Garret K. Woodward

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art theplace“Some may never live, but the crazy never die.” It’s a quote by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a writer whose influence on my life and ultimate career path can never be understated.

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art frOne gets hungry strolling downtown Sylva these days. For a town of around 2,600 residents, there sure are a lot of savory scents wafting from restaurants and cafes in seemingly every direction.

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art theplaceI got it. Growing up outside of Burlington, Vermont, I came out of the womb with a Phish album in-hand. Founded in The Queen City, the jam act was the soundtrack we blasted in our cars and the melodies we danced to frantically at shows — the group we pledged our allegiance to.

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art theplaceIt’s my favorite time of the year. There is nothing like fall. To me, this season isn’t about pumpkin lattes, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin beer, and all along down the line of things pumpkin. It isn’t about an excuse to wear new boots, scarves or leggings. It isn’t even about screaming at the top of your lungs at a football game.

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art frAbout halfway between Bryson City and the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a small, unassuming building sits alongside the road. The structure is only a stone’s throw from the bustling intersection of U.S. 64 and N.C. 28, and inside Elise Willa Pincu Delfield is at her potter’s wheel, silently spinning magic.

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art theplaceIt’s about chipping away. When you come into this world, you’re a block of unknown potential. Untouched and ready to be molded into whatever shape and size your ultimate destiny takes. And those lines and curves of your being come from experience, from wandering and discovering, on your own, just what you’re made of.

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art raymondI was told “good luck.”

In August 2012, as one of my first assignments for The Smoky Mountain News, I found myself at the doorstep of the Maggie Valley Opry House. Owned and operated by acclaimed banjoist Raymond Fairchild, I was told “good luck” when it came to actually having a civil interview with the bluegrass icon. Referred to as “crabby” or “ironclad,” I wondered just how well my sit-down with him would actually go.

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coverHeading north on State Road 135, just outside the small town of Nashville, Indiana, the stretch of pavement curves along a mountain ridge, as if you’re rolling along the spine of a snake. Though the last rays of summer are still holding strong back in Western North Carolina, fall colors had spilled onto the endless landscape of multi-colored trees and sheered cornfields in the heartland of America.

SEE ALSO: Stand tall or don’t stand at all A conversation with Raymond Fairchild

With Nashville in the rearview mirror, you roll up and down the foothills of rural Brown County. Soon, a large bright yellow sign appears to your right. You almost have to slam your brakes when it makes itself known at the last second. In big letters it states, “Bill Monroe’s Memorial Music Park & Campground — Home of the Brown County Jamboree.”

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art theplaceHe sat two seats up from me. In seventh grade advanced algebra class, Tom Pearo was your typical late-1990s kid. A bowl cut atop his head, with Airwalk everything for attire, I first noticed him when he turned around to talk to Susan Seymour.

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art frIt was another banner year for Western North Carolina bluegrass acts at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards in Raleigh last Thursday evening. 

Despite torrential downpours, and the possible threat of Hurricane Joaquin making landfall, the industry showcase once again brought together musicians, promoters and bluegrass fans alike for a week of memorable moments, onstage and off.

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wib fryemontMonica Brown, Innkeeper — Fryemont Inn, Bryson City. Chairperson – Smoky Mountain Host. Board Member – Swain County Tourist Development Authority. www.fryemontinn.com

wib bicyclesDiane Cutler, Co-owner Bryson City Bicycles. Board Member – Nantahala Area Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association. www.brysoncitybicycles.com

wib wowTurning onto North Hill Street in downtown Waynesville, you’re immediately greeted by overhanging maples sporting the latest in fall colors. Pulling into the Twin Maples Farmhouse, the picturesque property is silent, peaceful, as if pulled from some sort of Norman Rockwell painting.

art theplaceSo, you’re Canadian?

Not quite, y’all. During my three years living here in Western North Carolina, I’ve lost count of the amount of times folks have asked me that question. They want to know where I’m from, how did I end up in Waynesville, and since when did I pick up a southern twang in my speech?

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art frVariety is the spice of life. Within the realm of music, those spices can range from the hot heat of New Orleans funk and the Chicago blues to the sweet taste of California sunshine soul and Nashville front porch singer-songwriters. 

And yet, where does the largest spice rack of sound reside? Well, in Southern Appalachia of course. Right in our own backyard you have the crossroads — literally and figuratively — of bluegrass, country, rock-n-roll, jazz, blues and folk tones. This melting pot of melodies flows down these steep mountains, from the deep hollers, backwoods coves, dark basements, old garages and rickety barns of Western North Carolina.

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art frStanding in her Dillsboro studio, potter Zan Barnes can’t help but smile. “If you told me in high school that this is what I’d be doing, I’d have laughed in your face — absolutely not,” the 32-year-old said.

