Garret K. Woodward

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art frIn art, as in life, what matters most is following your heart, never compromising your beliefs and holding steady to a strong sense of integrity.

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art theplacePart One: The Ride

It had been eight years to the day. Putting the car into park, I emerged from the vehicle. Standing on the campus of Quinnipiac University, it had been eight years since I walked across the stage to receive my degrees, eight years since I left one existence for another. It was a surreal and cathartic experience, to say the least.

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art frCruising through downtown Franklin, one begins to wonder where exactly is the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company. You’ve been told it’s on Main Street, but where? And just as you begin to debate when to turn around and try again, your vehicle hits the crest of a steep downhill. 

Over the rise appears a building illuminated, like a lighthouse on the high seas of a vast and unknown Southern Appalachian night. It’s a building of people and purpose. You’re here. You’ve made it to opening night of Franklin’s first craft brewery.

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art theplaceThey are my brothers.

Well, in terms of genetics, they technically aren’t. But, when it comes to heart and soul, we’re carbon copies. When it comes to purpose and intent, we’ve always been on the same page. They’re the members of Lucid — my brothers-in-arms.

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art frTurning the corner at Church and Main streets in downtown Waynesville, I saw them out of the corner of my eye.

Sitting one-by-one atop the brick planter in front of Earthworks Gallery, the five young faces were all smiles amid their sing-along. Each had an instrument, some of which were seemingly as big as the kids themselves. Their sound was a mix of traditional mountain music and modern day Americana. And although these sounds of Southern Appalachia have intrigued folks, young and old, for generations, it was impressive to see these teenagers so interested and passionate about perpetuating the ancient music of this landscape and its people.

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art theplaceSo, what’s it like out there?

That was a recent question posed to me by an older friend, one who has been happily married for the better part of 30 years. He wondered what it was like these days. You know, being single and immersed in the battlefield that is the modern day dating scene.

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art frTaking a left off U.S. 64 onto Settawig Road in rural Clay County, the busy commercial thoroughfare transforms into lush farmland. The mountain air gets sweeter, soothing late spring sunshine spilling into the open windows of your vehicle. 

A few miles down the winding road, you enter the tiny community of Brasstown, with its one gas station and handful of buildings. You take another left and cross a bridge into Cherokee County. And though that bridge may just seemingly provide transport over the waters of Brasstown Creek, one will soon understand that the threshold is more than meets the eye.

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art theplaceI don’t get it.

I woke up this morning (April 28) and listened to the news. I heard of the overnight chaos and madness ablaze on the streets of Baltimore, as we all have been paying attention to, and for a long time, in many other cities and injustices around the country.

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art frIt’s a recent Saturday afternoon at Nantahala Brewing Company in downtown Bryson City. With bluebird skies overhead and the mountains of Southern Appalachia in the distance, brewery co-owner Joe Rowland scans his surroundings. There are children and dogs running around the front porch, with folks from Asheville, Atlanta, Charlotte and everywhere in-between raising their glasses high to another day in paradise.

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fr musketdrillWhen Kim Sutton puts on his Civil War attire, he’s immediately transported to an era when a national conflict held court in the rural landscape of Haywood County.

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art theplaceShe knows me better than anybody.

She’s a little rough around the edges. Her beauty has seen better days. She’s a dirty girl, one who’ll take to cosmopolitan city streets as easily as rugged backwoods trails. Her needs always seem to take all the cash in my wallet. She’s provided me a place to sleep on my loneliest nights. Her patience with my demands knows no bounds. Our time together has been a love/hate relationship.

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art frFor Wiley Cash, being a writer is not about milestones in his career that define his passion. Rather, it’s the simple idea of a person sitting down with a blank page, one ready to be filled with the unlimited possibility of creative prose.

“For a longtime, I thought if I’m a writer it will mean ‘this’ or if I write a New York Times bestseller it will mean ‘this,’” he said. “But, I realized that it’s all the same work. It’s still the act of putting words on a page, and trying to do it in a manner that’s more believable and true than what you did the day before.”

