Garret K. Woodward

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art theplaceIn a beloved mountain town already filled with great restaurants, cafes, breweries and independent businesses, Sylva recently became home to two new downtown locations — The Winged Lion and Tonic Delivers. The Smoky Mountain News tracked down the owners of both of these establishments just to see exactly what they’re all about:

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art theplaceI’ve always felt the greatest gift is the gift of music.

Though I’ve never been a huge fan of receiving presents (I’d rather spend quality time with a loved one, save your money), the gifts that meant the most to me where melodic. It was a dear friend giving me a mix CD of the “Best Road Trip Songs,” my uncle handing me a copy of The Who’s “Who’s Next” or my mother buying me a ticket for my 18th birthday to see The Rolling Stones on their “Forty Licks” tour.

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art frWith one flick of a light switch, Grier Lackey is illuminating a dream.

“What do you think?” he said with a smile.

Standing inside Eaglenest, an 800-seat theatre in Maggie Valley, Lackey scans the enormous room, pointing out design details and other amenities offered on the premises. Closed since 2011, the state-of-the-art facility will once again open its doors to the entertainment possibilities of Western North Carolina. 

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wib innovationIt’s nearing lunchtime in downtown Sylva. The noonday traffic passes by a small building that houses Innovation Brewing. Inside, Nicole Dexter is checking equipment, hauling bags of hops and malt, all the while ready to take on another day amid her dream.

“Things have been going really great,” the 28-year-old said. “Our numbers are much better than we projected or anticipated.” 

art theplaceIt snuck up on me this year.

I know that it resides at the end of November. I know it’s filled with food, friends and family. But, I wasn’t really paying attention to the calendar until the day before the “feast” when it struck me. 

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art frMaine is a long way from China.

And for Amy Putansu, that distance is a testament to her life, passions and career.

“That was a whole new level,” she smiled. “I was in heaven — it was incredible.”

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art frThere’s only one thing Tim Hall isn’t sure of.

“Well, I don’t really know my age, but if I had to guess, I’d say I’m somewhere around 70 years old,” he chuckled.

Sitting in The Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians in downtown Bryson City, Hall reminisces about his childhood in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. He grew up in a poor family, like many others in that time and place, but that never deterred them from enjoying life, from sharing in its grace and beauty — sharing in storytelling and oral traditions.

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art theplacePatterson Hood is a sponge.

The defacto front man for the Drive-By Truckers, a bastion of nitty-gritty rock-n-roll, Hood soaks in the essence of the world around him. He sees the good, the bad, the ugly, and filters it through a prism of blood, sweat and tears. It’s a creative lens of performance and songwriting that conjures comparisons to the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Band, MC5 and Big Star.

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art theplaceThey call him the “Tao of Bluegrass.”

It was exactly eight years this month when I first met Peter Rowan. I was 21 and on my first feature assignment as a wet-behind-the-ears journalist still in college. The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts was our rendezvous point. I sat in that old basement green room, Rowan laid out across a musty couch, as we talked about the magic of music and performance. 

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art frAs the temperatures drop in Western North Carolina, the fun only heats up. The holiday season here is filled with events and activities aimed to celebrate the best way we know how — with friends, family and visitors alike.

Families can partake in wagon rides, iceless skating, craft sales and art demonstrations, all the while enjoying authentic mountain music, clogging and parades through several downtowns. These are just some of the innumerable activities to be had. Each and every date, time and place found within this section, each community around the region opening their arms to share in the winter festivities.

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art theplaceIt’s Saturday morning. And as most folks are either sleeping in a couple extra hours or seizing the day by hitting the great outdoors, Kelsie Baker is working. But she isn’t behind an office desk or working the typical 9-to-5 gig — she’s brewing beer.

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cover“The whole world is watching.”

That’s the statement echoing from a megaphone strapped to the side of David Starnes, director of athletic bands at Western Carolina University. On a recent crisp late fall afternoon, 505 college students march up and down a large intramural field in Cullowhee. The instrumental sounds of Journey’s seminal 80s classic “Don’t Stop Believin’” ricochets around the campus, ultimately radiating into the Southern Appalachian mountain range cradling the school.

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art theplaceWhy do you do it?

