Garret K. Woodward

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Amid the rich, vibrant musical tapestry of bluegrass, Americana, blues and folk at the core of Western North Carolina’s storied music scene, there are a handful of rising stage acts taking those roots influences and putting a more contemporary spin on it. 

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It was mid-afternoon Sunday and I couldn’t stand to be in my apartment another minute. I was done with all my writing for the day. I’d already eaten a hasty breakfast and had two iced coffees. It was time to disappear into the depths of Mother Nature. 

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On its new four-song EP, “Bloomin’,” Athens, Georgia-based rock outfit Futurebirds tapped Carl Broemel to not only produce the album, but also collaborate, as heard on the powerhouse track “Blue Eyed Girl.”

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Finishing my beer and burger, I emerged from the depths of Jimmy V’s bar in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel in downtown Raleigh last Thursday evening. In a sport coat, dress shirt and bolo tie, I headed for the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. 

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Putting the truck into park, I hopped out of the Tacoma in front of the legendary WNCW studios on the campus of Isothermal Community College in Spindale. Last Wednesday. Late morning. The long haul down there from Waynesville. 

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Situated on Pisgah Drive/N.C. 110 in the outskirts of downtown Canton is the WPTL studio, a Haywood County community radio station (101.7 FM/920 AM) featuring Appalachian music, high school sports and local news. 

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At the core of iconic rock guitarists, Jorma Kaukonen resides in the same company of his 1960s peers, which includes Jimi Hendrix, Terry Kath and Jerry Garcia. And though that trio of his contemporaries are long gone from this earth, Kaukonen remains — this cosmic soul of sonic power and melodic passion. 

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Sitting in a camping chair next to the small fire, I sipped a nightcap and reached for my phone to check what time it was. The screen said, “12:24 a.m. Saturday, September 11.” 

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With its latest album release, “A Tribute to Bill Monroe,” The Infamous Stringdusters pay homage to the long gone, yet dearly beloved “Father of Bluegrass” himself. 

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Kudos to the town of Sylva for hosting its inaugural Pride celebration this past Saturday in downtown. A day filled with activities, a parade and drag shows all in the name of showcasing and uplifting the LGBTQ+ community that lives and works (and thrives) in our mountain communities. 

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When the entire music industry shutdown for the foreseeable future in March 2020, many artists and bands didn’t know what to do with themselves. For most, all they’d known for years, perhaps decades, was rolling down the road to the next town, to entertain a raucous audience in a packed venue. 

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Oh, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. 

Charlie Watts. Drummer of The Rolling Stones. The backbone of rock-n-roll. Gone last Tuesday at age 80. The engine in the muscle car that is (or was, sadly) the Stones. Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far.” And I think that sums up Charlie Watts. 

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Standing next to a debris pile as tall as he is, Steve Chaney scans up and down U.S. 276 at the countless other debris piles, one for each home in Cruso that was ransacked by the devastating floodwaters two weeks ago. 

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Sitting in a chair in an open bay of his garage Monday afternoon, Ronnie Hannah can’t help but smile knowing he’s alive following the flood that ripped through the Cruso community two weeks ago. 

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In the world of electric guitar, few stand taller than Bill Frisell.

Frisell is to jazz and fusion music as Jimi Hendrix is to rock, Eric Clapton to blues, Chet Atkins to country. It’s a short list of six-string aces — each as unique, innovative and intricately talented as the next.

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Since they set up shop in Sylva just about three and a half years ago, Don and Cecelia Panicko have opened a café and a speakeasy, had a child and got married, all while weathering a global pandemic and the continuing economic fallout within the restaurant industry nationwide. 

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The green peppers. All of those damn green peppers. Throughout the coverage of this devastating flood from Tropical Storm Fred last Tuesday here in Western North Carolina, I keep seeing green peppers. Everywhere. 

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It’s late Friday morning. With cloudy skies above and a cool breeze swirling around her, Aubrey Ford gazes out onto what’s left of her front yard and the multiple homes on her family’s property following the raging floodwaters Tuesday night. She lights a cigarette and exhales with a sigh.

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It’s about a mile past Jukebox Junction, down along U.S. 276 heading towards the small mountain community of Cruso, when the strong, pungent smell of mud wafts into the open truck windows and up through your nostrils.

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Like clockwork, the garbage truck shook me awake at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday. Picking up the dumpster from the pizza joint next door and flipping it up and over the roof of the massive vehicle.

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A potent blend of rock, bluegrass, folk and electronica, The String Cheese Incident remains an innovative, intriguing force of nature and melody within the American musical landscape.

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I knew it was going to happen. But, I just didn’t know when it would.

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What started out 35 years ago as a handful of students at the University of Georgia getting together for the sake of playing music at college bars and fraternity parties has transformed itself into a bonafide American institution of rock-n-roll some four decades later.

