“A Yankee, huh?” some of you reading might say. Not quite. You see, she grew up where I did, on the rural and desolate Canadian border, on the enormous Lake Champlain, surrounded by the majestic Adirondack Mountains to the west, Green Mountains to the east. In essence, a lot of what I love about this area (WNC), the sincerity of the people, the depths of the culture and sheer beauty of the geography, is very similar to what I was raised around, too.
And yet, Western North Carolina is a unique place all unto itself. With that, I wanted to plan out an unforgettable week of activities — places, spaces and faces that ideally showcase the region. So, like something out of the Family Circus comic strip, we meandered up, down and around the area.
It went something like this…
Tuesday — You arrived, now what?
It’s 8 p.m. I just picked her up at the airport. Not wanting to go home, we rolled into downtown Asheville. First stop was the regular Tuesday night gypsy-jazz/big band show by The John Henry’s at 5 Walnut Wine Bar. My favorite spot in downtown, the cozy 5 Walnut is a cosmopolitan hub of live music, great wine and craft beer, and an electric ambiance second-to-none. Onward to the wild bluegrass jam (also every Tuesday night) at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall in West Asheville. Isis is an old movie theatre turned into a space of candlelit tables, filled with scrumptious culinary treats and the sounds of the world radiating from the stage nightly. Both locations are key places to bring out-of-towners. www.5walnut.com or www.isisasheville.com.
Wednesday — We don’t want to stay in
Sure, it isn’t the weekend yet, but we want to go out and play. With my apartment in Waynesville, we headed downtown to Frog Level Brewing for a pleasant riverside beverage and hearty conversation, then to Tipping Point Brewing for their popular Trivia Night. An evening of brain-crushing questions, freshly made onsite craft beer and gut-busting meals under $10, it’s an environment as fun as it is inviting to any and all. www.froglevelbrewing.com or www.tippingpointtavern.com.
Thursday — Sunshine, fun time
Another beautiful day in Southern Appalachia, with sunshine cascading down upon us. Drove down I-40 West towards Exit 7, rode into Pisgah National Forest, over to Max Patch, a bald mountaintop with 360-degree priceless views of Southern Appalachia. It’s a little tricky to track down, so make sure to get proper directions beforehand. Oh, and what’s this? Thirsty Thursday is today at McCormick Field, home of the Asheville Tourists, a minor league baseball team. Is there nothing better in the summer than taking in an evening game at the ballpark? I don’t think so. Tickets are $7 for adults, $6 for kids/military/seniors, with draft beers on Thirsty Thursday starting at $1 (yes, $1). www.hikewnc.info or www.theashevilletourists.com.
Friday — Time to party
With the weekend upon us, we headed for a concert at The Mothlight, a new music venue in West Asheville, filled with neighborhood locals and the curious alike amid dim lighting and a wide-open dance floor. A raucous Americana/alt-rock band from Athens, Ga., Futurebirds, barreled into the building and overtook the stage — a show for the ages, to say the least, from one of the finest groups on the scene today. Afterwards, we met up with some of Haywood County’s finest at a house party for a friend’s wedding anniversary surprise party. Laughter echoed into the heavens above, as haphazard memories were rehashed over singing songs and porch storytelling. www.themothlight.com or www.futurebirdsmusic.com.
Saturday — Let’s wander
Up bright and early, we headed to Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley for the inaugural Richard’s Run, a 5K-trail race atop a mountain. Filled with grueling hills and gorgeous meadows to roam through, the course was as beautiful as it was trying. After lunch, we shot over to the Waynesville Craft Beer Faire at the nearby American Legion. With several local and regional tents pouring their delicious nectar, the event overflowed with hundreds of friendly folks, live music and hearty barbecue. As the sun fell behind the mountains, we hit the road for Knoxville (only an hour and a half or so drive from Haywood County) to visit some dear friends for the evening, where we strolled around downtown, ultimately hitting up the skyline rooftop bar at the always-enchanting Preservation Pub. www.cataloocheeranch.com or www.waynesvillebeer.com or www.preservationpub.com.
Sunday — Cruise to cap the weekend
Heading back to Waynesville from Knoxville, we decided to take the long way home through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A winding, breathtaking drive through the heart of the Smokies, every turn and stop was met with staggering peaks and rolling valleys. Our three-hour “tour” ended up taking all afternoon, as time seemingly flew by while we soaked in the beauty of the park and wandered around Cherokee. Oh, and the free samples at the Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine and Sugarlands distilleries in downtown Gatlinburg wasn’t too bad either (wink, wink). www.nps.gov.grsm or www.olesmoky.com or www.sugarlandsdistilling.com.
Monday — Low-key goodbye
Phew. What a long, joyous week together. Time for some much needed rest and relaxation before it’s time to head back to the airport. But, no week of fun would be complete without a goodbye crab cake (one of the best you’ll ever come across, no joke) and adult beverage within the warm, inviting atmosphere at The Sweet Onion in downtown Waynesville. Capped off with a mesmerizing mountain sunset from my porch, and you have yourself a pretty darn good time in Southern Appalachia. www.sweetonionrestaurant.com.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1: Blues/hard rockers The Hooten Hallers will perform at 9 p.m. Sept. 7-8 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.
2: The 2nd annual 7 Clans Rodeo will be held Sept. 5-6 at the intersection of U.S. 19/441 in Cherokee.
3: Blues-rocker Blind Lemon Philips will perform at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Labor Day Extravaganza at the Village Commons in Cashiers.
4: The Maggie Valley Labor Day Weekend Craft Show will be held Aug. 30-31 at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.
5: Country star Tim McGraw will perform at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at Harrah’s Cherokee.