Garret K. Woodward

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I’ve been feeling some overwhelming gratitude this week during the premiere and continued rollout of Ken Burns’ 16.5-hour PBS documentary series “Country Music.”

I sat there in utter awe during the first episode on Sunday evening, something I’ve always felt watching Burns’ films since I was a kid. My entire existence is wrapped around his influence on me as a writer, journalist, storyteller, history freak, and as a human being trying to make connections with others. 

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Clocking in at over 16 hours, the new Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” is an extremely detailed and intricate look at the genre through the lens of our nation and the wide variety of its citizens that inhabit it.

The film lays down the foundation and continual evolution of country music. It’s a portal and rabbit hole into this never-ending melodic history and its artists, a true sense of discovery of self — of time and place — through songs about heartache and redemption.

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Last Sunday morning, at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Route 27 in Wiscasset, Maine, I decided to turn right instead of going straight. 

Instead of the usual drive down U.S. 1 to Interstate 95 and back into civilization, along the highways that lead me to my native North Country of Upstate New York, I chose Route 27 and pushed north into the desolate backwoods of Maine. I had a lot on my mind and preferred the scenic path. No need to rush back to my parents’ house. 

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It’s a serendipitous sort of happenstance when you stumble across the White Moon coffee shop. Tucked in the depths of Mill Street in downtown Sylva, the cozy establishment is meant to be a refuge from whatever may be distracting you from hearing the most important voice in your life — your own.

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Pulling off Interstate 87 onto Route 9, the fading sun lowered itself behind the cornfields and open meadows of the Champlain Valley. It has been a while since I’d found myself crossing into the village limits of Rouses Point, New York, a place where I spent the first 18 years of my life.

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Atop a hill on the western edge of downtown Waynesville, just past the invisible line where the delicious smell of down home food stops wafting from nearby Bogart’s Restaurant & Tavern, sits a picturesque century-old home. 

With a fresh cup of coffee in hand one recent sunny morning, Joe Sam Queen sat in a rocking chair on the side patio of his serene abode and reminisced about the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival. 

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The 50th annual Smoky Mountain Folk Festival will be held on Aug. 30-31 at the Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat Center. Both nights will include a rich variety of the region’s finest fiddlers, banjo players, string bands, ballad singers, buck dancers and square dance teams as well as the marvelous sounds of dulcimer, harmonica, Jew’s harp, bagpipes, spoons, saws, and folk ensembles.

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Heartbroken and stunned. That’s about all I can say or feel at this moment with the tragic passing of singer-songwriter and guitarist Neal Casal. 

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It’s one of the most recognizable voices in all of American music.

When Richard Sterban famously coined the “oom-pa-pa-oom-pa-pa-mow-mow” bass solo during The Oak Ridge Boy’s crossover 1981 smash hit “Elvira,” he not only forever solidified his tone in the halls of country music, he also became a lifelong pop culture icon in the process. 

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It was 50 years ago this past weekend that Max Yasgur, a 49-year-old conservative Upstate New York farmer, stood onstage at Woodstock in front of 400,000 youthful faces of the counterculture and simply proclaimed, “You’ve proven to the world that a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music …”

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Now syndicated on PBS stations from coast to coast, “David Holt’s State of Music” has become a beacon of traditional music and worldwide exposure for countless local, regional and national acts hailing from Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia.

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It’s around midnight, early Tuesday morning. Just sitting here, thinking. Finally getting around to drinking a cold beer on a recliner in an apartment that I’ve barely called home this spring and summer. 

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In bluegrass, there are pioneers and there are pillars — Becky Buller is both.

A beloved singer/fiddler, the Minnesota native left the Midwest as a teenager for Southern Appalachia, all in search of that “high, lonesome sound.” And in her lifelong quest to immerse herself in bluegrass music, Buller has become a legend in her own right.

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Please allow me to reintroduce myself.

I started this column back around Memorial Day of 2013. So, by the calendar on the wall, that more than six years of a weekly page to talk about whatever it is rolling through my mind at a particular moment — love, politics, sports, music, policy, slice of life musings, etc. 

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The purpose of a writer is to take observations on life and distill those sights and sounds into words and sentiments reflecting the way the wind is blowing at a particular juncture in time. 

