Garret K. Woodward

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What a year.

That is about all you can say about the past 12 months for Jackson County bluegrass act Mountain Faith. And yet, this past Thursday evening was the cherry on top for the rapidly rising family string band when they received “Emerging Artist of the Year” at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards in Raleigh.

SEE ALSO:
• Balsam Range presses on
• Waynesville songwriter nominated by IBMAs
This must be the place: SMN at IBMA

“To be honest, we were just expecting to go to the IBMAs and have a great time jamming and hanging out with our bluegrass friends. We absolutely were not expecting to win an award,” said lead singer Summer McMahan in her trademark modest tone. 

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I underestimated it.

Stepping into the grand ballroom at the Raleigh Convention Center last Thursday morning, I really didn’t think the occasion would be as big as it actually was. It was the awards luncheon for the International Bluegrass Music Association and I was among those nominated for “Bluegrass Print/Media Person of the Year.” 

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Why do you write?

I write because I was told at a very young age, at some point in elementary school, that “there was something wrong” with me, and that I lacked the skills to not only concentrate but also contribute to society.

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Surrounded by piles of debris, old wood and gravel, Joe Rowland sees opportunity. “This is the inevitable next step for us,” he said.

Co-owner of Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City, Rowland wanders around a four-acre lot at the end of Depot Street, less than a block from the flagship brewery. Purchased by Rowland in early 2016, the property consists of an abandoned warehouse (formerly the RC Cola bottling company) and large open field. Initially, the 11,000-square-foot building was going to be used for Nantahala’s equipment storage, barrel aging program and bottling line. But, as time went along, an idea for the remaining 3,200 square feet of unused space crept into the minds of Rowland and Co. — a restaurant and indoor/outdoor brew pub.

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There were two primetime spectacles Monday evening. One was the first presidential debate between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The second immediately followed the debate, when John and Jane Q. Public took to their smart phones and computers to spout their political opinions, many of which seemed as if the couple ran out onto their front yards across America, ripping off their clothing in a state of madness and confusion, pounding their chests and howling up to the heavens, in hopes of being loud enough that the neighbors would hear, turn on their porch light and say, “What the hell is going on over there?”

Say what you will about Clinton and Trump, there isn’t much left that hasn’t already been plastered or dumped onto the world spotlight. Watching the debate, Clinton resembled Tracy Flick from the film “Election,” poised and ready for any curveball thrown at her, but also seemingly perfect and untouchable to a fault, something voters can’t seem to swallow when deciding who to cast a ballot for.

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I teared up immediately.

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The RPMs hovered around 4,000, the truck huffing and puffing up the steep hillside.

Approaching Sam’s Gap (elevation 3,760 feet) on Interstate 26, I wondered if my old GMC Sonoma (aka: “Grace”) would be able to reach the crest before stalling out and rolling back down into rural Madison County. With Asheville and greater Western North Carolina fading into the rearview mirror, the blazing Friday afternoon sun began to fall behind the Bald Mountains nearing the Tennessee state line.

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It pushed me back a couple of feet.

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“You’re a Nazi,” the 20-something female screamed into the face of an elderly veteran.

The veteran shrugged off the comment as he barreled through the onslaught of protesters, only to find a safe haven amid the security guards and likeminded folks headed for the entrance of the Donald J. Trump presidential rally held this past Monday at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville.

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Can you find redemption within your own consequences?

In The Risen, the latest work from famed Southern Appalachian writer Ron Rash, the plot focuses on two Jackson County teenage brothers, an out-of-town femme fatale, and a decades-old question of what really happened to her — and also them — in the process.

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I awoke with a bit of a chill in the air.

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Where to from here?

It’s the lingering question within bluegrass and string circles nowadays. Amid the traditional pickers and grinners, there is an urgency arising in recent years, one that wonders just what will happen to the beloved, deeply held music once the last of the elder statesmen vanish.

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The instant the guitar chords echoed from the Mexican restaurant speakers, a slight grin emerged on my face. Immediately, the Asheville traffic disappeared from my urban patio view, where all I could see was that old farm town — far away physically, but oh so close emotionally.

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Who was Bayard Wootten?

