This must be the place
Next week will mark my second Christmas in Western North Carolina. And, like last year, I won’t be making it back home to Upstate New York for the festivities. This has also been the case for Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.
And, as much as that would bum out some, I take it in stride. I’m supposed to be here. Southern Appalachia is where I’m doing bountiful work amid unparalleled natural beauty. Until I cross paths with my family again, which will hopefully be soon, I’ve also acquired another family — every one of you.
Throughout my year and a half living here, I feel truly blessed by all of the wonderful people, places and things I come across each day. There are so many incredible experiences to be had in these parts, and I wake up every day ready to encounter the next one.
With that said, I decided to take this week’s column and give a handful of shout outs to all of those that make me proud to live here, folks and locations making this region the shiny southern gem it is.
• Mary Harper, bartender and music promoter for No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) and the Water’n Hole Bar and Grill (Waynesville). Want to know why so many great bands from all over the country find themselves performing in our backyard? Mary. Simply put, she is a true music lover, which means her passion lies just as much in the sound as in sharing it with others. Thanks, Mary, for getting shakin’ legs all over Western North Carolina.
• Rolling Stone Burrito and Mad Batter Bakery & Café in Cullowhee. Tragically, both of these businesses were lost in a recent fire at Western Carolina University. But while they were open, each provided a true sense of community, not to mention all of the great food they make, too. They will be greatly missed, but all of us remain hopeful they will return.
• Donnie at the Frog Level bridge in Waynesville. Drive through there on any day, and he’s out there, waving and smiling to every vehicle. It may just be a smile and a wave, but for many, including myself, it reverberates throughout the community. Thanks, Donnie.
• Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City. Beyond their delicious craft beer (Noon Day IPA for life), the business is all about revitalizing its community. Whether it be hosting local events or consistently helping out on beautification and “Trail Magic” efforts on the nearby Appalachian Trail, the crew is top notch. As well, when the brewery found out I wasn’t going home for Thanksgiving, they immediately invited me to their gathering. Needless to say, I was grateful to sit at a table of new friends, fresh brew and a plate full of hot food on Turkey Day.
• John and Judy Stringfield of Waynesville. Thank you for also taking in this reporter for Thanksgiving, to feel truly part of your lovely family with bellies full of food, drink and laughter.
• Balsam Range. Proud sons of Haywood County, the bluegrass phenoms won the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Association award for “Album of the Year” — a huge honor in the music industry. On top of that, the group always gives back to its community. You’ll see them play any and all benefits, barbeques or celebrations. They are the true embodiment of Appalachian culture and the definition of southern hospitality as they continue to be ambassadors for the area.
• The folks at City Bakery and Earthworks Gallery in Waynesville, who provide me with fresh coffee and hearty conversation each morning as I ready myself for the day.
• Gary Carden of Sylva. The feisty writer/storyteller is a barrel of monkeys with his charm and wit. The 2012 North Carolina Literature Award winner, Carden has become as iconic as the Appalachian lore he’s passionately written about for decades. I’m thankful for his friendship, and his ability to give me a good chuckle when we cross paths.
• Local music. To Soldier’s Heart, SmokeRise, The Petticoat Government, Mile High Band, Porch 40, Balsam Range, Dylan Riddle, Positive Mental Attitude, Liz & AJ, Darren Curtis & The Buttered Toast, etc. All of you are making melodies and taking great pride in doing so. Everywhere I turn, you’re playing, and that’s great — the more, the merrier.
• Craft breweries. To the Tipping Point, BearWaters, Frog Level, Heinzelmannchen, Innovation and Nantahala. Western North Carolina is now a craft beer destination for the world. Keeping experimenting and keep loving what you do — because we do.
• Harrah’s Cherokee and Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin. Just in my time here, Harrah’s brought in The Black Crowes, Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert, with ZZ Top for New Year’s Eve, while the SMCPA has presented Merle Haggard, Dr. Ralph Stanley and soon Loretta Lynn. Big city entertainment right in our backyard. How lucky are we, eh?
• And to you readers out there. None of my dreams as a journalist would come true if it weren’t for all of our loyal readers. The support, encouragement and ideas presented to me on a daily basis make me feel truly grateful to be able to write and play in the paradise that is Western North Carolina. Thank you, and here’s to 2014. Happy holidays.
1: A preview screening of the “Cataloochee” documentary will be Dec. 20 at Haywood Community College.
2: The Nutcracker Ballet hits the stage at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin on Dec. 20-21.
3: Comedian Dave Stone performs at BearWaters Brewing in Waynesville on Dec. 21.
4: The “Alepocalypse Now” customer appreciation day at Tipping Point Brewery in Waynesville will be Dec. 21.
5: Gary Carden’s “Foxfire Christmas” storytelling will be Dec. 20 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.