It’s also a purpose as to show the reader just how common and repetitive the themes of human nature are throughout the centuries and millennia. For we as a species tend to not stray far from our usual thoughts and actions: love and hate, fear and compassion, war and peace. 

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Persistence and gratitude. Those are two key words and concepts in life, personally and professionally. But, for this specific post, I’m referring to the professional aspect of the words. 

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Huddled around a table at the White Moon Coffee Shop on Mill Street in downtown Sylva one recent rainy afternoon, Kendall Waldrop, Georganna Seamon and Don Panicko discuss the group’s latest endeavor — the Sylva Art + Design Committee.

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Though the roads were slick from heavy rainstorms on Tuesday morning, I momentarily couldn’t figure out why my truck was pushing back against my gas pedal on the short drive from my apartment to The Smoky Mountain News office in downtown Waynesville. 

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Lately, or more so in recent years, I find the only way I can drown out the constant barrage of noise and division in our country is when I put on my headphones, throw on some music, and let my fingertips flutter away on the laptop keyboard.

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At 72 years old, singer-songwriter Jim Avett is a modern-day Renaissance man. Avett is a beloved Appalachian folk musician. Up at the crack of dawn farmer. Served in the Navy during Vietnam. A social worker for a period. And a welder for almost four decades. He’s traveled across the country and around the world, and never once losing that childlike wonder that resides at the crossroads of curiosity, discovery and adventure. 

In its 36th year of cultural exchange through song and dance, Folkmoot remains a moving target, one that constantly evolves in its programming, but never once forgetting its core values.

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Bordering the bustling Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville, you wouldn’t know where Echo Mountain Recording is unless you were told. 

An old church turned into a state-of-the-art production studio, the property is purposely minimal, this sort of physical doorway into a melodic universe of potential and possibility. 

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This past Saturday morning, I awoke in the top bunk of an RV in downtown Sylva. I got up and looked around the space. My friends were still asleep in the other beds. Time to head back to my humble abode in Waynesville. 

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Standing in the lobby of the Smoky Mountain Cinema in Waynesville this past Monday morning, owner Greg Israel is putting the final touches on two years of planning and renovations to the theater for its grand reopening on Tuesday.

“I’m tired, mostly,” Israel chuckled. “But, I’m happy. Very pleased. I think it’s come a long way and people are going to be very happy about it.”

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The hardest part of being a journalist, and especially one whose core focus is music, is seeing those you were lucky enough to meet, interview and write about, pass away. 

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The history of rock-n-roll music is as wide and deep as an ocean, each drop of water a band, song or feeling radiating a sense of self into the endless universe.

And within that massive and undulating history, no wave was larger than that of the British Invasion in the 1960s. Sparked by The Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show Feb. 9, 1964, the musical charge “across the pond” from England to the United States included the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Who, The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Zombies and Herman’s Hermits. 

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Sliding into the booth at Waffle House, I cracked open Larry McMurtry’s novel All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers. Taking a sip of my coffee, I dove into the world of Danny Deck and his life in Houston, Texas, and greater America in the early 1970s. 

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Simply put, singer/guitarist Denny Laine is one of those mystical characters you cross paths with almost serendipitously. 

He’s an old soul really, someone who’s seen and experienced the world over. But, Laine is also happy to share that wisdom with whoever will sit and chat for a moment. It’s a cosmically curious conversation between two souls playfully in search of the answer to the eternal question — what does it all mean? 

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On Monday morning, as I woke up, packed and said goodbye to Bonnaroo for this year, I can say — in all honesty — that I’ve never had more gratitude in my life than at that moment in time. 

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• Boojum Brewing (Waynesville) will host karaoke at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, trivia at 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Isaiah Breedlove & The Old Pines July 17. All shows begin at 9 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Free and open to the public. 828.246.0350 or www.boojumbrewing.com. 

• Concerts on the Creek (Sylva) at Bridge Park will host Terry Lynn Queen w/Scott Baker & Tim Queen (classic rock) July 2 and Fireworks Festivities w/All in One (rock/funk) 6 p.m. July 4. All shows begin at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. www.mountainlovers.com.

• Friday Night Live (Highlands) will be held at the Town Square from 6 to 8:30 p.m. with Trudition June 25 and Foxfire Boys July 2. Free and open to the public. www.highlandschamber.org.