“She was a wonderful, strong North Carolina woman,” said Pam Meister. “She was a skilled photographer. She was a feminist before her time. The more I learn about her, the more I’m impressed with her life.”

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It’s a feeling rather than an attitude.

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It took me a couple seconds to realize where I was.

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Turning onto 2nd Street from the hectic U.S. 19/74 highway, you find yourself cruising through downtown Andrews. It’s Saturday afternoon, and for most small towns in America, it is no surprise the center of a community is busy. 

But, for Andrews, this is a sight to behold. For a mountain town that’s been eerily quiet for many years, bordering on abandoned, the downtown is now abuzz with folks strolling the sidewalks, cars parked up and down the street. A sense of “well, hey, check this out” crosses the minds of those who used to only stop in this part of Cherokee County to refuel as a halfway point to their final destinations, which seemingly could be in any direction.

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From the ashes comes the rebirth. 

In all my travels as a journalist, and as a music lover, one of the hardest things to witness is when a band you deeply enjoy decides to part ways. Case-in-point, about two or so years ago, Owner of the Sun, an Atlanta-based Americana/rock act, blew into Western North Carolina.

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What are you afraid of?

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As I enter my fifth year living and thriving here in Western North Carolina, I’m also sliding into a space of reference and observation where I can now compare and contrast those subjects I continually cross paths with throughout my travels. 

Of which, I find myself running around in numerous musical circles, from Asheville to Franklin, Hot Springs to Murphy. And when you’re writing about all of these talented and unique acts, one thing sticks out — how far they’ve come.

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It’s about 855 miles between the quiet mountain town of Waynesville, North Carolina and the urban hustle and bustle of Havana, Cuba. 

SEE ALSO:
• An Artist’s Visit to Cuba
• Discussion to focus on Cuba

And yet, when painter Christopher Holt opens up his portfolio one recent morning at Panacea Coffeehouse in the Frog Level district of Waynesville, that distance gets a lot shorter. One-by-one, Holt leafs through dozens of his watercolor and oil paintings, all of which depict the vibrant sounds, scents and sights of the foreign country. The island nation and its people flood his thoughts and words when speaking at length over his recent trip there. 

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I noticed it two rows behind me.

Sitting at the cold, hard tables of my eighth-grade science class in the fall of 1998, I thwarted away my boredom by gazing around the room, sometimes at the clock slowly ticking away on the wall, sometimes at the cute girl at the next table I’d hope to someday kiss at a middle school dance.

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art theplaceYou can’t ignore it.

That little voice in the back of your head, always interrupting your daily train of thought, pushing up into the foreground of your mindset, pecking at you like a duck with a reckless abandon to get its point across.

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art frTaking a right off East Main Street, just before crossing the bridge into downtown Franklin, you pull onto Lakeside Drive and keep your eyes peeled. You know Currahee Brewing is somewhere around here, but where? It must be behind that large warehouse sitting alongside the Little Tennessee River.

And it’s just in that moment you realize Currahee is the large warehouse looming over you.

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art theplaceIt’s when you know you’re home.

Those places and faces, those sights and lights that truly signal the arrival back to your hometown. We all come from somewhere, near and far, and regardless of those miles between back there and where you stand today, there are several things that will always be a testament to your past — the dots that forever connect who you were, who you are, and where you’re going.

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art frThey all do something with their hands.

Meandering around Western North Carolina and greater Southern Appalachia, one thing becomes apparent — folk ‘round here are quite imaginative. It’s been said you can’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting someone with a zest for life coupled with a deep sense of the creative self.

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art theplaceI turned around with 25,000 faces looking towards me.

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art fr

It’s about what you see in mirror, and what you’re willing to acknowledge within the reflection staring right back at you.

For Jasmine Poole, aka “Wonky Tonk,” her reflection is one of beauty wrapped up in a whirlwind of emotions, either created by her or forced upon her lot in life. Hailing from Kentucky, the singer-songwriter crisscrosses the country in her old sedan. She’s the product of her punk rock roots and outlaw country upbringing, and she also absorbs the pain and happiness of everyday life.

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art theplaceI could see it in their faces.

