The Great Smoky Mountains Association’s newest musical release, “Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition,” earned a Grammy nomination recently for “Best Album Notes” as written by Ted Olson, professor of Appalachian Studies and Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Some four years ago, I reviewed Matthew Baker’s first book, My Appalachian Granny, a delightful collection of anecdotes, photographs and provocative history. Much of the book dealt with Baker’s friendship with Evelyn Howell Beck, whose life reflected the qualities that the author had come to admire.
From frost-churned fields on steep hills above shadow-soaked coves spring mossy fieldstones, hopelessly eroded and only becoming more so, season by season.
What would you do?
A pile of drugs. A stack of cash. More money than you’ve ever seen in your life, and more illegal fun and chaos than you ever thought possible. And yet, while standing at this crossroads there’s a dead body on the floor, bullet hole through the head, blood spilling across the floor, ever closer to your shoes, and also your link to the situation.
To review a book or to write a “book review” is to pinpoint its particular presence and its peculiarities. To trap its transcendence of the time in which it takes place. And the time it reaches out to where the reader resides. It hopes to stop time in its tracks and expand it at the same time. Taking us to somewhere else. Somewhere like a window we can look through and see the importance of this book — for better or worse.
For Wiley Cash, being a writer is not about milestones in his career that define his passion. Rather, it’s the simple idea of a person sitting down with a blank page, one ready to be filled with the unlimited possibility of creative prose.
“For a longtime, I thought if I’m a writer it will mean ‘this’ or if I write a New York Times bestseller it will mean ‘this,’” he said. “But, I realized that it’s all the same work. It’s still the act of putting words on a page, and trying to do it in a manner that’s more believable and true than what you did the day before.”
Looking up at the old chimney, William “Gene” Gibson still wonders how Santa Claus ever managed to fit in it.
“I never could figure how’d he come down through there and not get all covered in black,” the 87-year-old chuckled.
For the better part of the last 45 years, David Holt has ventured down a rabbit hole.
Born in Texas, raised and schooled in California, Holt took off after college for the ancient, mystical mountains of Western North Carolina. Fascinated with the traditional old-time folk and string music echoing from Southern Appalachia, he began an endless journey to find, learn and perpetuate the eternal voices and sounds radiating from back hollers and front porches.
Amy Ammons Garza has always looked out for her little sister, Doreyl Ammons Cain.
“Make sure you mention when the mural will be unveiled,” Garza said. “She’s always forgetting things.”
“I am not,” Cain countered with a laugh. “Ever since we were kids, she’s made sure everything I needed is taken care of.”
Sunshine spills into Jackson County. The warm late summer rays cascade down into the mountains, ultimately flowing into the fields of Balsam Gardens. A handful of figures are seen wandering the mystical property, picking some of the freshest and finest produce found in Western North Carolina.
“Being able to remake my own little piece of society in the way that I want to with my hands is what keeps me going,” said Steven Beltram.