Garret K. Woodward

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Meandering up Fie Top Road in Maggie Valley, just as your vehicle’s engine is pushed to the limit and it seems you may eventually drive off the edge of the earth, you emerge atop a mountain ridge, a large rustic lodge appearing in the distance — the Cataloochee Ranch. 

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Bearing witness to a few fine folks chomping down on handfuls of raw ramps last Sunday afternoon at American Legion Post 47 in Waynesville, it dawned on me that I’ve lost touch with this region. 

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A true mark of an artist is how well they age. 

Not simply by the passing years on the calendar, for that’s a privilege in itself to experience.

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Right now, there are a handful of old cardboard boxes in the back of my girlfriend’s car. Inside the boxes are several dusty photo albums of Sarah’s past.

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At the corner of Depot and Haywood streets in downtown Waynesville sits an old building. Originally a gas station, it was also a longtime mechanic’s shop and later a car wash for a period. But, in recent months, the charming, somewhat dormant 147 Depot St. location has had new life breathed into it.  

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Is there a more exhilarating feeling within your heart than that of preparing for a road trip? I think not. The wandering, pondering rambler inside my soul vibrates wildly thinking about what routes to take, where to stop, who to stop and see and what kind of wondrous happenstance will occur throughout the journey. 

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Within the greater Upstate New York live music scene, there’s a vast landscape of ebbs and flows — peaks and valleys of sonic textures, weaving effortlessly from rock to soul, funk to folk and back again. 

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Last Thursday, it was decided to go bowling. Galaxy Lanes & Games on the outskirts of downtown Sylva, in a somewhat dormant shopping plaza buffering the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway and greater Jackson County.

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Since its opening in October 2020, Citizen Vinyl has become a melodic hub for artists, music lovers and the curious alike. Located in the former Asheville Citizen-Times building on O. Henry Avenue, across from the Grove Arcade in downtown, the property itself has become a beacon of creativity and connectivity. 

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The title of this column is a sentence written in my old road journals. Back on Dec. 26, 2007. I was 22 years old and leaving my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York, heading west to start my first reporting gig post-college at the Teton Valley News in Driggs, Idaho. 

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It was about 15 years ago when Will Mallett cruised into Portland, Maine, and ended up crashing on the couch of his brother, Luke, and his roommate, Nick Leen — all in an honest, perhaps curious effort to see what the future held for the 20-something fresh out of college. 

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With a cool breeze rolling through the Old City district of downtown Knoxville last Thursday evening, I clung tighter to my jacket, pulled the brim of my hat lower and meandered across the railroad tracks towards Boyd’s Jig & Reel. 

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Hello from Room 623 at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Owensboro, Kentucky. Just about six and a half hours from my humble abode in Waynesville. Russ Avenue to U.S. 276 to Interstate 40 and backroads through Southern Appalachia to get here. 

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Recently, Kevin Fitzgerald left his Waynesville home and made the long trek up to West Virginia University to watch one of his former athletes, Tuscola High School running standout Eva Rinker, compete at the college level. For Fitzgerald, it was a moment of immense pride to be there and cheer on Rinker. 

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At 76, singer-songwriter/keyboardist Randall Bramblett has been a musical artist most of his life. In recent years, a new outlook on not only what he does for a living, but also what it means to be human amid a life immersed in creativity and connectivity, has emerged. 

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Hello from the Antler Village at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. It’s 11:34 a.m. The wine bar around the corner will open in roughly 16 minutes. I’ve been at this vast property since 8:30 a.m. when I was pulling up to attend the grand opening of the Chihuly art exhibit. 

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For Jerad Davis, it all started with a dry, nagging cough in the summer of 2022. With shortness of breath, low energy, brain fog and night sweats, he initially chalked it up to long COVID. But, upon going to the doctor and through some medical procedures, he was eventually diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

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Hello from Lemon Street in St. Augustine, Florida. Since 2013, my folks, who live in Upstate New York, have been coming down here for the month of March to escape the frozen North Country winters. 

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Celebrating a decade together with a special anniversary gig this week at the Salvage Station in Asheville, Fireside Collective has become a rapidly rising force in the Americana, bluegrass and jam realms in Southern Appalachia and beyond. 

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That quote underneath the title of this column is from the seminal 1958 novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote. It was also the dramatic culmination in the 1961 film of the same name starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. 

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At 46, Scott Low has a lot to be thankful for.

Beyond his enduring career as a beloved singer-songwriter in the mountains of Southern Appalachia, he’s also a husband, father and fly-fishing guide, one who also owns and operates the Hatch Camp & Art Farm in the rural countryside of Clayton, Georgia.

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It’s a lot quieter this week at The Smoky Mountain News. Not just because of the unusually warm weather this past weekend sparking folks to frolic and head for the hills.

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Celebrating a quarter-century this coming summer, the “An Appalachian Evening” live music series at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Robbinsville brings in some of the biggest names in bluegrass, old-time, mountain and Americana music.  

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Hello from Room 211 at the Red Roof Inn just off Interstate 64 in Lexington, Kentucky. Bright, warm rays of sunshine stream into the east-facing window of the $43.95 per night cheap motel room. Crisp morning air rolls across the city and nearby horse country. 

