Garret K. Woodward

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With my 38th birthday right around the corner, I went on a first date last week. It seemed to go well enough that we met back up the very next night to continue our enjoyable conversation from the previous rendezvous. 

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Hello from Room 827 at the Marriott Town Center in downtown Charleston, West Virginia. The outside temperature is dropping, all while soft snowflakes cascade by the hotel window onto the cold pavement below. 

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There’s an old backpack in my apartment. I’ve had it since college. And since those academic days back in Connecticut and greater New England, it’s held my road journals. 

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Sitting in The Scotsman in downtown Waynesville on Sunday evening, I found myself sporadically watching the last NFL game of the season as the Detroit Lions eventually overtook the Green Bay Packers.

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With the recent departure of founding member Woody Platt, the Steep Canyon Rangers found themselves at a crossroads — now what? 

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As it has been stated in this publication many times before, the litmus test of the strength of a community is by how strongly its arts is supported.

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New Year’s Eve. A little past 9 a.m. in Room 211 of the Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, within earshot of the airport and the bustling Interstate 40. 

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It’s 2:54 a.m. in the rural backwoods of Virginia and Vince Herman hands me a shot of high-end tequila. With his trademark Cheshire Cat grin, Herman then pours himself a shot, soon raising it high into the air in honor of another incendiary performance. 

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It was another quiet Sunday morning in the ole humble abode in downtown Waynesville. But, this go-round, it was Christmas morning. Emerge from bed. Grab a glass of water. Check emails. Open the front door and check how much colder today is than yesterday.

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Sunday morning. Across the globe, Argentina and France were battling it out in the World Cup soccer final in Qatar. Half-a-world away, and yet I was already a half-hour late for the early morning “Bloody Marys & Futbol” party up the mountain ridge outside of town at my friend’s house. 

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In the depths of the Fangmeyer Theatre, on the property of the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre (HART), just down the hill from Main Street in Waynesville, Steven Lloyd sits behind his desk. 

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It’s 51 degrees with a warm sun and blue skies hovering above downtown Waynesville. A little after 2 p.m. Monday with a cup o’joe in-hand while sitting at Orchard Coffee. Folks milling about in conversation, others simply reading a book or typing away.

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After four years of radio silence, the nationally revered Warren Haynes Christmas Jam will return for its 31st installment on Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Harrah’s Cherokee Event Center in Asheville. 

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Hello from Room 128 at the Red Roof Inn in Hardeeville, South Carolina, just north of the Georgia state line off Interstate 95. It’s 10:01 a.m. Yesterday, I awoke in Room 208 at the Hampton Inn outside of Lake Wales, Florida.

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As of yesterday, Monday, Nov. 28, I’ve run 2,525 days in a row. I hadn’t checked in on “the streak” in a while, but was curious at where it stood after coming across a 2021 article for Outside magazine, titled “The Minds and Habits of Master Streakers.”

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Writers’ Note: Since I started in the position of arts and entertainment editor at The Smoky Mountain News in 2012, I’ve been able to dive deep into the legend and lore of bluegrass sensation Balsam Range.

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In a year that’ll surely end on a bittersweet note, beloved Haywood County bluegrass sensation Balsam Range is not only celebrating 15 years together, the band is also saying goodbye to one of its founding members, mandolinist Darren Nicholson. 

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I was about an hour behind schedule leaving my native Plattsburgh, New York, the truck aimed for Waynesville and greater Western North Carolina. Some 1,100 miles in one direction, and yet it was already 1 p.m. on Thursday when I finally embarked from my folks’ farmhouse. 

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At just 31 years old, Sierra Hull is already a legend in the bluegrass world. With her signature songbird vocals and mandolin virtuosity, the performer has also taken home “Mandolin Player of the Year” at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards five times. 

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I had about an hour window of no rain before the remnants of the tropical storm would slowly, but surely, slide into the North Country. The clouds were already darkening above the Adirondack Mountains as the nose of the truck was aimed west, heading out from my parents’ farmhouse on the outskirts of Plattsburgh, New York. 

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In conversation, Fred Chappell is a man of few words and sentiments. Perhaps that’s because he uses all of his vocabulary and emotions to spill across the blank page. 

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It’s a dreary early late fall afternoon here at my folks’ farmhouse, tucked away on a side road, just off Route 22 outside of Plattsburgh, New York. And although the red, orange and yellow leaves on the ground signal November, the odd 70+ degree temperatures say otherwise.

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At the core of all beloved singer-songwriters is this raw honesty and genuine compassion, to conjure the good, bad and ugly of the human condition, all in an effort to put forth solidarity to the listener that, regardless of what happens, tomorrow is another day to get out of bed and push ahead. 

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Slowly opening my eyes in the waning hours of Sunday morning, I could hear the last of the fall foliage tourist traffic zoom by my apartment on nearby Russ Avenue in downtown Waynesville, heading out of town until this time next year.

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Sliding into a chair at a table in Orchard Coffee, in the heart of downtown Waynesville, singer-songwriter Chris Staples lets a slight sigh out into the late night — one of appreciation for the moment that just flew by. 

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Hello from Room 307 at the Hilton Garden Inn amid the coastal community of Monterey, California. It’s 11 a.m. and I have a flight to catch from San Francisco to Atlanta later tonight. But, for now? I figured I’d wander up the along the Pacific Coast Highway, ole Route 1, en route to SFO for that 10:50 p.m. takeoff. 

