Garret K. Woodward

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For a group whose core mission is to promote positivity and compassion, The Get Right Band has found its ideals tested and pushed to the brink during the current Coronavirus Pandemic. 

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I awoke to the sounds of tractor-trailers zooming by on the other side of the motel parking lot. It was a Super 8 right off Interstate 84, just outside the town of Maybrook, New York. 

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Sitting on his side porch in West Asheville last Thursday morning, guitarist Jon Stickley strums his 1958 Martin acoustic. Sunshine cascades onto his large backyard filled with the sounds of birds and wind chimes hanging nearby. 

And though the scene is serene and relaxing, Stickley would rather be on the road and onstage in the midst of the organized chaos that is the annual festival circuit. 

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It’s been exactly two months since I remember what it felt like. You know, “normalcy.” 

It was a Tuesday and also St. Patrick’s Day. By order of the governor, the bars and restaurants of North Carolina were to close until further notice at 5 p.m. Oddly enough, it was one of the nicest days of the year at that point in the mountains of Southern Appalachia. Sunshine and a warm breeze signaling spring after another winter gone by. 

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Walking out of my apartment this past Tuesday, the morning sun illuminated the mud plastered all over the side of my ole Toyota Tacoma. It was time to edit and put out the newspaper, but the only thing I could think about was when I could once again escape into the wildness. 

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When Richard Gray was 9 years old, he would get up at 3:30 a.m. and ride his bicycle down to the docks on the coast of Maine to help the lobstermen of his hometown of Gouldsboro. 

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Though most of us have acclimated to the idea and implementation of silence in this era of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the sounds of hammers and sawblades have been echoing down McCracken Street in Waynesville as of late.

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Though the front door is locked, the large garage and repair bays of Waynesville Tire are wide open and ready for business.

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While society continues to adapt to ongoing shelter-in-place orders, many folks would jump at the chance to be in the presence of endless shelves and coolers filled with craft beer. But, for Marlowe Mager, all he can think about is how to get rid of all the bottles and cans that currently surround him.

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Stepping into the hotel room, my mother had an odd expression on her face when she looked at me and said, “I got you something for your birthday. If you don’t like it, then you can give it away to someone.”

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It’s late morning and situated behind his desk in the back office of the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville is Steven Lloyd. Leaning back in his chair, Lloyd sighed at the question posed to him: what’s the current status of HART? 

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While waiting for my coffee to be brewed in the back of the newsroom this past Tuesday, I stared blankly into the abyss. 

Looking around the small nook, there were memos on the wall, sink filled with cups and dishes, small fridge in the corner and stacks of office supplies on the shelves. The coffeepot burped and shook me out of the trance. 

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Walking down the empty hallways of the WNCW studios on the campus of Isothermal Community College in Spindale, Martin Anderson passes by silent offices on his way to broadcast in front of a microphone for all of Western North Carolina to hear. 

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In its 20 years together, Chatham County Line has organically grown and blossomed into one of the most distinct and progressive acts in the realms of modern traditional string and acoustic music. 

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Last Thursday evening, I sat in my recliner, in my one-bedroom apartment in downtown Waynesville, and gazed over at the overflowing pile of old clothes and junk slowly sliding out of the nearby closet like some Southern Appalachian landslide after a heavy rainfall. 

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

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So, probably like most of y’all out there, I’ve spent a lot of time during the continuing quarantine combing through the details of my life, physically and emotionally, whether I intended to or not. 

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Emerging from the back of his bicycle shop in downtown Sylva, Motion Makers owner Kent Cranford squeezes around a service desk blocking the front entrance and steps outside to ensure he’s adhering to proper social distancing in the era of the coronavirus while being interviewed. 

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Sitting on the side porch of the Fryemont Inn one recent sunny afternoon, Monica Brown overlooks downtown Bryson City. The lawn is newly green, and so are the trees. But, the main lobby is empty, so is the massive dining room and all 37 guest suites within the historic property.