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GUTMthroughhills3 p.m. • Signature Brew Stage

The newest musical entity in Western North Carolina, the Haywood County quartet brings together singer-songwriter Kevin Fuller with banjoist Joey Fortner (formerly of Soldier’s Heart). Add in teenage fiddle prodigy Alma Russ, and you have yourself a solid foundation of mountain melodies and indie-folk grit to build upon.

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GUTMryebaby1:05 p.m. • Signature Brew Stage

Hailing from Chattanooga, Rye Baby is a fiery duo, one that encompasses the honky-tonk blues and Americana-roots sounds that runs deeply through Southern Appalachia.

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art theplaceIt is the single most essential thing in my life.

Running. The action of putting on jogging shorts, a comfortable t-shirt, lacing up your shoes and heading out the front door for the open road. It is oxygen for my soul, lighting in a bottle for my heart, and sanity for my brain.

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art frCaleb Burress sees a rebirth — in himself and his music.

“2014 was an education for us on many levels — we had a lot going on,” he said. “I think the changes we’ve experienced couldn’t have come at a better time. We didn’t die, we merely took the opportunity we had been presented with to really do some soul searching as a group, and figure out what we really wanted.”

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art theplaceThey fascinate me the most — in a way that is captivating and haunting, ancient and mysterious.

Women. The opposite sex. The basis behind all great art, music, literature, war and unanswerable questions we never seem to stop asking. They are the reason many of us get up in the morning, why we think twice about our appearance and life choices, all the while subconsciously dictating our daily interactions, reactions and distractions.

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art frDebbie Milner has a simple philosophy.

“If I won’t eat it, I won’t sell it,” she said.

Standing next to a large display case at Sentelle’s Seafood in downtown Clyde, Milner points out all of the right-off-the-boat and shipped to Southern Appalachia products her family business offers.

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art theplaceIt’s my favorite place to sit.

In a diner, tucked away in a booth, with a notebook, pen and endless cups of coffee. It’s where I feel most comfortable, and at peace, when immersing myself in society. While the organized chaos of the breakfast rush swirls around me, I am completely focused on writing, only to be pleasantly interrupted by a conversation or interaction nearby that has piqued my interest.

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art frA writer looking at a blank page is a like a painter staring at a fresh canvas, a sculptor facing a block of clay or a woodworker holding a chunk of wood. The desire to grab words from thin air and construct them into sentences, notions and ideas comes from an internal fire to describe human emotion and situation. It is a calling, one that picks its creators when the time and place is prime. Writers are messengers, connecting the unknown cosmos to an everyday modern reality.

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art theplaceMy friend died yesterday.

Way up in New York State, 1,000 miles or so away from me, my friend passed away. And he left us all for no reason. He didn’t save a kitten from a burning building. He didn’t rescue a baby from a car wreck. He didn’t give his life in an attempt to save others. He died, simply, because of drugs.

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art frDon’t hire C.J. Deering.

“I don’t know why people hire me,” she laughed. “Maybe I’m just lucky, maybe they see something in me that I don’t.”

Sitting in her dressing room, backstage at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in downtown Waynesville last Saturday night, Deering (C.J. = Cameron Jane) just finished the second night of a two-weekend run of her one-woman comedy monologue, “Jobs I Had For One Day.” The hour-long production puts Deering center stage, under the bright lights and in front of dozens of curious faces staring back at her within the cozy black box stage.

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art theplaceAs I took the first sip of my second cup of coffee, my shoulders began to relax.

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art frLouis Perrone loves being part of an Italian family.

“I come from a big family — always a reason to celebrate, always a reason to eat,” he smiled.

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fr serenamovieJust because something looks good on paper doesn’t mean it’ll work in method.

Case in point, the new Hollywood film “Serena,” which is a silver screen adaptation of the Ron Rash novel of the same name. The book, a Great Depression-era murder drama amid the Western North Carolina logging industry, was a New York Times bestseller, with the film roping in two of the hottest stars in modern day cinema — Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

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coverNicole Dexter and Chip Owen haven’t been able to sleep well lately.

“I think all I’ve been feeling the last couple days is anxiety,” Dexter said. 

Tucked away last week in a booth at Innovation Brewing in downtown Sylva, the couple looks around their business. Smiling faces are everywhere and Innovation craft beers are being hoisted high. The energy and jovial spirit in the room is commonplace in this establishment.