It was something I felt before, and also had seen in pictures taken long ago of myself. It was that feeling of a sincere and honest connection to another human being, where you find yourself standing at the exact spot of your euphoric destiny, hand-in-hand with your significant other — it was (and is) love. 

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art frIt’s about speaking with your hands.

For guitarist Joe Taylor, his lifelong passion and career as a musician is one that finds itself at the crossroads of emotional purity and technical aptitude. With the melodic prowess akin to the likes of Jeff Beck, Bill Frisell or Steve Vai, the six-string ace has come a long way from his South Carolina roots. 

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art theplaceIt’s a rabbit hole.

When one dives into a band, performer or genre, you find yourself swimming in the depths of an ocean of sound and tone, where the possibilities are as endless as the number of albums and acts out there, all ready to surprise you at a moment’s notice.

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art theplaceIt’s all about what you’re willing to sacrifice.

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coverI was five minutes late.

Trying to track down a parking spot outside the Hunter Library at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee last week, the task proved difficult, even with the students gone for the summer. Having never stepped foot in the library prior, I entered the wrong door of the building and found myself in the Mountain Heritage Center. After some helpful directions, I walked down a long corridor toward the main lobby of the library. And standing at the end of the hallway, in front of the elevator, was a towering figure. The figure waved at me and smiled.

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art theplaceYeah, it’s true.

I had originally planned to be a teacher. When I was thinking about what I wanted to choose to major in at college, I had shifted my attention to education. The idea of standing in front of a classroom of eager and impressionable minds intrigued me.

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art frWithin the realm of melodic creativity, one word emerges — collaboration.

It’s the act of bringing resources together, whether it is lyrics, chords or simply the energy of one’s soul that inspires another. And what comes to fruition is a fusing of curiosity, passion and art. Collaboration lies at the foundation of all great music, where those close to you, from friends to fellow musicians, producers to those at the heart of the matter, each contribute to the evolution of the creative being.

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art frFor Teresa Pennington, it’s a race against time. 

“You have one hour to complete this drawing, where I’m usually taking three months on a single piece,” she laughed. “But, I’ve gotten better at it. You just have to be focused, have everything you need right there, and also plan ahead as to what you want to do.”

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art frThe beauty of bluegrass lies in its transparency. 

Whether you’re having a good or bad day, those emotions will filter through your voice and fingertips. You can’t hide behind the music — you are vulnerable to the listener, to yourself, and to the cosmos above. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to come across such honesty, pure intent and genuine face-to-face interaction that the music conjures in a modern, fast-paced world.

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art theplaceYou never forget where you came from.

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art frSitting on a bench one recent sunny afternoon, Steven Lloyd gazes to his right, a big smile immediately rolling across his face.

“When I look over there, I see potential — a lot of potential,” he said.

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art theplaceI awoke to yelling outside.

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art frIt is the word of Southern Appalachia.

For over a half a century, writer Fred Chappell has captured the essence of not only Western North Carolina, but also of mountain folk, and of humanity itself, for good or ill. As a poet, short story writer and novelist, he has dabbled in as many genres of the written word as there are topics to delve into.

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art frWith the quiet evening sun fading behind the Great Smoky Mountains last Thursday evening, a single building glowed bright at the bottom of Miller Street in downtown Waynesville.

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art theplaceAmerica has never been great.

Let’s just get that out of the way. Sure, we’ve had plenty of high points, moments solidified in time as historic milestones for humanity. But, all in all, we do right now live in, what many could say (myself included) is the greatest era of our country.

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art southernporchHeading up the stairs at the historic Imperial Hotel, there’s an electricity in the air, a vibe that’s familiar, yet dearly missed in downtown Canton. With several people running around, attending to last minute details for a wedding party that evening, Nathan Lowe emerges from the depths of the enormous, beloved structure on Main Street.

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pets hertzogCherished family member, societal parasite, or dinner?

art frFor 45 years, The Allman Brothers Band took rock-n-roll and stretched it into the unlimited possibilities of blues and jazz. They were an empty canvas of melodic influences that encompassed broad, rich paint strokes of English hard rock pioneers Cream, jazz improvisation maestro John Coltrane, and Chicago blues master Muddy Waters.

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art theplaceI stepped out of the airport and into the afternoon sunshine.

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