Garret K. Woodward

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For my generation, Kobe Bryant was the torchbearer and living link between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. He was basketball in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

Kobe was also a figure who genuinely transcended the sport, one who rose to the top of the mountain of pop culture and media celebrity, something that came to fruition just as the internet age and social media became an integral part of our daily lives. 

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It’s just after lunchtime at the Haywood County Health Department on a recent chilly afternoon in Clyde. And standing in the front window of the lobby awaiting his appointment for a sit-down interview is Marc Pruett. 

Formerly the county’s erosion control officer for the better part of a quarter-century, Pruett retired some three years ago, only to be asked to come back part-time as the much-needed development services technician (now that the erosion and planning offices have combined). His skill set and personable approach to his position have made him invaluable to those who not only work alongside Pruett, but also cross paths with him — personally and professionally.

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I think the one of the hardest lessons in life is knowing when to cut bait on those who simply do not have your best interests in mind (family or friends). 

Throughout my entire life, I’ve struggled with always trying to make others happy, and taking things so damn personal if someone either doesn’t get my vibe or simply isn’t interested in being a friend, etc. These days, I’m actively working towards not taking those things so to heart, and just focusing on simply being a good person in my words and actions, regardless of what others may think.

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Last Thursday evening, three days of celebration commenced within the walls of Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro on the outskirts of downtown Sylva. 

The gathering wasn’t to look ahead as the business turned 19 years old. Rather, it was to tie a poignant bow on almost two decades of culinary and artisan bliss in this small mountain town.

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The moment the song came onto my stereo, I was immediately transported to a time and a place somewhat foggy in memory, but never to be forgotten.  It was “Saving Days in a Frozen Head” by songbird and guitar wizard Kaki King. So, this past Monday, when the melody filled my headphones, I found myself rapidly traveling to the past. 

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David Bromberg doesn’t have time to wax poetic about life. 

But, more so he doesn’t have time to talk about the life he’s lived as one of the great singer-songwriters who emerged out of the Greenwich Village blues/folk revival in the 1960s, with Bromberg now one of the last remaining figures from that era still touring and releasing new music. 

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Stepping out of my truck, I stretched my legs and proceeded to throw on my running clothes. It was nearing sunset when I locked the vehicle and jumped onto a nearby hiking trail just off U.S. 19 in Summersville, West Virginia. 

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It was around midnight when I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. With Maryland now in the rearview mirror, I pushed into rural depths of south central Pennsylvania. It was Christmas Eve and the temperatures had dropped to around freezing, a far cry from the sunshine felt earlier that day in Western North Carolina.

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Picking your favorite albums of any given year is a wholeheartedly subjective endeavor. You’re drawn to what immediately captures your attention — whatever that song, record or genre may be. 

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For a place that was dry just a decade ago, Clay County is now home to one of the finest craft breweries in Western North Carolina.

“Our beers are mostly driven on tradition, but we also try to push the boundaries,” said David Grace, brewmaster at Nocturnal Brewing in downtown Hayesville. “We definitely do the tried and true American styles craft beers, but we also push heavily into fruity beers and sours.”

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Give or take, it’s about 1,010 miles from Waynesville, North Carolina (my current home) to Plattsburgh, New York (my hometown). I know this fact seeing as about twice a year I roar up and down the interstates of the Eastern Seaboard either heading home for the holidays or back to Southern Appalachia for work. 

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Standing in a two-bay garage in downtown Sylva last Friday afternoon, Victoria Shufelt was putting the final touches on a pop-up art gallery event.

“For such a small town, I’ve always been blown away by the amount of creative folks here,” Shufelt said. “And this space is a totally blank canvas to come together and create in Sylva.”

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As the decade comes to a close, I sip this cup o’joe in a quiet coffee shop in a small town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I think of December 2009 and how incredibly different life was. 

At 24 years old, the economy had tanked a year earlier. Living back in my native Upstate New York (in my parent’s farmhouse), I had left the west in 2008 following my first journalism gig at a tiny paper in Eastern Idaho. 

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Last Saturday evening at Orchard Coffee in Waynesville, two nationally acclaimed singer-songwriters stepped in front of microphones and projected their captivating voices and lyrical aptitude to a silent, spellbound audience.  

“I like having that personal connection in a place like this — there’s such a feeling in here,” said Israel Nebeker. “I was rehearing for the show tonight in my hotel room earlier, and I was thinking back on some these songs I wrote, and those coffee shops I played when I was starting out — it’s really a full circle thing.”

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It was about halfway into the quirky tune “My Sweet One” when the memories started to flood my field of vision. There I was this past Sunday, surrounded by a sea of over 13,000 people, while our band Phish performed onstage in Charleston, South Carolina. 