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Cruising along Soco Road in the heart of Maggie Valley, one immediately notices the bright lights of the sign in front of the Meadowlark Motel. The retro fixture is a beloved sight along the roadside, with the next event happening at the Smoky Mountain Heritage Center, located on the property, proudly displayed on the marquee.

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Editor’s Note: While on assignment for Rolling Stone out in Monterey, California, last weekend, Garret decided to hang out in San Francisco for a couple of days beforehand, just to hit the ground runnin’ and once again feel the vibe of the city he missed. The following is what he felt, and wrote about, in real time.

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Grabbing the last empty picnic table behind Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville one recent afternoon, Frank Bonomo gazed along the nearby Richland Creek, only to shift his attention to the buzz of people, conversation, and live music swirling around the vast patio area.

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Emerging from his merchandise table at The Grey Eagle in Asheville last week, legendary troubadour Ramblin’ Jack Elliott moseyed on over to where I stood in the lobby. With a signature grin rolling across his face, the 91-year-old folk hero extended his hand and said he was looking forward to our interview backstage.

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Since 1987, New Jersey-based Blues Traveler has remained one of the hardest working and most resilient rock acts in the mainstream music scene, something championed by the group’s vast network of diehard fans the world over.

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Room 424. Marriott City Center. Raleigh. Thursday. Awakened by the sounds of a banjo and laughter in the hallway, the room was pitch black from the curtains still shut high above downtown. The clock stated 9:15 a.m. Emerge from one’s slumber, onward into the impending day.

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Pulling up to the Skyline Lodge, a peaceful silence washes over you while emerging from your vehicle. Walking toward the courtyard entryway, laughter and conversation is heard, whether between old friends or strangers who became fast friends. Soon, the smell of culinary delights wafts from the open doorway to the Oak Steakhouse.

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What’s that feeling you get pulling back up in front of your humble abode after weeks away, wandering and pondering?

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Waking up in the hotel room at the Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, last Saturday morning, I rubbed my eyes and stretched out in the king bed. Another solo excursion of irresponsible enlightenment, which has now landed me above the border — in the land of friendly faces, poutine and hockey.

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At age 63, singer-songwriter Marty Stuart is regarded as an American musical institution. With a core tone radiating the sounds of country and bluegrass, Stuart careens across the musical spectrum — onstage and in the studio — making additional stops in the realms of rockabilly, blues, folk, roots and soul.

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Monday afternoon. Plattsburgh, New York. Grabbing a few things for my intended hike up near Tupper Lake, in the depths of the Adirondack Mountains, I walked out the door of my parents’ farmhouse just as my mother asked where I was going.

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Sliding into a booth at The One Stop, a storied basement music venue in the heart of downtown Asheville, lead singer Brett O’Connor readies himself to soon take the cavernous stage, standing before a microphone in front of a sea of anonymous faces — all eager to see just what he and his band, Sneezy, have to offer.

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The alarm on the smart phone shook me out of some foggy, odd dream. Par for the course, in terms of the subconscious realm. Lots on the mind lately, whether near or far from my inner thoughts and emotions. Turn off the alarm and emerge from one’s slumber. 

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What’s that feeling the day before a big trip? More so, a road trip? Where you’re mulling over what to pack and what to not forget to do before you leave town — your friends and all things familiar now in the rearview mirror.

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One of the finer experiences of being a bona fide music freak is to witness and appreciate the growth and development of a particular group. You’re not only seeing new layers added to an ensemble, but also the continued trajectory of their artistic and creative pursuits.

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Before March 2022, 28-year-old Zeb Ross didn’t have a social media presence. No Instagram, TikTok or Twitter. He did have a personal Facebook account for a little while, but got rid of it when he was a teenager because, according to Ross, “there’s good and bad with social media, but it can also be a distraction.”

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Stepping out onto the porch late Sunday morning, the air was cool. The first sign of an impending fall, even though there’s exactly one month left of summer, at least according to the calendar. 

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Sitting on a barstool at The Water’n Hole in Waynesville last Monday afternoon, I took a pull from the cold Budweiser bottle and let out a slight sigh. Stories and tales were being exchanged all along the bar counter about where folks were and what they were doing during “The Great Flood of 2021.” 

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Handing an old red bandana back and forth to wipe away the tears emerging from their eyes, Wendy and Chuck Rector sit in two plastic Adirondack chairs on what was once a pristine property — a dream home of sorts, truth be told.

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A pillar of the Americana, country and bluegrass realms, legendary singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale is one of the few artists who has been able to seamlessly drift between three distinct, sacred genres of music.

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Once the paved road turned to dirt, I noticed a small pull-off to the right. Putting the ole Tacoma in park, I emerged from the vehicle and could hear the sounds of passing cars on the Blue Ridge Parkway just above me and through the nearby tree line on this lazy Monday afternoon. 

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It’s Thursday morning. In just about a half-hour, The Sweet Onion restaurant in downtown Waynesville will open for lunch — another rush of locals and visitors alike soon to walk through the door on Miller Street. 

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Tapping my smart phone, it lights up and indicates that it’s now 2:34 a.m. Saturday. Sitting on my tailgate in the depths of the FloydFest camping woods, I’m sharing the vehicular platform with my new friend, June. It’s dark, with the only light coming from an illuminated dirt road on the other side of the tree line and the red glow at the end of the joint June just sparked up.

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Not far from the intersection of N.C. 107/281, just down Shook Cove Road in the heart of Tuckasegee, a large driveway soon appears to the right. On a recent evening, the massive entry gate is wide open to the public, all in anticipation of the evening’s impending performance.

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