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This must be the place: Their music being born of love, children danced night and day

Marcus King. (photo: Sandlin Gaither) Marcus King. (photo: Sandlin Gaither)

This past weekend at Kickin’ It On The Creek marked my 20th music festival in the last 27 weeks.

Three days off-the-grid with no cell service in the remote backwoods of Eastern Kentucky. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that incredibly beautiful place, physically and emotionally. It was truly a unique and moving experience. 

They don’t make festivals like KIOTC anymore: it’s rare, if anything. And I’ll be writing more about it in our next issue of Smoky Mountain Living magazine. So, stay tuned, for it was a wild, wondrous adventure into the depths of Southern Appalachian music and culture, all nurtured by Mother Nature. 

I didn’t realize I’d been to that many festivals until I started reflecting on it all during my long drive back to Western North Carolina on Sunday afternoon. And that doesn’t even figure in the countless concerts I’m finding myself at during the week between these melodic gatherings. 

It was never my plan to attend this many festivals (with several more tempting events on the calendar for this fall and winter). It just, well, happened that way, with my festival travels in recent months taking me to Florida, Maryland, New York, California, Tennessee, Virginia, etc. 

And I think a lot of it was this overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness within me that kept me hitting the road this year. I’ve felt like a ghost floating around society these past couple of years. Heck, maybe for several years now, truth be told. 

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In terms of festivals, I’m not sure I’ll ever push it this hard again in a single year. And I doubt I could even go any faster without the wheels falling off, too. 

But, within this spring and summer, I just kept leaving town, always chasing after some show, some band, some sense of self that resides within the endless cosmic nature of music, especially when performed live. 

I ran into a new friend this past weekend on the creek in Kentucky, someone I first crossed paths with last month when I was in The Bluegrass State covering the Railbird Festival in Lexington.

A true kindred spirit, this new friend is a soul I’m supposed to know and look upon fondly. Though I’m a raucous extrovert, it’s rare I can meet someone immediately and talk for hours, and do so seamlessly. 

Well, she got to asking me about why I go to festivals — why so many, and what purpose do they serve to the greater good within myself and others in attendance? 

I told her I guess it’s the magic of everyone (and from all walks of life) coming together for reasons bigger than themselves. The music festival is one of the last gathering spots in our world where division and divisive language (and actions) doesn’t really exist. 

These events are meant to be ones of celebration, of discovery, of adventure, and of toasting each other in the simple beauty that is human connection through melodic interaction. 

That, and I find such a camaraderie and solidarity with musicians and bands. The road has always been my home (our home): the haphazard nature of it all, of nothing and everything while in pursuit of dreams long-held and in earnest. 

My apartment has never felt like “home” for me, even after living in it for some seven years now. Sure, it’s nice to sleep in my actual bed after several days on the road, and to have friends over on my porch for a beer. 

But, mostly, my apartment is a place where my books and vinyl records are, where my old photographs and concert posters are: the room where I squirrel away my memories with dusty trinkets, wrinkled concert tickets and faded backstage passes.

I continue to chase the festivals — the music itself — with the same reckless abandon as I do the written word. But, by the same token, I feel like Forrest Gump when he stops running and turns to the people following him: “I’m pretty tired, think I’ll go home now.” 

And yet, what is “home,” huh? The older I get, the more I think it’s a feeling, rather than a place. Western North Carolina gives me a true sense of ease, in terms of physically feeling at home. Though, emotionally, I’ve yet to make that sincere and genuine connection. 

Lately, I feel this deep sense of one chapter closing, another opening. I don’t know what that means right now, but something is coming down the pike. And, at this moment in time, I think I wanted to prove to myself I could push the needle into this red zone of overdrive and overexertion to really see what I’m made of.

Or, I’m just some lonely dude running after the one thing that truly makes him happy: being in the presence of live music and writing about its ancient healing powers in the 21st century. 

Who knows, eh? That’s the beauty of the unknown cosmic universe: who knows? We all just keeping trying to navigate our paths to the best of our abilities in whatever time we’re given to do so. 

All that remains? Be kind to others. Be able to give love, and be able to receive love. The first two are within my wheelhouse, core concepts within my true heart and soul. But, the third has remained elusive, this silhouette on the horizon I keep running towards. Onward. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 


Hot picks

1 Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Day will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, on the campus in Cullowhee.

2 Author David Joy will be featured during the next installment of the “Southern Storytellers Supper Series” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville.

3 The 107th annual Cherokee Indian Fair will take place Oct. 1-5 at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds.

4 There will be a comedy night from 9 to 11 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, at Mad Anthony’s Taproom & Restaurant in Waynesville.

5 Lazy Hiker Brewing (Franklin) will host Heidi Holton (blues/folk) at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27. 

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