• Frog Level Brewing (Waynesville) will host Laura Thurston 5 p.m. June 24, Scoundrel’s Lounge (blues/rock) June 25 and Space Granny June 26. All shows begin at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Free and open to the public. 828.454.5664 or www.froglevelbrewing.com. 

• The Haywood County Courthouse (Waynesville) will host the Haywood Community Band on the front lawn at 2 p.m. July 3 during the Stars & Stripes Celebration. Free and open to the public. 

• Innovation Station (Dillsboro) will host Silent Disco 7 p.m. June 25 and Fitz N Dave June 27. All events are free and begin at 2 p.m. unless otherwise noted. www.innovation-brewing.com.

• Innovation Brewing (Sylva) will host Bird In Hand (Americana/indie) w/Rye Baby (Americana/indie) at 7 p.m. July 4. Free and open to the public. www.innovation-brewing.com.

• L’Italiana (Franklin) will host Bluejazz 6:30 p.m. June 25. Free and open to the public. 

• Lazy Hiker Brewing (Franklin) will host Scoundrel’s Lounge (blues/rock) June 26. All shows begin at 8 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Free and open to the public. 828.342.5133 or www.lazyhikerbrewing.com.

• Lazy Hiker Brewing (Sylva) will host Unlimited Devotion (Grateful Dead tribute) June 25. All shows begin at 8 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Free and open to the public. 828.349.2337 or www.lazyhikerbrewing.com.

• Mountain Layers Brewing (Bryson City) will host Bird in Hand (Americana/folk) June 25, Shane Meade & The Sound June 26 and Aces Down 4 p.m. June 27. All shows begin at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Free and open to the public. 828.538.0115 or www.mtnlayersbeer.com. 

• Nantahala Brewing (Sylva) will host a “Jazz Night” from 7 to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, Shane Meade & The Sound 4 p.m. June 27 and semi-regular live music on the weekends. Free and open to the public. 828.641.9797 or www.nantahalabrewing.com.

• Nantahala Outdoor Center (Nantahala Gorge) will host “Bluegrass with Blue” June 25 and July 2, Somebody’s Child (Americana) 4 p.m. July 3, Pioneer Chicken Stand 7 p.m. July 3 and Granny’s Mason Jar 4 p.m. July 4. All shows begin at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Free and open to the public. 888.905.7238 or www.noc.com. 

• “Pickin’ on the Square” (Franklin) will host Michael Reno Harrell (singer-songwriter) June 26 and Sundown (rock/soul) July 10. All shows start at 7 p.m. Free and open to the public. Located on Main Street. www.franklin-chamber.com. 

• Rathskeller Coffee Haus & Pub (Franklin) will host Ethan Smith June 25, Jake Hicks June 26 and Matthew Oschmann July 2. Shows begin at 8 p.m. Free and open to the public. www.rathskellerfranklin.com. 

• Saturdays On Pine (Highlands) will be held at the Kelsey-Hutchinson Park from 6 to 8:30 p.m. with Blaze The City July 3. Free and open to the public. www.highlandschamber.org.

• Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts (Franklin) will host The Usual Suspects (Allman Brothers Band/Tom Petty tribute) at 7:30 p.m. June 26. Tickets are $20 per person. For more information and/or to purchase tickets, go to www.greatmountainmusic.com. 

• Stecoah Valley Center (Robbinsville) “An Appalachian Evening” series will host a special online performance by The Kruger Brothers at 7:30 p.m. June 26. Ticketed shows will include The Jeff Little Trio July 10 ($25), Liam Purcell & Cane Mill Road July 17 ($15) and Darin & Brooke Aldridge July 24 ($25). 828.479.3364 or www.stecoahvalleycenter.com. 

• Unplugged Pub (Bryson City) will host Carolina Freightshakers June 25, Arnold Hill (rock) June 26, Blackjack Country July 1, UpBeats July 2 and Outlaw Whiskey July 3. All shows begin at 8 p.m. Free and open to the public. 828.538.2488. 

• Valley Tavern (Maggie Valley) will host Sound Investment 6 p.m. June 25 and Electric Circus 3 p.m. June 27. 828.926.7440 or www.valley-tavern.com. 

• Water’n Hole Bar & Grill (Waynesville) will host karaoke on Thursday nights and semi-regular live music on the weekends. All shows begin at 3 p.m. 828.456.4750 or www.facebook.com/waternhole.bar.