A second-generation potter, Barnes is tucked away in her own little Zen den. Next to her at all times is Zelda, a rescued Great Dane as gentle as she is large. The wooden structure is long and winding, with a low-hanging roof, where blocks of clay, buckets of water, countless shelves and finished items reside — all under a grove of trees, a stone’s thrown from the main house of the Riverwood Shops along the Tuckasegee River.

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art theplaceThe blazing Knoxville sun was quickly falling to the west, heading further down the road to Memphis and points beyond. Rocketing down Interstate 40, I shot into The Marble City, merging onto Neyland Drive.

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art theplaceI just wanted to break 18 minutes. Taking a seat in Ms. Trudeau’s second period social studies class, all I had on my mind was the impending cross-country race that afternoon. I was in 11th grade, captain of the high school team, and poised to set another personal record on our home course once the dismissal bell rang. But, for now, it was cracking open our books and learning about American history in some sort of structured fashion.

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art frStanding behind the counter of High Country Tire, Summer McMahan is a long way from the bright lights of New York City.

Outside the shop and convenience store, cars zip and zoom by nonstop down U.S. 441, either coming from Dillsboro to the north or Franklin to the south. And though the 22-year-old is busy ringing up purchases or talking up the locals who make a stop to High Country as part of their daily routine, McMahan thoughts keep drifting back to the Big Apple, back to Radio City Music Hall where she recently took the stage to perform on the NBC hit show “America’s Got Talent.”

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art theplaceIt’s funny, isn’t it? When you cross paths with folks you haven’t seen in years, and yet you are all still on the same page, where it feels no time has past since your last rendezvous.

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art whycantonIt’s a question I get a lot. “Why do you like Canton so much?”

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art herwordsStrolling Main Street in downtown Canton mid-morning, the steam stacks of nearby Evergreen Packaging rise high into another bluebird sky day in Haywood County. Train cars shuffle to and fro in the rail yard surrounding the enormous paper mill.

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art smathersSitting down next to each other, it’s pretty apparent that Pat and Zeb Smathers are father and son.

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art theplaceWith the cornfields as high as an elephant’s eye, apples just ripe for the pickin’ and the last of the August sunshine still warming our glorious souls, it’s also time to harvest the innumerable records that have recently hit shelves and eager ears, ready to strike a fire in your heart.

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art theplaceIt was the line in the sand. During the summer of 2005, I left one existence and embraced another. In a three-month span, I weaved through tragedy, heartbreak, and foreign countries, all the while striking the depths of my soul as the epiphany of my fate revealed itself.

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art frMountain music, dancing and tradition will be on display once again as the 45th annual Smoky Mountain Folk Festival celebrates the culture and heritage of Western North Carolina Sept. 4-5 on the shores of Lake Junaluska.

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art theplaceMy eyes fluttered open and, for a moment, I didn’t know where I was.

The room was familiar. The sheets and blankets were the same. But I wasn’t. As I got out bed at my parent’s house, I realized it had been three years since I was living under this roof, and with one day until my return to Western North Carolina, it was still surreal to be here, and now, in my native Upstate New York.

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art frManic, menacing and mesmerizing.

That’s how rock-n-roll is supposed to make you feel. It’s meant to be a bit jarring, a little sinister, with the slightest touch of magic — just enough to pull you in, making you aware that what you’re witnessing is something special, something to behold and share with others not-yet-in-the-know.

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art theplaceI rolled the windows down and stuck my head out. The air was crisp and salty, with a slight hint of curious adventure. I was officially in Maine. Rolling back up the window, I turned to my parents, who had just picked me up at the Portland airport. We made small talk about how their vacation was going, how life is back home in Upstate New York, how my sister and little niece were doing. 

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art theplaceIt’s the only place I feel at home. The open road. Once it gets into your system, you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to make sense of it. The highways, bi-ways and back roads in this country are the circulatory system of America, the blood pump and heartbeat of a hurried people on the move. It is the essence of humanity, for good or ill, and when you take that first journey away from familiarity, you’ll understand what cosmic discoveries lay just beyond the horizon.

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art frIs Stacy J. Cox disliked by Western North Carolina craft beer lovers?

“I think so, but I don’t know why,” she said. “There has been a lot of misconstrued thoughts out there. A rumor has been spread that I have an issue with the breweries, but I don’t.”

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art theplaceI stopped going.

For the better part of the last decade, my life during the summer was music festivals. From Maine to California, Michigan to Arkansas, I was there, in an endless crowd, cheering on the greatest musicians of our time. In those innumerable moments, I felt more alive, at home, and at peace, than anywhere else in the world.

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art frSitting at a table at the Rathskeller Coffee Haus & Pub, Brittney Raby knows exactly what’s going to walk through the door shortly.

