But they still happen. Sometimes they are directly related to my job, other times they are more personal. Often, though, they occur in part due to this great place we get to call home.
The media was invited to the grand opening of a new restaurant, The Edison, at Grove Park Inn. I went Monday night with a couple of co-workers, Smoky Mountain Living Editor Sarah Kuckarski and Advertising Director Hylah Smalley. The restaurant hopes to attract locals from this area instead of just people staying at the inn, and the menu will use mostly local foods and serve lots of regional beers. It’s a great concept.
But what fascinated me was the crowd that showed up. The restaurant will feature the work of WNC artists, and so several were on hand. Restaurant owners and chefs were there, as were some of the growers who will provide food to the kitchen. Oscar Wong, owner of Highlands Brewing and the acknowledged godfather of the burgeoning Western North Carolina craft brewing industry, spoke briefly about the passion of people in this region have for all things local. And the media was also out in force, everyone from Jason Sandford (Ashvegas blog creator and Asheville Citizen-Times writer) to a Southern Living magazine editor who lives here.
As I looked around, I couldn’t resist comparing those attending to what one might find in any place besides Western North Carolina. Despite the fact that we were at the historic and iconic Grove Park, there were few coats and ties. It occurred to me that someone in pinstripes and nice suit would have looked more out of place than someone with bib overalls and a foot-long beard.
And there was a vibrancy to the crowd. These mountains attract energetic, engaging people, whether it’s an Asheville musician, a Cullowhee farmer or a young journalist. Lots of positive energy.
A few nights earlier, I was volunteering for Folkmoot USA in Waynesville, the international dance festival that comes to Western North Carolina every year during the last part of July. I’ve been involved in Folkmoot for more than a decade and always look forward to getting my annual dose of the interactions between dancers, musicians, locals and visitors.
One night after I finished helping to clean the kitchen— it was about 1 a.m. — the Canadians asked a couple of us to come to the “poolside terrace.” For those who don’t know, the Folkmoot Center is a nearly 100-year-old school, and there definitely is no pool. The Canadians, though, had acquired a kiddy pool and put it right outside the steps leading out of the old school’s auditorium, dubbing the spot their “poolside terrace.”
My daughter was a guide for the Canadian group, as was Jonathan Conner. The guides live with the group during the entire festival, helping them get to performances throughout the region on time, a job that also requires a commitment from a slew of bus drivers. Gary Justice was driving for the group.
The Canadians wanted to give a little token of thanks to the three of them, hence the invitation to me. But the magic happened after the presentation. A guitar and fiddle came out, and one of the Canadian girls, Fiona, started singing. As the impromptu ensemble provided background music, the Canadian group leaders started singing the praises of the Folkmoot festival and Western North Carolina. They spoke about the hospitality of the people they had met, and how they wanted to come back and visit Western North Carolina when they had more time and weren’t so busy performing.
It occurred to me that this group had tapped into the same energy I had felt at the Asheville event, a vibe that is unique to WNC. There are other places in America that have spun off entire cultural identities — Austin, Seattle, Santa Fe — but right now, there’s no place other than Western North Carolina I’d rather be.