• “An Evening of Broadway” with countertenor Terry Barber (and Grace Fields) will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 26, at the Highlands Performing Arts Center. With an extraordinarily broad vocal range and natural fluency in many musical styles, he has been featured on some of the world’s most storied stages and has worked with many of the music industry’s most prestigious figures. A voting member of the Grammy Awards, his voice has appeared on every major record label, with Grammy-winning artists like Chanticleer, Madonna, Jewel, Chaka Khan, Cyndi Lauper, Steve Smith, and many more. Tickets are available online at www.highlandsperformingarts.com.

Five years ago, Michelle and Robby Railey had one question in mind. “How do we get to the next level?” Michelle said.

It’s just after 5 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 64 and N.C. 107 in the village of Cashiers. Otherwise known as the “Crossroads,” the junction — atop a mountainous plateau at the southern end of Jackson County — is usually buzzing with tourists and second-homeowners spring through fall. And, normally, it’s relatively silent when winter rears its head. 

Halfway up a steep hill in downtown Waynesville, and just a stone’s throw from the Haywood County Historic Courthouse, sits Orchard Coffee.

“I love coffee because I love people,” said Cabell Tice, co-owner of Orchard Coffee. “I’ve always really enjoyed connecting with people. Coffee is a vessel for reaching people — there’s nothing like a conversation over coffee.” 

Though his fingers seemingly wrap around a walking cane more than his trusty banjo these days, Raymond Fairchild remains one of the finest musicians who ever picked up the five-string acoustic instrument — alive or six feet under. 

The first week I lived and worked in Western North Carolina, I slept underneath my desk in the old newsroom of The Smoky Mountain News on Church Street in downtown Waynesville.

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According to recent numbers, there are around 75 breweries within Asheville and greater Western North Carolina. And 19 of those breweries are located west of Asheville. 

But, back in 1999, when The Smoky Mountain News launched, this was the number of breweries in our jurisdiction — zero. None. Not a single one. The idea of craft beer, let alone something concocted in your backyard, was not only somewhat unheard of, it never was thought to be something of an economic driver. 

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Actor/comedian Ken Jeong will be performing live at 9 p.m. Friday, May 31, at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort Event Center. 

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The first time I was aware that my grandfather, Frank Kavanaugh, served in the military was being nine years old in 1994 and watching him talk on the local North Country TV channel, Home Town Cable. 

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When you find yourself in the presence of Marty Stuart, you find yourself in the presence of the entire living, breathing history of country and bluegrass music. 

Hailing from the small rural town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the legendary singer/musician took off for the open road at age 12, performing with various groups throughout the Southeast. By the time he was 14, he had secured a position in bluegrass forefather Lester Flatt’s band. 

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Sitting high up in the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville last Thursday night, I couldn’t help but wonder what my Uncle Scott would think about all of this.

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Up-and-coming on the Americana/indie scene, Grizzly Goat was formed in Provo, Utah, and is now based in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

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It’s part Simon & Garfunkel, part Abbott & Costello. 

When you listen to The Milk Carton Kids, you’re hearing some of the most poignant, soul-searching and timeless acoustic music of this century — perhaps any century, truth-be-told. 

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The world has gone haywire and David Crosby is mad as hell about it.

And though the years may change on the calendar, the issues affecting our society tend to remain front and center — corruption, discrimination, poverty, pollution, and so forth. 

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With the wind howling in my face, the Polaris ATV rounded the third curve of the Rockingham Speedway. The odometer read 60 mph. It was midnight. Sunday into Monday. And all I could think of was the absurdity of this serendipitous moment.

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Halfway up a steep hill in downtown Waynesville, and just a stone’s throw from the Haywood County Historic Courthouse, sits Orchard Coffee.

“I love coffee because I love people,” said Cabell Tice, co-owner of Orchard Coffee. “I’ve always really enjoyed connecting with people. Coffee is a vessel for reaching people — there’s nothing like a conversation over coffee.” 

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Crossing the threshold of Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack in West Asheville recently, I scanned the space looking for my old friend, Heather. And there she was, sitting on the patio, sipping a beer and looking over the menu deciding how hot she was willing to order her chicken tenders. 

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