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I’m a minimalist. I don’t want much, nor do I care to ever have much. As long as I’m surrounded by shelves of books and stacks of vinyl records, a comfy recliner and some cold suds in the fridge in my humble abode of a one-bedroom Waynesville apartment (that also has a porch with mountain views, thankfully), I’m good to go.  

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When it comes to bluegrass banjo, you’d be hard-pressed to find as vivacious and voracious a picker-n-grinner than Kyle Tuttle. 

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Saturday. Late morning. The Waynesville apartment was quiet save the occasional motorcycle roaring along nearby Russ Avenue. My girlfriend had already gotten up and was at work by 10 a.m. I slept in a little bit, though my restless soul wouldn’t let the day fade.

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The smart phone dinged incessantly early this morning ‘round 8 a.m. at my small Waynesville apartment. Social media notifications and text messages. Then came the phone calls from my mother and father way up in the North Country. It’s my 39th birthday. 

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On his latest single, “Broke Down Engine,” singer-songwriter Woody Platt teamed up with bluegrass icon Del McCoury.

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The title of this column is the opening line of the song “Fireworks” by The Tragically Hip. A cherished Canadian rock act, the melody itself an ode to the legend and lore that is hockey and coming of age as a kid — a love of hockey transitioning to a love of women. 

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At the core of any great singer-songwriter lies this inherent trait of stage presence, one where an entire room, no matter the size, is pulled in by this lyrical tractor beam — all eyes, emotions and energies aimed in one direction at a single voice. 

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My best girl (aka: my mother Kathy) turns 75 years young today (Jan. 21). Currently, it’s a cold, frigid Sunday here in the mountains of Western North Carolina, same goes for my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York.

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In the vast, rich musical landscape of 1970s/1980s rock-n-roll, few bands sold as many records and played as big of shows as that of Styx — numerous platinum albums and sold out stadium gigs from coast-to-coast. 

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Editor’s Note: Over his tenure here at The Smoky Mountain News, Arts & Entertainment Editor Garret K. Woodward has had the sincere honor and pleasure of interviewing writer Fred Chappell on three separate occasions. Below are some Q&A excerpts from those conversations. Chappell died on Jan. 4 at age 87.

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In a November 2022 interview with The Smoky Mountain News, storied writer Fred Chappell, a Haywood County native who was 86 at the time, was asked what the culmination of his life meant to him looking back. 

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Back in 2001, while students at the University of Rhode Island, bassist Joel Hanks and drummer Scott Begin had been kicking around the idea of doing a one-off tribute concert to the music of Sublime — one of the most iconic American rock acts of all-time.

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Peering through the window blinds of the motel room, the sunshine felt yesterday afternoon was long gone and now replaced by an early morning haze of clouds and a slight drizzle.

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Somewhere between the treadmill and the free weights of the complimentary fitness center, my mind started thinking on all the different hotels and cities I’ve found myself in this past year. This go-round it was the Cambria in Columbia, South Carolina. 

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Just about a year ago, Spencer Tetrault was cruising along Depot Street in Waynesville when he noticed a “For Lease” sign in the window of an empty building. He immediately called his friend, Blake Yoder, and asked if he wanted to start a business. 

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Editor’s Note: Since August 2012, Garret K. Woodward has held the position of arts and entertainment editor for The Smoky Mountain News. In December 2018, he also became a contributing writer for Rolling Stone.

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At 7:12 a.m. Friday, the sun broke the horizon atop the Atlantic Ocean, its undulating waves crashing upon Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

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It’s been some 43 years since John Bonham, iconic drummer for rock gods Led Zeppelin, tragically passed away at age 32. But, in the decades since his death, his son, Jason, has been getting behind the kit and holding his father’s legacy up high for all to see and hear. 

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The cell phone erupted to life on the nightstand in the pitch-black bedroom. It was 9:30 a.m. in North Carolina. But, for my girlfriend, Sarah, and I, we were three hours behind in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

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Every-so-often, my girlfriend, Sarah, and I will find ourselves with an open Monday evening. A wild, rollickin’ weekend in the rearview mirror. The first day of the work week now completed. How ‘bout we motor over to Asheville for some fine Italian food at Vinnie’s on Merrimon Avenue, eh? Sold. 

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When drummer Joe Russo takes a moment to reflect on his decades-long friendship and collaboration with guitarist Tom Hamilton, he can’t help but be in awe of their cosmic connection. 

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Hello from Room 202 at the Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of the small town of Lake Wales, Florida.

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Editor’s Note: Since first rolling into Haywood County in August 2012 to start work as the arts and entertainment editor for The Smoky Mountain News, Garret K. Woodward has been extensively documenting banjo players around our backyard.

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In the mid-1960s, when Bill Allsbrook was a med school student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, he decided to pick up the banjo. 

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Hello from the nearly empty bar counter of the Vail House Oyster Bar & Grille on the outskirts of downtown Goldsboro, North Carolina — a city seemingly forgotten by the sands of time and 21st century progress elsewhere. 

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And so, we enter the whirlwind holiday season once again. Honestly, it feels like I was just in Knoxville, Tennessee, leaning against the bar on the second floor of the Preservation Pub in Market Square on New Year’s Eve when the clock struck midnight. 

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