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This must be the place

art garretIt was the reason I came to the South.

Situated in the southeastern corner of Tennessee, the city of Chattanooga is a rapidly growing, bustling hub of culture and commerce in Southern Appalachia. Like Asheville, both cities went through hard times following the end of their manufacturing eras. Each became stagnant, searching for an identity that eventually evolved into prosperous havens for artists, musicians, chefs, craft brewers, etc.


This past Saturday, I wandered back to Chattanooga to visit a couple of old friends, who are now married and reside in the city. In the midst of the enormous Riverbend Festival, featuring national music acts and an array of activities, we strolled downtown and soaked in all its glory, as well as the usual blanket of humidity draped over the city.

I first visited Chattanooga when the couple moved there in 2009. We all met each other when I was a reporter way out on the Idaho/Wyoming state line in 2008, surrounded by the majestic Grand Teton mountain range. At the time, besides a handful of family trips and one jaunt to Bonnaroo, I hadn’t really explored the South. Chattanooga got me excited. Every block I walked down, I would smell something delicious from a nearby organic restaurant or a sumptuous fresh craft beer from a local brewery, not to mention all the picturesque southern belles walking by that always seemed to catch the eye of this Yankee from Upstate New York.

I was sold. Each subsequent time I would visit Chattanooga, I became more and more engrossed with the idea of living below the Mason-Dixon Line. I decided to apply for every job I could that was in, around or near the city. This soon led to the acceptance of my current position at The Smoky Mountain News. 

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This past weekend was the first time I’d been back down to Chattanooga since I relocated to Western North Carolina almost a year ago. Yes, the city was just as I remembered it – delicious food, great beer and cute girls. But, something was different this time. That something became the words coming from my mouth. 

I found myself excitedly chatting with my friends not about Chattanooga, but about how wild and wondrous Western North Carolina truly is. Have you listened to the incredible bluegrass group Balsam Range? You ever taste Nantahala Brewing Company’s “Noon Day IPA”? Ever take your mountain bike to the Tsali Recreation Area or behind Western Carolina University? Are you going to see The Black Crowes at Harrah’s Cherokee?

The questions and excitement kept going to the point where my friends are now already planning a trip up to visit me. Headed back to Haywood County, a smile rolled across my face as I drifted down Highway 74, along the fast-moving Ocoee River and up through the heart of Western North Carolina. I was home, and I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in whatever else this incredible area has to offer.


Hot picks

11980s rock-n-roll legend Billy Idol hits the stage at Harrah’s Cherokee Event Center on June 21.

2 A faculty artist reception for the Cullowhee Mountain ARTS programs will be displayed on June 20 in the Fine Art Museum at Western Carolina University.

3 Bluegrass group Balsam Range headlines PlottFest on June 22-23 at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.

4 Sunburst Trout Farms presents the “Summer Solstice Soiree” on June 22 in Canton.

5 The Big Nasty Jazz Band plays the Central Plaza at Western Carolina University on June 20.

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