Sitting in a tiny coffee shop in downtown Knoxville last week, I was posed this question by a high school kid. I knew the answer, at least in my head I did. But, to be asked for a vocal response, it was a surreal experience to hear the words subconsciously come out of my mouth. 

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art masonDave Mason has seen it all.

As co-founder/guitarist for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Traffic, Mason, alongside band mate Steve Winwood, found himself at the forefront of the music industry in the 1960s. With iconic hits like “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Feelin’ Alright,” the ensemble was a vital sound amid the era’s spirit of political turmoil and societal freedoms.

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coverThe beauty of literature is its solely unique power of transportation.

That beauty lies in the meticulous arrangement of words, phrases and sentences on a simple black and white page, where upon decoding the message you conjure endless colors, scents and landscapes. You find yourself walking the streets of far away places in forgotten eras, faces and voices long since put six feet under, all covered up in dust under the bed of a modern world. 

The key to opening the portals to these places lies in the fingertips of the writer. Sitting down and letting the images in your mind pour out onto the blank page is a sacred act, one where you let the story unfold in front of you rather than racing to find a conclusion. Crafting a story is a delicate and often misunderstood process. To find the perfect word, one must travel to the deepest, darkest corners of their soul, in search of the ideal conflict that is located at the foundation of every great story.

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art theplaceIt never ceases to amaze me the incredible people, places and things I cross paths with here in Western North Carolina. From craft artisans to world-class musicians, stealthy moonshiners to stoic veterans, backwoods folks and cosmopolitan socialites — they’re all here in Southern Appalachia.

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art frThey say the easiest way to hide something is to place it right in front of someone.

Well, what would you say if I told you one of the most beautiful roads in America is right in your backyard, and it’s not the Blue Ridge Parkway?

“I’ve lived in North Carolina my whole life and I never heard of the Cherohala Skyway,” said Phillip Davis. “It’s one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever been on and I found it completely by accident.”

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The Waynesville Soda Jerks, an independent artisan beverage company, recently won first place at the National Association of Community Colleges Entrepreneurship conference in Phoenix. 

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art theplaceIt’s not only a time capsule, but also a window into the future.

With guitars in-hand, The DuPont Brothers are two men, two voices that become a singular melodic force. The Vermont-based siblings are quite possibly the finest acoustic duo out there today, nationally or internationally. Their mesmerizing sound and pure intent perpetuates a long line of powerhouse harmonic acts, bringing names like Simon & Garfunkel and Seals & Crofts to mind. 

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art frAs the leaves change and the air becomes crisp, the mountains of Western North Carolina transform into a landscape of mystery and mischief. In the spirit of ghouls, ghosts and everything creepy and crawling, communities around Southern Appalachia will celebrate Halloween with an array of local and regional events, for kids and parents alike.

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art theplaceI’m alone, again.

As of last Tuesday, I am newly single. To be honest, I’m not happy about that fact. Not one bit. This was the relationship where I felt she was the “one,” a person I truly could see myself marrying and having a family with. That notion — a wife and kids — has been the furthest things from my mind for years.

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art frIf Norman Rockwell were alive today, he might have painted a record store.

It’s as American and iconic as children playing outside until the streetlights came on or a young couple sharing a milkshake at a soda fountain. The record store is a place of congregation, of discovery, and of communicating the universal language — music.

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art theplaceHis voice will stop you in your tracks.

Russ Wilson is a bridge to an era, a time when style and class were synonymous with musicianship and showmanship.

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art balsamrangeI didn’t know who Balsam Range was when I first met them.

On Aug. 10, 2012, I had just moved to Waynesville — literally. A week prior I had accepted the position at The Smoky Mountain News, packed up whatever could fit in my old pickup and drove 1,016 miles overnight from Upstate New York to Haywood County.

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coverCaleb Smith had no idea.

“I didn’t hear them announce it,” he chuckled. “I was backstage talking to Del McCoury about a guitar and he says to me, ‘Son, I think they just called your name.’”

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art theplaceClaire Lynch likes to blur lines.