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art theplaceGreat people. Beautiful music. Endless outdoors. Delicious beer.

Simply put, those are the exact reasons I moved to Western North Carolina from Upstate New York almost three years ago. And everyday, I’m constantly justified in that decision by those reasons reappearing in my existence here in Southern Appalachia.

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coverDanielle Bishop only cries when she’s mad.

“And was I mad,” she said.

Sitting in a booth at the Papertown Grill in downtown Canton, Bishop’s eyes light up when asked if her aspirations of becoming a touring musician were ever influenced by the fact that she was a woman. Already an acclaimed fiddler at only 20 years old, she has spent most of her life in pursuit of a dream of taking to the open road and sharing her talents with the world. Recently, a popular regional bluegrass outfit was in need of a fiddle player who could also play mandolin and guitar. Bishop is well versed in all three instruments and decided to call for a tryout.

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art theplaceOne of the beauties of music is that it is the gift that keeps on giving.

When a band releases an album, it’s a melodic present eager for the listener to unwrap. When someone hands you a record, it’s the excitement of the unknown, the notion that whatever sound radiates from your speakers you’re hearing for the first time. It’s that chance to discover a song, phrase or chord that sends shivers down your spine and throws a jovial kick in your step.

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art theplaceJust as I took my first sip of beer I was told to turn around.

Outside the Tipping Point Brewing windows on Main Street, heavy snowflakes cascaded upon downtown Waynesville last Wednesday night. Cars cautiously cruised through the intersection, with the snowfall increasing as the minutes ticked by.

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art frDavid Joy doesn’t look like your typical writer. Then again, Joy isn’t your typical writer.

Stepping into Innovation Brewing in Sylva last week, I bellied up to the counter, ordered a drink and looked around for the whereabouts of my interview. Conversation swirled throughout the space about the impending Wednesday night snowstorm, with a few flakes already cascading down outside the foggy windows. 

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art theplaceI was a weird kid growing up.

And, in many ways, I’m even weirder as an adult. Since day one, being weird is something I embrace. I’m proud of it, even though I don’t give it much thought, because I think being weird is normal, and being normal is, well, boring.

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art frWhen he thinks of the Colonial Theatre, Zeb Smathers sees untapped potential.

“There are so many things it can used for — movies, concerts, plays, school productions,” he said. “It’s been a goal of mine from early on to use the Colonial for not just more things, but also in new ways.”

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art theplaceFace-to-face communication is a lost art.

Besides the actual act of writing, my favorite part of being a journalist is conducting the interview. Everyday, I meet up with complete strangers and immerse myself in their lives. It is a surreal and incredible experience, one that only gets sweeter every year I dive deeper into this profession.

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art frJust mere feet from a bustling South Main Street in Waynesville resides a cocoon of creativity. 

With a steady stream of vehicles rushing by, one enters Jenny Bucker’s studio as if to step into a portal of a calmer ambiance. Vibrant, intricate paintings hang from any available wall space, while the sounds of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” echo throughout the cozy abode. Meandering around the rooms, the source of the song is not only located, but so is the person immersed in the melody, who faces a blank canvas ready to be adorned with the colors of the imagination.

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art theplaceWhat are you thinking about?

Staring out the window, the question asked shook me out of a trance. My gaze drifted to the femme fatale who just got out of my bed, putting her clothes back on and heading into an unknown day. She posed the question inquisitively, and I took me a moment to respond.

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art frTransvestite. Transsexual. Transylvania.

Three words that immediately conjure images of extravagant parties, mad scientists, death, rock-n-roll, Meatloaf, aliens, sing-a-longs, freedom and sexual liberation. What “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” did, and continues to do, for society can never be overstated. Originally written as a stage musical, the story hit the big screen in 1975, cueing a new dawn in acceptance and understanding in everyday life. It kicked the door down for punk rock, 20th century cultural evolution, independent filmmaking and LGBT rights by simply stepping over the line of what it means to truly be yourself in a sometimes stifling world where being one-in-the-same is “easier” than being one-in-a-million.

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art theplaceWait, what?!

