It’s my favorite time of the year. There is nothing like fall. To me, this season isn’t about pumpkin lattes, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin beer, and all along down the line of things pumpkin. It isn’t about an excuse to wear new boots, scarves or leggings. It isn’t even about screaming at the top of your lungs at a football game.
It’s about chipping away. When you come into this world, you’re a block of unknown potential. Untouched and ready to be molded into whatever shape and size your ultimate destiny takes. And those lines and curves of your being come from experience, from wandering and discovering, on your own, just what you’re made of.
I was told “good luck.”
In August 2012, as one of my first assignments for The Smoky Mountain News, I found myself at the doorstep of the Maggie Valley Opry House. Owned and operated by acclaimed banjoist Raymond Fairchild, I was told “good luck” when it came to actually having a civil interview with the bluegrass icon. Referred to as “crabby” or “ironclad,” I wondered just how well my sit-down with him would actually go.
Heading north on State Road 135, just outside the small town of Nashville, Indiana, the stretch of pavement curves along a mountain ridge, as if you’re rolling along the spine of a snake. Though the last rays of summer are still holding strong back in Western North Carolina, fall colors had spilled onto the endless landscape of multi-colored trees and sheered cornfields in the heartland of America.
With Nashville in the rearview mirror, you roll up and down the foothills of rural Brown County. Soon, a large bright yellow sign appears to your right. You almost have to slam your brakes when it makes itself known at the last second. In big letters it states, “Bill Monroe’s Memorial Music Park & Campground — Home of the Brown County Jamboree.”
He sat two seats up from me. In seventh grade advanced algebra class, Tom Pearo was your typical late-1990s kid. A bowl cut atop his head, with Airwalk everything for attire, I first noticed him when he turned around to talk to Susan Seymour.
It was another banner year for Western North Carolina bluegrass acts at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards in Raleigh last Thursday evening.
Despite torrential downpours, and the possible threat of Hurricane Joaquin making landfall, the industry showcase once again brought together musicians, promoters and bluegrass fans alike for a week of memorable moments, onstage and off.
Variety is the spice of life. Within the realm of music, those spices can range from the hot heat of New Orleans funk and the Chicago blues to the sweet taste of California sunshine soul and Nashville front porch singer-songwriters.
And yet, where does the largest spice rack of sound reside? Well, in Southern Appalachia of course. Right in our own backyard you have the crossroads — literally and figuratively — of bluegrass, country, rock-n-roll, jazz, blues and folk tones. This melting pot of melodies flows down these steep mountains, from the deep hollers, backwoods coves, dark basements, old garages and rickety barns of Western North Carolina.
Standing behind the counter of High Country Tire, Summer McMahan is a long way from the bright lights of New York City.
Outside the shop and convenience store, cars zip and zoom by nonstop down U.S. 441, either coming from Dillsboro to the north or Franklin to the south. And though the 22-year-old is busy ringing up purchases or talking up the locals who make a stop to High Country as part of their daily routine, McMahan thoughts keep drifting back to the Big Apple, back to Radio City Music Hall where she recently took the stage to perform on the NBC hit show “America’s Got Talent.”
It is the heartbeat of a town and its people.
While some communities pride themselves on their Christmas, 4th of July or Memorial Day festivities, the town of Canton showcases Labor Day — a time every year when any and all cheer the workingman, the blue-collar nature of a place as special and unique as its inhabitants.
With the cornfields as high as an elephant’s eye, apples just ripe for the pickin’ and the last of the August sunshine still warming our glorious souls, it’s also time to harvest the innumerable records that have recently hit shelves and eager ears, ready to strike a fire in your heart.