Born and raised in Upstate New York, she eventually moved away, crossing the Mason-Dixon Line for Alabama at age 12. She carried in her mind the sounds of the 1960s folk scene of Greenwich Village in Manhattan and show tunes echoing from the record player in her childhood home. Soon, she’d cross paths down South with country and bluegrass melodies radiating from Nashville and beyond. 

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art frIt never ceases to amaze Lorraine Conard.

“It’s a little bit magical,” she said. “You walk in and there’s this energy and excitement, a heartbeat within the community — I’m always so grateful and thankful for the people who come in.”

Sitting in the front room of The Strand at 38 Main in downtown Waynesville, Lorraine and her husband Rodney are the owners of the movie theatre. A beloved destination for many years within the town, it lay dormant for far too long, only to be purchased, renovated and revived by the young couple.

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art theplaceIt’s a lot harder than it looks. Stepping up to the first tee of the disc golf course at Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyo., I was handed what looked like a smaller, heavier, more defined type of Frisbee. It was my first time ever playing it, and first time actually hearing about the sport. 

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art frDale Heinlein never thought he’d set down roots in his hometown of Highlands.

“Living in Atlanta, in suburbia, with the summer heat and traffic, I had to get back to the mountains, back to nature, back to the earth, back to the rivers to cool off,” the 34-year-old said. “I’ve spent most of my life in Highlands and when I came back, I just started to notice so many things about my surroundings I either didn’t know about or had forgotten — there is so much to learn and discover everyday here.”

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art theplaceI did it again. It’s 9 a.m. last Saturday at the starting line of the Cashiers Trail Mix five-mile backwoods race. I knew I should have gotten more sleep the night before, should have at least had something to eat that morning. Shouldn’t have overindulged in the libations of Friday night, nor said the things I now regretted to my girlfriend.

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art frFor the better part of the last 45 years, David Holt has ventured down a rabbit hole.

Born in Texas, raised and schooled in California, Holt took off after college for the ancient, mystical mountains of Western North Carolina. Fascinated with the traditional old-time folk and string music echoing from Southern Appalachia, he began an endless journey to find, learn and perpetuate the eternal voices and sounds radiating from back hollers and front porches.

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art theplaceHow do you do it? I get asked this question quite often. Folks, whether friends, family or strangers, approach me and wonder how I’m able to write, day in and day out, about anything and everything. 

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art frTracy O’Neil has a lot less weight on his shoulders these days.

“We never accepted that we could lose the camp,” he said. “If we had lost the camp, we would have lost a cornerstone of the history of our community.”

Sipping a cup of coffee at Panacea Coffeehouse in Waynesville one recent morning, O’Neil relaxes into his seat, only to lean forward enthusiastically each time he speaks of the past, present and future of Camp Hope — a longtime community gathering spot for Haywood County and beyond. 

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art theplaceThey were stuck. Sitting around the bar at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva, the members of rockabilly band Rumble Seat Riot were wondering if they’d make their upcoming show in St. Louis, if their broken down van in Greenville was salvageable, or if they’d even be able to make it back home to Des Moines. 

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art frJoe Frank McKee knows what Dillsboro is capable of. “It’s a fighting town,” he said. “There are more craftsmen involved here these days, which means if you’re making your product and selling your product, you have more of a reason to fight.”

Co-owner of Tree House Pottery on Front Street in downtown Dillsboro, McKee and his business partner, Travis Berning, have spent the last 11 years setting down roots and investing in what has become a premier pottery establishment in Southern Appalachia. And as the town itself celebrates its 125th birthday on Sept. 6, many businesses within the community are reflecting on a storied past, an uncertain present, and a hopeful future.

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The Canton Town Board has recently made changes to their alcohol ordinances, allowing for the option of public consumption at events.

“As an elected official and Christian, I understand this is a divisive issue,” Alderman Zeb Smathers said. “After hearing from both sides and studying the issue, I voted to allow Canton the opportunity to fully compete with our sister cities as it concerns attracting events.”

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French Kirkpatrick just wanted to play music.

“I kind of wanted to be a singer, but I couldn’t sing worth a hoot,” the 75-year-old chuckled. “I wanted to be a regular picker, a banjo player, I even tried to play the fiddle one time, played the harmonica — I was a multiple-testing type of person.”

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coverFrench Kirkpatrick can sum up Carroll Best.

