Garret K. Woodward

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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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out frAll he heard was the sound of an engine.

“I came over the rise, a place I’d ridden hundreds of times before,” Kevin FitzGerald recalled. “I remember seeing a flash of brown, the roar of a truck and…boom…lights out.”

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jacksonDuring their meeting last week, Jackson County commissioners granted additional funds needed to help replace the football field at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva.

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art theplaceThat space between freedom and responsibility.

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art dirtybathtubOne of the true beauties of living in the mountains of Western North Carolina is the sheer fact that you can’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting someone who is a picker and a grinner.

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art theplaceThey say clarity is found when it becomes your last option.

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art frStepping into the blacksmithing studio at the Jackson County Green Energy Park in Dillsboro last Saturday, the continuous sound of hammers crashing down on metal echoed loudly out of the warehouse and into the high peaks of nearby mountains.

“And when I hear that hammering, I know we’re on the right track,” said Timm Muth, director of the GEP. “It’s a fantastic thing for us to see this, because this is what we’re here for — to give artists a place to work, to bring in people from around the community and far away, people who want to learn these skills.”

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art frTurning the steering wheel onto Johnson Street, one quickly leaves the unrelenting bustle of two-way traffic along N.C. 110.

Immediately, you enter the serene suburbia of the quiet dead end road in downtown Canton. Pulling in front of a nearby fieldstone house, the sound of a barking dog can be heard from behind the front door. Soon, the door opens and a friendly face emerges, a neighborly wave hanging above their head.

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coverIn an effort to bring together the artistic hearts and minds from around Western North Carolina, the “LEAD:Arts” summit was hosted last week by Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

“The arts and artists are essential elements for a healthy community,” said moderator George Brown, dean of WCU’s College of Fine and Performing Arts. “Art improves the quality of life. Artists make good neighbors. This conference will go beyond discussion of the role of arts in the community. Western Carolina University and Western North Carolina will come together through art to take action and foster a better tomorrow for the region.”

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art theplace“They headed down south and they’re still running today…”

As The Steve Miller Band blasted through the hit song “Take the Money and Run” last Friday evening at the St. Augustine Amphitheater, I found myself standing there, amid several thousand roaring fans, in awe, not only of the music, but of time and place itself.

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art theplace$25.06. The total at the gas pump. Full tank. Waynesville to Tybee Island, Georgia. Around 350 miles. As an impending snowstorm crept over the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina last Thursday, I jumped into my musty, rusty pickup truck and bolted down the highway, en route to sunny skies and crashing waves along the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

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art frIt’s all about the song. That’s what the goal is for Joe Lasher Jr. At 19, the country singer has spent the better part of the last four years zigzagging around Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia, stepping in front of the microphone in countless dive bars, restaurants, festivals and your backyard if the mood is right. 

Hailing from Weaverville, Lasher proudly embraces his Southern roots, with a keen awareness of family and friends, that feeling of your place in the world amid those who know you best — around the bonfire, on the lake, in the backwoods and everywhere in-between.

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art theplaceBoo yah. That was my exact response (loudly) when I was informed last week I’d won a few awards from the North Carolina Press Association that were handed out at their annual banquet in Chapel Hill. First place “Arts & Entertainment Reporting,” second place “Columns,” and third place “Niche Publication.”

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art frIt’s lunchtime in downtown Waynesville. Hungry bellies wander up the sidewalk in search of nourishment. It is the calm before the storm for Julie Katt as she awaits the midday rush. 

“The key thing is the people,” she said. “You have to like to deal with people, to have patience with people, and for us, that’s what it’s all about.”

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art theplaceIt is for all special occasions.

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coverHe got to me before I could get to him.

Turning into the large parking lot of the Canton Ingles last week, Paul Willis was already stepping out of his car to greet me. At 95, he’s as spry and vibrant as someone a third of his age. And before I could exit my vehicle and properly introduce myself, Willis had his hand extended into my open window.

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art theplaceEditor’s Note: On Feb. 9, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. Garret posted a photo of him and Sanders on his Facebook page with a few thoughts on Sanders, who is a longtime popular politician in Garret’s native Champlain Valley (Upstate New York/Vermont). To which, hundreds of people clicked “like” on the post, with many commenting on this image and the man himself.

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art frPulling off the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway onto the Cabin Flats Road, within an earshot of Waynesville, a cold wind whipped against the pickup truck, signaling to any and all that winter is far from over here in Western North Carolina. 

The quiet road soon turns from pavement to gravel to dirt. And just as quickly the Balsam Mountain Inn appears, looming high above Cabin Flats like a postcard of a forgotten era, perhaps lost in the mailroom of time, a point in history when style and class were synonymous.

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art frIt all started in a boat. “Dan [Elliot], Jon [Bowman] and I were fishing on Wolf Lake,” Doug Weaver said. “And we started kicking around the idea of having our own place, and here we are today.”

Sitting around a desk in the basement of Tipping Point Brewing in Waynesville one recent morning, the trio laughs and reminisces like a band of high school chums at a reunion. They’re longtime friends, and they’ve created something special in this flourishing downtown of arts, small business and culinary delights.

