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.
Mountain music, dancing and tradition will be on display once again as the 45th annual Smoky Mountain Folk Festival celebrates the culture and heritage of Western North Carolina Sept. 4-5 on the shores of Lake Junaluska.
Manic, menacing and mesmerizing.
That’s how rock-n-roll is supposed to make you feel. It’s meant to be a bit jarring, a little sinister, with the slightest touch of magic — just enough to pull you in, making you aware that what you’re witnessing is something special, something to behold and share with others not-yet-in-the-know.
I stopped going.
For the better part of the last decade, my life during the summer was music festivals. From Maine to California, Michigan to Arkansas, I was there, in an endless crowd, cheering on the greatest musicians of our time. In those innumerable moments, I felt more alive, at home, and at peace, than anywhere else in the world.
Each year international groups from all over the world travel abroad to share their traditional folk dances and songs with other cultures.
They spend hundreds of hours researching, learning and rehearsing these songs and dances. They spend a lot of money on authentic costumes to accurately represent their heritage and they spend even more to go one tour and share their work with others.