“What he did with the banjo was above and beyond,” Kirkpatrick said. “He was the most, probably without a doubt, the most creative banjo player I was ever in a room with.”

Recently at his home in Ironduff, a mountain community a few miles outside of downtown Waynesville, Kirkpatrick, an acclaimed musician in his own right, relaxed further back into his couch and reminisced with a smile about his late friend.

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art theplaceWhat to do?

That was the question I posed to myself when I found out my girlfriend was visiting from Upstate New York. She is someone who has never been to Western North Carolina, never been to Southern Appalachia, let alone anywhere in the South for that matter. 

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fr evergreenA bill that would provide a $12 million incentive package to the Evergreen Packaging paper mill in Canton failed to garner enough votes from the state House.

“I did my best — that’s all I can say,” said Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Haywood, on Tuesday afternoon. 

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art theplaceThis sucks. 

One of the finest actors, comedians and pop culture icons of our lifetime, Robin Williams, gone, just like that — a bright flame, snuffed out.

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art frWhen he was just five years old, Michael Turco knew what he wanted to do with his life

“All I wanted to do was be a magician,” the 29-year-old said.

Now a professional magician, Turco tours across the country and around the globe, mesmerizing and astounding audiences every night. Currently a performer with Six Flags Magic Mountain (right outside of Los Angeles), he will be one of the many world-class magicians going on tour with Masters Of Illusion — Believe The Impossible, which will hit the stage on Aug. 23 at Harrah’s Cherokee.

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art theplaceHe was beloved by all who knew him. Richard Coker embodied the spirit of Appalachia. As a co-owner of the Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley, his warmth and hospitality radiated from the top of the mountain and shined brightly to anyone lucky enough to see his light.

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art frWho the hell are those guys?

It’s a question constantly asked about Porch 40, a Sylva-based funk/rock outfit barreling out of the Southern Appalachian woods like a black bear on speed.

“We’re like a ’69 Corvette, fire engine red, revving the V8 at the starting line, gripping the wheel and the stick, knuckles shinin’ white,” said Drew Duncan. “The light turns green and we gun the sucker, skin gathering at the back of your head.”

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art theplaceFor all the naysayers, rock-n-roll is alive and kicking — especially in the hands of Rich Robinson.

Guitarist and founding member of The Black Crowes, he has circled the globe for the last 25 years, spreading the mighty word of six-strings gone electric. With the Crowes representing the musical crossroads of Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers and The Band, Robinson is a beacon of light in a modern music industry, where real musicians seem to fall by the wayside in favor of pop idols and instant gratification from a guy onstage hitting buttons on a laptop.

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art frHeading west out of Bryson City, just before the highway narrows into a twisting two-lane road, a small, ramshackle hut watches over the crossroads of Southern Appalachia — a last stop before descending into the remote Nantahala Gorge ahead, or the desolate beauty of Fontana Lake to the right. 

The shack, wedged between junk cars and a rundown trailer, has seen better days, on a property that has seen better years. But, upon closer inspection, a friendly face sits behind a counter filled with knickknacks and the wafting smell of boiled peanuts.  

“Well, I just love boiled peanuts,” 71-year-old Tommy Von smiled. “I had to make a living somehow.”

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A new push to change the public alcohol consumption and possession law in Canton has not come without controversy.

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art theplaceWhen the camera bulb flashed, it hit me — had it really been that long?

Standing in the Belhurst Castle, a Great Gatsby-esque property situated on Seneca Lake in Geneva, N.Y., I realized it had been around a decade since my childhood friends and I had been in the same room together. And yet, here we were, drinks in hand, smiles plastered across our faces, as family members and dates for the wedding stood in front of us, eager to capture the moment we all were huddled as one.

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art lazyhikerAs the snow melts in Southern Appalachia, the beer will begin to flow from the taps of the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company in the former Franklin Town Hall.

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art frIn the last two weeks, Joe Rowland has soaked in the California sunshine, rafted the Grand Canyon, wandered the Rocky Mountains, gone skydiving and tamed the endless cornfields of the Midwest, all the while cruising the country in a rock star tour bus. 

He’s also been drinking a lot of beer along the way — a lot of beer. 

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