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Darren Nicholson has played the Grand Ole Opry and the International Bluegrass Music Association award showcase numerous times. He’s got a bookshelf full of glass IBMA recognitions and more number one bluegrass hits with his band Balsam Range than he has fingers to count with. 

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Sunday afternoon in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The date on my phone says April 5, but I really haven’t had any sense of time since early March. Coming into a month of the “new norm” during all of “this.” 

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It’s a crazy world out there right now, folks. And yet, it’s always been kind of nuts anyhow, just more so under the current circumstances. 

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It’s Saturday evening at The Sweet Onion in downtown Waynesville. Normally during the time of year, the dining room and bar counter would be packed with locals and tourists alike, servers zipping around in every direction, the open-air kitchen buzzing with orders atop a fiery grill. 

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It’s the hottest show in town, but nobody is allowed in. 

Tucked in the depths of The Gem downstairs taproom at Boojum Brewing in Waynesville, J. Rex & The Gem Rats took the stage for a bluegrass jam last Wednesday evening. 

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So, here we are, eh? 

What a difference a day makes, where now each morning we seemingly wake up into another new normal in the fight against the coronavirus. It’s this existence of being stuck at home for the sake of society’s health and well-being — all dressed up and nowhere to go now taking on an entirely different meaning.

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Amid the current coronavirus pandemic overtaking our world and our daily lives, local businesses and organizations in Western North Carolina are now thinking about how to deal with cancellations and shutdowns — changes that could drastically impact the regional economy moving forward.

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In a move that’s been a year or so in the making, 7 Clans Brewing has recently purchased Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville.

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When Dr. Michael Abram thinks of the late Cherokee artist John Daniel “Dee” Smith Sr., he can’t help but smile reminiscing about his old comrade. 

“We were really good friends and I miss him. We used to sit talk about Cherokee art and history for hours,” Abram said. “He would paint on anything. Artists just have that urge to create with anything around them. Anything is art, and Dee saw that.”

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Being the nighthawk that I am, it was around 3 a.m. on March 3 when I found myself listening to some music and scrolling through Instagram. 

Suddenly, I kept coming across images of a massive storm in Nashville and of a pile of rubble that was once The Basement East music venue in the city.

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In any rock-n-roll band, the unsung hero is the drummer. With a soaring singer and whirlwind guitar solos, the person behind the kit is the anchor for the group — holding up the light at the end of the tunnel of a melody in motion.

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In March 2011, I was a 26-year-old freelance writer traveling down Interstate 87 in Upstate New York to one of Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles. The legendary singer/drummer for The Band, Helm held these intimate concerts in his barn-like home, tucked away in the backwoods of the Catskill Mountains. 

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Walking up to the Civic Center (aka: Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville) this past Sunday evening, the building was buzzing wildly from a sold-out crowd of thousands eager to see Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers take the stage. 

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the images of Jay Blakesberg are worth a thousand notes.

Initially following and photographing the melodic cosmic force that was The Grateful Dead from the late 1970s onward, Blakesberg has traveled the country and the world over, always in search of these serendipitous blink-of-an-eye encounters and interactions that define not only a scene and a generation, but also a culture and the essence of the humanity — love, compassion, rhythm.

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I awoke in the guest bedroom and it took me a few seconds to realize where I was. Tampa, Florida, was the destination this past weekend. And there I was amid Gulf Coast sunshine and beautiful chaos only found in the depths of the unknown night. 

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Normally, when one hears the sounds of hammers and saws at 61 Depot Street in Bryson City, it signaled an expansion of the Nantahala Brewing’s original taproom and production facility. But, with an announcement last week, those sounds are of big change for the craft beer company. 

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For the better part of a quarter-century, Umphrey’s McGee has remained one of the most fundamental and innovative acts on the live music scene. 

Originating at the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) in 1997, the band soon called nearby Chicago, Illinois, home. But, the group’s reach has unrelentingly extended in seemingly every direction — geographically and sonically — from the Midwestern musical hub. 