“Pure chaos,” she said. “And that makes it all the better.”

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folkmoot languageStanding in the back of The Stompin’ Ground in Maggie Valley last week, several languages could be heard in every direction. To the right, Spanish and Estonian. To the left, French and Cherokee. All present for the “Opening Gala” of Folkmoot USA, all versed in the universal language of performance.

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art ownersunSetting down deep roots in Jackson County over the past couple of years, Owner of the Sun (Sylva-based by way of Atlanta) is an Americana group, but one whose tone and intent goes far below the surface of you’re atypical “kitchen sink and all” band.

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art mtnfaithAll eyes were on Summer McMahan and company. “We were all so nervous going into the audition,” she said. “But, once we noticed they were liking it, all the nerve went away and we had a blast. We’re so very humbled they liked it and sent us through.”

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art theplaceOften times as a journalist, you just simply can’t get to everything.

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art frCovered in paint speckles, Drew Duncan walked into O’Malley’s Pub & Grill on a recent Thursday evening.

Finishing up work for the day, he wasn’t in search of the 50-cent wing special, nor was he heading to the bar for a beverage. Walking over to the patio stage, Duncan opened up his guitar case, adjusted his microphone stand and took a seat. Front man for Porch 40 (rock/jam), he was soon joined by Colby Dietz of Mangas Colorado (Americana/bluegrass) and Chris Pressley from The Buchanan Boys (rock/country).

SEE ALSO:
• Mountain Faith appears on NBC
• Owner of the Sun — “Sharp Tongue”

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art theplaceMy dog died.

Not to be Debbie Downer or anything, but that sentence has been ricocheting around my head all weekend. She’s gone. Sixteen years old, with 15 of those as a member of our family.

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art theplaceStanding on the edge of the cliff, I knew what I had to do. Fifty feet above Fort Loudoun Lake in Knoxville, I looked out over the pristine waters, down at my friends heckling me from the boat, and jumped. One, two, three, splash.

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art theplaceY’all are doing it wrong.

You know, that thing? Social media? What happened? How did the endless fun and unlimited curiosity of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter become so dark, vile and negative? Since when is your neighbor an enemy to be reckoned with or your longtime friend the nemesis you never thought possible?

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art frAre your ears playing tricks on you?

As you turn the radio dial to a country music station these days, all you hear is pop, rock and hip-hop. Surely, this can’t be the result of the sacred musical traditions of Nashville handed down through the generations by the likes of Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings?

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art julyquattroNothing says summer more than the 4th of July, and in Western North Carolina, we celebrate Independence Day with gusto. Between majestic fireworks, sizzling hot dogs and hamburgers, cotton candy, games, live music and craft demonstrations, there’s a little of bit of everything for any and all. So, grab your lawn chair, sunglasses and adventurous spirit, and enjoy this special day.

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art frHeading down N.C. 28, between Bryson City and Robbinsville, is a flat stretch of highway, unusual to the continuous curves on this mountainous route. It indicates a valley, and just past a quaint diner, is a side road to your left, where a sign with an arrow points you in the right direction. You’re in the creative heart of Graham County. You’re at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center. 

“We’re not in the middle-of-nowhere, we’re actually the center of everywhere here,” said Beth Fields.

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art theplaceThere is a lot of truth to it.

“Money can’t buy happiness,” the old adage goes. It’s a sentiment that has permeated through society for generations. And while most of us are aware of the phrase, how many of us actually reflect upon it with a true sense of self?

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art coverComing into its fourth year, Cullowhee Mountain ARTS has grown into a vast array of workshops, one that seamlessly brings together professional artists from around the country. It is a program aiming to nurture creativity at every skill level, where students and teachers alike are able to flourish in an electric environment.

“I love working in a community of artists,” said Norma Hendrix. “I really like pulling all of those dots together, where you create a sense of community with the energy of people working side-by-side.”

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art frHe stood out like a sore thumb.

Standing on the red carpet at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards in Raleigh last fall, I found myself in the midst of the biggest names in the genre. To the right were The Gibson Brothers, Sam Bush and Claire Lynch, to the left Bela Fleck, Rhonda Vincent and The Del McCoury Band — a who’s who of string music.

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lw darciaA medical esthetician at Salon & Skin Spa of Hazelwood Village in Waynesville, Darcia Sirianni knows exactly how important skin care is.

lw thehoganfamilyA little bit goes a long way. That’s a key philosophy at Blue Mountain Chiropractic Center in downtown Waynesville. Good health doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. Rather, it can be an easy stride with the right preventative measures in place, within your body and mind.

art theplacePart Two: The Wedding

As I adjusted my tie in the hotel mirror, I noticed more grey hairs in my beard.

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