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art theplaceIt ain’t so bad.

Getting older. Tomorrow is my 31st birthday, and as I reflect on my first year of this new decade in my life, I’m finding myself more centered and alive than ever before.

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art theplaceIt’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Suicide. The one societal topic that makes everyone squirm, conjuring traumatic memories as we think back on those familiar faces no longer with us, but dearly missed.

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art frRicardo Fernandez is a renowned chef, master gardener and also a former national diving champion, but there’s one thing he can’t do.

“I’ve tried to get my hair to grow back, but it doesn’t work,” he laughed.

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art frHeading west on Highway 76, the last of the warm sunshine falls behind the silent Blue Ridge Mountains. With the small town of Clayton, Georgia in the rearview mirror, your eyes aim ahead intently. At the last second, you see Persimmon Road on your right. Not enough time to place your blinker on, but just enough of a moment to tap your brakes and yank the wheel down the road, which shoots out for miles into the backwoods of Southern Appalachia.

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art theplaceThere are singers, there are performers, and then there’s Laura Reed. 

Wandering the numerous floors and stages of New Mountain Asheville (a wild, freewheelin’ venue) last February, I eventually found myself downstairs in the main room, immersed in a sea of joyous faces, all eager to boogie down to legendary New Orleans funk-n-soul group Dumpstaphunk (featuring Ivan Neville).

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art frByron Ballard is one misunderstood witch.

“There is this whole cultural mythology that witches aren’t human. They’re seen as these otherworldly creatures,” she said. “Then, you have this Hollywood icon in films, and with things like ‘American Horror Story’ or ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch,’ these beloved characters, but that’s not who we are or what we’re about.”

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art frThirty-eight is Noah McIntee’s favorite number these days. “For a lot of folks, we’re not the sleeper hit anymore,” he said. “We’ve surged fast and have gotten a great hold on the market share.”

Head brewer and general manager of Lazy Hiker Brewing in Franklin, McIntee is full steam ahead with the recent distribution deal the company signed. In their first seven months of operation, Lazy Hiker has become a mainstay in six Western North Carolina counties (Macon, Swain, Jackson, Clay, Cherokee and Graham). That number will increase to 38 counties as it join forces with Skyland Distributing in Asheville.

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art theplaceThe alarm went off on my phone. Monday morning. 6:45 a.m.

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art nantahalaIn a long-awaited strategic move, Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City will soon be putting the final touches on the purchase of a nearby bottling company.

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art theplaceThrowing my father’s old Dodge Dakota into park, I stepped out of the truck and felt the crunch of snow and ice beneath my feet.

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art frIt is quite the conundrum, ain’t it?

In an era where mainstream radio hits are shellacked in “sugar and spice and everything nice,” there is an underbelly of sorrow, redemption and flawed beauty (the only true kind of beauty) that is slowly emerging from the depths.

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art theplaceI cracked the foamy Sam Adams Boston Lager and relaxed into my seat. Christmas Eve. Red-eye flight. Charlotte to Burlington, Vermont. All in an effort to be in the living room of my parent’s farmhouse in the morning to watch my year-and-a-half old niece open her mountain of gifts.

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art frWith each impending New Year, we tend to take a look back and reflect on just what made the last 365 days unique to the folks of Western North Carolina. Just when you think you couldn’t top the past and its special moments, another year of unknown beauty and milestones is revealed.

And for 2015, it was another banner year in the world of arts and entertainment. From brewery expansions to national music awards, and everything in between, we all once again either witnessed or participated in the glorious essence of Southern Appalachia — a region as magical and mesmerizing as the people who inhabit it.

Cheers to 2015. Onward and upward in 2016.

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art frStanding in the lobby of North Canton Elementary School last Friday morning, one could hear and witness the frenzied nature of students and faculty alike, all eager for the upcoming holidays. And though Christmas is just around the corner, one might think otherwise with the unusually green front lawn and warm sunshine cascading across the mountains of Western North Carolina.

SEE ALSO:
• The man behind the white beard
The gift of reading

Passing by doorways full of smiling faces, the cinematic sounds of “The Polar Express” and Christmas music echo down the hallways. Turning into Mrs. Christina Roberts and Mrs. Carol Harkins kindergarten classroom, the teachers are wrangling all 15 of their students that day in preparation to get the space in order for their special guests.

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art beingclauseSo, just who is the “Smokey Mountain Santa”? After an appearance last week at North Canton Elementary School, Santa and Mrs. Claus (Dennis and Deborah Reed) made note of all the joy and support they’ve not only received from the community, but also aim to spread and share day in and day out. 

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art theplaceShe grabbed for my hand and held it up.

“No ring, huh? You should meet my daughter sometime. Single. Beautiful. I think y’all would get along pretty well.”

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art theplaceSo, you’re from Canada? Not quite, but close. Growing up on the Canadian border, most folks there don’t really take notice of where they live, or how odd it perhaps may seem to reside so close to a foreign country because, well, it’s always been that way, you know?

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