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It had been several years since we’d sat down over a drink and chatted. An old friend and former lover, she reached out randomly on a recent rainy day. 

“I’m having a shitty day. Let’s meet for a beer?” the out-of-the-blue text stated. Sure, I figured, always up for hearty conversation with good, genuine folk. 

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About a mile from downtown Bryson City, on a dirt road alongside the swift moving Deep Creek, sits a bungalow. Inside the tranquil home of Frank and Allie Lee, there are several instruments hanging on the wall. And there’s also a stack of the duo’s latest album atop a nearby desk. 

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By the time you read this, it will have been my 35th birthday. Yep. It’s here. No doubt about it, I’m officially, unashamedly in my mid-30s. As of Wednesday, I’ll be closer to 50 than 20. Sheesh. 

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K.M. Fuller isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, onstage and off. And it’s that exact honesty and sincerity that has made him one of the most electric singer-songwriters in Western North Carolina in recent years. 

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For my generation, Kobe Bryant was the torchbearer and living link between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. He was basketball in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

Kobe was also a figure who genuinely transcended the sport, one who rose to the top of the mountain of pop culture and media celebrity, something that came to fruition just as the internet age and social media became an integral part of our daily lives. 

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It’s just after lunchtime at the Haywood County Health Department on a recent chilly afternoon in Clyde. And standing in the front window of the lobby awaiting his appointment for a sit-down interview is Marc Pruett. 

Formerly the county’s erosion control officer for the better part of a quarter-century, Pruett retired some three years ago, only to be asked to come back part-time as the much-needed development services technician (now that the erosion and planning offices have combined). His skill set and personable approach to his position have made him invaluable to those who not only work alongside Pruett, but also cross paths with him — personally and professionally.

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I think the one of the hardest lessons in life is knowing when to cut bait on those who simply do not have your best interests in mind (family or friends). 

Throughout my entire life, I’ve struggled with always trying to make others happy, and taking things so damn personal if someone either doesn’t get my vibe or simply isn’t interested in being a friend, etc. These days, I’m actively working towards not taking those things so to heart, and just focusing on simply being a good person in my words and actions, regardless of what others may think.

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Last Thursday evening, three days of celebration commenced within the walls of Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro on the outskirts of downtown Sylva. 

The gathering wasn’t to look ahead as the business turned 19 years old. Rather, it was to tie a poignant bow on almost two decades of culinary and artisan bliss in this small mountain town.

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The moment the song came onto my stereo, I was immediately transported to a time and a place somewhat foggy in memory, but never to be forgotten.  It was “Saving Days in a Frozen Head” by songbird and guitar wizard Kaki King. So, this past Monday, when the melody filled my headphones, I found myself rapidly traveling to the past. 

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David Bromberg doesn’t have time to wax poetic about life. 

But, more so he doesn’t have time to talk about the life he’s lived as one of the great singer-songwriters who emerged out of the Greenwich Village blues/folk revival in the 1960s, with Bromberg now one of the last remaining figures from that era still touring and releasing new music. 

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Stepping out of my truck, I stretched my legs and proceeded to throw on my running clothes. It was nearing sunset when I locked the vehicle and jumped onto a nearby hiking trail just off U.S. 19 in Summersville, West Virginia. 

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It was around midnight when I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. With Maryland now in the rearview mirror, I pushed into rural depths of south central Pennsylvania. It was Christmas Eve and the temperatures had dropped to around freezing, a far cry from the sunshine felt earlier that day in Western North Carolina.

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Picking your favorite albums of any given year is a wholeheartedly subjective endeavor. You’re drawn to what immediately captures your attention — whatever that song, record or genre may be. 

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For a place that was dry just a decade ago, Clay County is now home to one of the finest craft breweries in Western North Carolina.

“Our beers are mostly driven on tradition, but we also try to push the boundaries,” said David Grace, brewmaster at Nocturnal Brewing in downtown Hayesville. “We definitely do the tried and true American styles craft beers, but we also push heavily into fruity beers and sours.”

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