This must be the place: ‘Some get stoned, some get strange, but sooner or later, it all gets real’

Hello from Room 245 at the Best Western Mountain Lodge in Banner Elk. It’s Sunday morning. Overcast skies and temperatures hovering in the 50s, a far cry from the 75-degrees and sun felt yesterday. 

My girlfriend sleeping soundly next to me. One of my best buddies in the next bed. This trio slowly awakening into the unknown day after a wild-n-out Saturday in the depths of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was asked to stage emcee at Beech Mountain Ski Resort as part of its summer concert series.

This past weekend jam-band stalwarts The String Cheese Incident and Americana icons The Wood Brothers hit the massive stage situated slope-side underneath chair lifts. It always means a lot to me to stand up there in front of thousands of faces and get them all riled up and excited to once again partake in the sacred, ancient ritual that is live music.

Awaken into Sunday morning. Stretch out the limbs and pull back the window curtains. Gaze out upon the somewhat empty hotel parking lot, most of the room renters long gone down that ole road to destinations unknown. Throw on your shoes and head for the breakfast buffet in the Best Western lobby before they shut and lock the dining room doors at 10 a.m.

Some lukewarm scrambled eggs, overcooked sausage, one glass of apple juice and two cups of coffee later, back to the room to pack up and motor to Haywood County via Spruce Pine and Burnsville by U.S. 19E, Interstate 26 East and I-40 West. Gratitude always in tow for a clean bed to sleep in, shower to use, food to eat and a working vehicle to meander around to somewhere, anywhere.

Heading back to Waynesville, my girlfriend was fast asleep in the backseat of the automobile by the time we crossed over the Banner Elk city limits. She and I are coming up on a year-and-a-half together. It’s been quite the wonderful, whirlwind ride, thankfully. I’ve waited a long time for her and we’re making up for lost time with each spur-of-the-moment road trip and dinner date night.

My friend was in the passenger’s seat rehashing old tales of his partying days within the previous chapters of his life in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and in the suburbs just outside of Chicago, Illinois. Tight s-curve roads like wine bottle openers through Avery, Mitchell and Madison counties. Myself happily indulging in the hearty conversation, all while letting the mind drift.

Thoughts of last Friday night, which was the 25th anniversary party of The Smoky Mountain News. And 12 years for myself at the helm of the arts/culture editor position. I’d estimate better than about a hundred or so folks wandered in and out when all was said and done by the end of the evening — the Boojum Brewing kegs finally tapped, the last of the cheese/fruit platter devoured with gusto, the final goodbyes (for now) between old friends and new ones.

As has now become (somewhat) of a tradition during the SMN birthday party, I corralled the rambunctious crowd, “come gather ‘round” as I’ve got a few words and sentiments to share with y’all. All y’all. Hand me the microphone and let the deep sense of gratitude spill out for all to see and hear — in real time and place, with sincerity to you and yours.

Feelings of what it means to be a community newspaper carefully navigating the often-choppy waters of modern day society, of a rapidly changing media landscape in the digital age, of an era of human existence where the lines of truth get blurred and confusing, only leading to more confusion, resentment and anger radiating in seemingly every direction.

As stated many times before, whether in this publication or standing atop a truck tailgate during the anniversary shindig, all of us here at The Smoky Mountain News live and work in your backyard. This is our home, too. And each of us is damn proud to put down genuine roots here. Whether we agree or disagree, respect is the name of the game for every single one of us who digs deep to kick this paper out the door on Tuesday evenings.

It’s a pretty special thing to experience first-hand in life, which is when one simply walks down Main Street in Waynesville and finds themselves in a constant motion of interaction and conversation with familiar and beloved faces. Small business owners. Local officials. Friends made over cold suds at the local watering hole. I’ve always said to new folks to town, “You won’t last long here if you don’t give people the time of day.” 

And I mean that will all of my heart and soul. Giving folks the time of day is quickly becoming a lost art in our world, but not here in Western North Carolina. People still care about others, whether they fall in line with your politics, religion, ideologies or not. Drop everything and help one another. No questions asked. What matters most is a sense of community and I’ll champion that eternally.

Come hell or high water, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more giving, jovial and welcoming group of humans than here in this place, carefully cradled by these mountains and the cosmic magic and grandeur conjured by the rocks, dirt, trees and water of this habitat, by the blood, sweat and tears of those who inhabit it. Handshakes and bear hugs. Apple pies and sweet tea. Old trucks and dirty boots. It’s about leaning in to life as its finest.

For me, personally, this “Damn Yankee” from Upstate New York, this community has embraced me and shown me true friendship and fellowship all through my 12 years wandering and pondering these beautiful mountains of ours. Friendships held tightly that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered had I decided to take another gig somewhere else. It’s fate and passion as to how and why I ended up here. The gratitude remains.

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

The Scotsman gets the blues

Popular blues/folk singer-songwriter Heidi Holton will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at The Scotsman Public House in Waynesville. 

Will you ‘Bee the Change’?

Author John Kotab will present his latest book, “Bee the Change: If We Protect, Nature Will Provide,” at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville. 

Learn about Ukraine in Haywood County

On Thursday, June 13, 2024, David Crane, author, scholar and international prosecutor, will provide insights on the implications of the war in Ukraine on our national security and world safety.

This must be the place: Ode to this newspaper, ode to a quarter century

It was just about 12 years ago when I first rolled into Waynesville. After a solo 18-hour, 1,000-mile trek from my native Upstate New York to Western North Carolina, I found myself sitting in an office chair awaiting an in-person interview with Smoky Mountain News publisher/founder Scott McLeod. 

‘Conversations with Storytellers Series’

As part of the “Pigeon Community Conversations with Storytellers Series,” social entrepreneur, veteran and visual and performing artist DeWayne Barton will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center, located at 450 Pigeon St. in Waynesville. 

Folkmoot LIVE! celebrates African culture

Folkmoot USA is pleased to present “An African Cultural Experience,” which will feature Percussion Discussion Afrika and Chinobay at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville. 

Art fundraiser for local schools

The annual QuickDraw art fundraiser will once again be held in-person from 4:30-9 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at Laurel Ridge Country Club in Waynesville. 

HART presents ‘The Gods of Comedy’

A special stage production of “The Gods of Comedy” will be held at 7:30 p.m. June 7-8, 14-15, 21-22, 27-29 and 2 p.m. June 9, 16, 23 and 30 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville. 

Haywood Arts ‘Pets’ exhibit

The Haywood County Arts Council (HCAC) will unveil its latest exhibit, “Pets,” with an opening reception from 6-9 p.m. Friday, June 7, at the Haywood Handmade Gallery at the HCAC in Waynesville. 

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At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

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