanks for their support of Brute’s group. The frontman and his bandmates are all relative newcomers to performing music. Since last year's Shining Rock Riverfest in Canton, the other two ensembles have given The Petticoat Government a huge boost of confidence.
“It means a great deal to me to have the opportunity to share and celebrate a day that is so important to me with people I consider to be family,” says Brute. As for his biological family, they’re all back in the U.K. Brute keeps in touch through Facebook and avidly follows the Welsh national rugby team. He also occasionally finds articles or blogs written in Welsh to help maintain his linguistic skills, but pride for his nation requires no continuing education. The tattoo on the inside of his left arm is a lyric from the Welsh national anthem: "Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad" or "True am I to my country."
While there are some pockets across the country where Welsh folk reside, there’s no distinct hub to rival the Irish strongholds of Boston and Chicago. Brute believes this factor may be why St. David's Day hasn't had the same impact in the U.S. as St. Patrick's Day, though he’d like to see that change.
If the Jack of the Wood event is a success, Brute hopes there will be demand for a similar gala next year. Should the gathering help inspire an appreciation for Welsh heritage in Western North Carolina, he’d gladly welcome it, but his goals for the evening are more modest. “My main reason for organizing this was to give people a reason to have a great time and to enjoy music,” he says. “Anything else that this celebration kicks off will be a bonus.”
what: St. David’s Day Jam with The Petticoat Government,
Soldier's Heart and Owner of the Sun
where: Jack of the Wood, jackofthewood.com
when: Saturday, March 1, at 9 p.m. $7