Ah, crap. By the time you read this, I’ll have turned 30. It’s a number that seemed as far away from reality as it was impossible to ever cross paths with. But, here it is, staring right at me when I get asked for my birthday while purchasing beer, only to look up at the neon “If you were born before this date” Budweiser sign near the register, and how the numbers flowing out of my mouth eerie matchup, some three decades apart.

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art frA rising tide lifts all ships.

It’s not only a motto for life, but also for the ever-evolving cultural ambiance in downtown Sylva. From mainstays City Lights Café, Heinzelmannchen Brewery, Lulu’s On Main and Guadalupe Café, to newcomers like Innovation Brewing, Mad Batter Food & Film and The Winged Lion, the nightlife options of this small mountain town has made it a hot spot for the curious and intrigued “after 5” crowd.

And coming into the fold with its “Grand Opening” Feb. 5-7 is Tonic, a craft beer market specializing in hard-to-find ales, food delivery service, jovial conversation and a hearty helping of Southern Appalachian string music. 

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art theplaceIt is the single greatest influence on my life.

The people, music and culture that encompasses the Grateful Dead is the exact reason I find myself typing this right now. The sights and sounds associated with this melodic ocean liner sailing the high and often rough seas of society set the course for my entire existence.

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art frAs the crowd found their seats and got settled, all eyes were on Marty Sohovich.

“I really believe 2014 was one of our best years,” he said. “And we’re turning a corner.”

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art theplaceThe temperature was 20 degrees below zero with a howling wind.

As I listened to the online stream of my hometown police scanner, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Way up yonder, on the Canadian border, in the tiny town of Champlain, New York, my elementary school was burning to the ground last Friday evening. Over 100 years old, the enormous stone structure was ablaze, with massive flames reaching up into the frozen winter sky of the North Country.

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art frGreg Geiger looked at it as a way to save money.

“I started brewing when I was a sophomore in college,” he said. “Honestly, I was a poor college student and making beer was much cheaper than buying it back then.”

Head brewer at Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City, Geiger’s initial interest in craft beer has molded itself into a bountiful and ever-emerging career, with several of his brews winning numerous awards at prestigious competitions.

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art theplaceThey say all great art comes from conflict. It’s conflict of the soul, the heart and the mind, everything that either nurtures or tortures us. And for the Drive-By Truckers, conflict is what fuels their intent. 

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art frJohn MacLean will never forget his first photo shoot.

“I was 19 years old and it was at a meat packing plant in New Jersey,” he said.

Standing in the basement of the Cullowhee Methodist Church at Western Carolina University last Saturday, MacLean told two-dozen folks of the Sylva Photo Club about how he got into the business.

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art theplace364 days down, one to go.

Hurtling down Interstate 95 from Boston to New York City, I’m sitting on a charter bus with my eyes aimed once again at New Year’s Eve in The Big Apple. It’s become a tradition of mine with my two best friends from college, both of who live and work in the city. 

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art frIt’s the soundtrack of America.

Forty-five years ago, The Allman Brothers Band burst onto the scene. With an intoxicating blend of squealing LA rock-n-roll, poignant Greenwich Village folk and bayou voodoo blues, the Macon, Georgia band plugged in and kicked off a whole new genre of sound — Southern rock.

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art theplaceThe stewardess handed me a cold Heineken. 

The skyline of Boston in the distance, the beauty of a city I hold so damn close to my heart. It’s horrifically beautiful watching all of the cars, people and lights down there. Those endless streets of traffic, countless homes and businesses. Where are all these people going? What are they saying in those sand grains of vehicles seen from high above? What are they listening to? Are they happy? Why so quiet? It freaks me out seeing all of that. All of that humanity. I find it mesmerizing, but overwhelming, awe-inspiring, yet gluttonous.

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art frAnother one is in the books. 

With each passing year, I find myself digging ever deeper into what it truly means to reside and thrive in Western North Carolina. Week in and week out, I cross paths with innumerable people, places and things that capture my attention and mesmerize my imagination.

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coverLooking up at the old chimney, William “Gene” Gibson still wonders how Santa Claus ever managed to fit in it.

“I never could figure how’d he come down through there and not get all covered in black,” the 87-year-old chuckled.

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