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Opening up my email inbox last Friday morning, there was a press release from an entertainment publicist making note of the 25th anniversary that very day of Sublime’s multi-platinum self-titled album. 

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When it comes to the preservation and perpetuation of bluegrass music in the 21st century, Del McCoury is the leading force and signature face of its strength and survival moving forward.

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For several years, the small building at the corner of Main and Mill streets in downtown Sylva has sat dormant. Once the beloved Meatballs restaurant (from 1983-2000), the structure has gone through numerous reincarnations, only to once again remain silent — a space of potential and promise awaiting its next chapter. 

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With my feet dangling out of the back window of the truck, a cool morning breeze rolled through the Tacoma and woke me up. The first thing I saw was the silent pond below the vehicle, a handful of small tents situated around the body of water.

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If the old adage, “obstacles are opportunities,” rings true, then Art Alexakis might just be the definition of an opportunist. 

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Stepping into the lobby of the Days Inn just north of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, last Wednesday evening, I was immediately hit with the faint smell of cigarettes. The sign next to the front desk of the lodging establishment said “No Smoking: $150 Charge.” 

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For the last 25 years, few R&B/soul performers have risen to height of success and level of mainstream talent as Brian McKnight.

With his signature falsetto and seemingly unending vocal range, the multi-platinum artist is also a triple threat — singer, musician, songwriter. All of which has culminated into several radio hits and 16 Grammy nominations over the decades. 

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Emerging from the beer line along the top of the hill with a Fiddlehead IPA, I heard the slight sound of distortion and feedback echoing loudly from the massive stage down below.

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Five years ago, when the Southern Porch opened its doors in Canton, it wasn’t hard to get a parking spot in downtown.

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Nathan Manuel Arruda, age 42, passed away unexpectedly on Monday, June 28, at his place of residence in Rouses Point, New York. 

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In an effort to preserve and perpetuate the heritage arts and lore of the Great Smoky Mountains and greater Southern Appalachia, the Smoky Mountain Heritage Center has now come to fruition at the Meadowlark Motel in Maggie Valley.

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The air was cool and the sleeping bag warm when I heard the early morning loon from across Buck Pond. 

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In the annals of country-rock history, a handful of acts were able to ride the line of mainstream radio success, all while breaking new ground in fusing the respective genres. Like a buckin’ rodeo bull, these bands straddled the sounds of honky-tonk twang and razor-sharp electric six-strings. 

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It was about 15 minutes into meeting Sailor Steve and Texas Jeff when I knew I’d met some of the wildest souls on this damn planet. 

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A blend of jazz-fusion, bluegrass and avant-garde folk music, the Jon Stickley Trio is at the core of the current acoustic movement that’s been roaring through the national and international scenes over the last decade. 

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I was already 10 minutes late to my niece’s seventh birthday party some 20 minutes away last Sunday afternoon. 

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It was exactly a week ago when it was decided as a newsroom to cleanup up our offices for The Smoky Mountain News “Distant Social & Birthday Bash” last Friday afternoon. 

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It’s late morning at Citizen Vinyl in downtown Asheville. Formerly the Citizen-Times Building, the historic structure is now home to a record manufacturing facility, café, bar, record store and recording studio. 

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Leaving his hometown of Syracuse, New York, in 1988, singer-songwriter Martin Sexton hit the road — in search of not only himself and his place in the world, but also his audience, too. 

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He walked into the bar, grabbed a seat next to me, and proceeded to order four shots of Jameson Irish whiskey. He was surrounded by two friends to the left and one friend (me) to the right. I figured he was buying us a round, even if I wasn’t in the mood for liquor this past Monday evening.

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In the late spring of 2020, Russ Keith was cruising down U.S. 19 through the heart of Maggie Valley. Soon, he noticed the festival grounds out of the corner of his eye. He pulled in, stopped and got out of his car. 

Crossing the threshold of the White Moon café in downtown Sylva, one is drawn in by the scent of culinary delights and unique beverages. 

In its 14 years together, Haywood County’s own Balsam Range has risen into the upper echelon as one of the marquee acts in the national and international bluegrass scene — this once in a generation blend of songbird harmonies and lightning fast finger pickin’. 

About three years ago, Sarah and Eric Rehmann uprooted their lives in Raleigh and headed for Western North Carolina. 

On most days, the patio at Lazy Hiker Brewing in downtown Franklin is filled with locals and visitors alike, each enjoying the concoctions pouring out of from the large warehouse behind the taproom. 

Grabbing a seat inside Mad Anthony’s Taproom in downtown Waynesville one recent evening, Benji Boessel and Alex Tinsley can’t help but gaze around at the other tables. 

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