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Amid the plethora of talented bluegrass, Americana and string acts in Western North Carolina, the idea of a rock trio is more so a rarity than something one might come across in regional musical circles.

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My eyelids fluttered open and it took me a couple moments to realize that I was in my apartment and it was Thanksgiving morning. After a wild, raucous Thanksgiving Eve bouncing through the fine establishments of downtown Waynesville, it was time to dust myself off and be ready for the impending dinner.

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With the recent “10-year challenge” on Facebook — where folks compare photos of themselves from 2009, as a way to celebrate the end of this decade next month — I was curious and tracked down what I was up way back when.

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In just seven years together, the members of Sister Sadie have risen into the upper echelon of the modern bluegrass scene. 

From a Grammy nomination for “Best Bluegrass Album” (for “Sister Sadie II”) to a handful of appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, 2019 was a milestone year for the group. This past September, the band received the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award for “Vocal Group of the Year” — the first all-female act in the history of the IBMAs to do so. 

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Tucked in the depths of Wall Street in Waynesville, the Green Orchid Soap Co. is meant to be found by chance or happenstance — this cozy spot just off Main Street, right down a side alley away from the bustle of downtown.

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When I was a kid, my parents would talk to anybody. Literally anybody. Though my little sister was somewhat embarrassed by it, I was completely fascinated. 

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With over 2,000 folks piling into the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in downtown Asheville for Incubus on Thursday evening, those in attendance walked away from the gathering with way more than simply “hearing the hits.”

Celebrating the 20th anniversary release of the California rock act’s breakthrough album, “Make Yourself,” the performance unfolded with a retrospective film being projected on the large backdrop behind the drum kit, the entire audience on its feet cheering along.

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With over 2,000 folks piling into the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in downtown Asheville for Incubus on Thursday evening, those in attendance walked away from the gathering with way more than simply “hearing the hits.”

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When I lace up my running shoes lately, I’ve found that I usually need to add a windbreaker on top of my normal running attire. It’s that time of year again, my favorite spot on the calendar. The air is colder, the leaves have fallen, and yet the sun’s rays still warm the face — that calm before the storm of holidays and family obligations. 

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Longtime guitarist for legendary rock act Widespread Panic, Jimmy Herring’s sole focus as a musician is — and has always been — about creating an inclusive melodic platform with his electric six-string, by which he and other musicians onstage can stand atop and swirl around each other with ease. 

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It was right around 3 p.m. when I knew I had to escape.

Sitting in the Panacea Coffeehouse in the Frog Level District of Waynesville on Monday afternoon, I had finished my writing for the day. I had concluded all my emails, correspondences and text messages, too. I just wanted to get away, even if but for a moment, from my damn smart phone and laptop in an era of Wi-Fi and unlimited data plans. 

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Cutting through the onslaught of monotonous bar bands and diluted midnight hour showcases like a buzz saw gone haywire, The Hooten Hallers remain one of the most mesmerizing, innovative and raucous acts on the national scene these days.

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In my 12 years as a professional journalist, I’ve seen and heard the good, the bad, and the ugly of what it means to find balance and strength in this industry that is newspapers, magazines and media in our country and around our world.

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First and foremost, Raymond Fairchild was one of the finest banjo players who ever walked the face of the earth. He had a storied reputation for incredibly strong and powerful pickin’ on the five-string instrument — a sentiment also said about his moonshine from behind closed doors. 

Last Sunday afternoon, Fairchild passed away unexpectedly at the age of 80. Though his music and influence will live on for generations, the bluegrass industry and Western North Carolina have lost a true original, one of the last of his kind in rural Southern Appalachia. 

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Raymond Fairchild — a bluegrass legend in Western North Carolina — passed away unexpectedly Sunday afternoon at the age of 80, but his music and influence will live on for generations.

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For a moment, I had thought I’d gone crazy.

Standing in the laundromat just a block away from my apartment in Waynesville, I stared at Dryer #4 with a puzzled look on my face. It was 1:45 p.m. on an otherwise normal Tuesday. I walked up to Dryer #4 and put my hand on the door. It was still warm. It had happened: someone stole my laundry. 

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My 2019 festival season is over as of this past Sunday night at the “Blue Ridge Jam” at Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain. With my first festival of the year in late March, I’ve attended and/or covered 24 music festivals in the last 29 weeks. Crazy, eh?

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In the matter of a song, Charlie Parr can make you laugh and cry, all while finding simple meanings and understandings about the human condition.

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Just before he entered the main auditorium of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh this past Thursday evening, Darren Nicholson stood back for a moment as he watched the entire bluegrass industry mingle before his eyes.

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The crisp air now wafts into the open windows of my quiet apartment in downtown Waynesville. The ushering in of fall. Another summer has come and gone in the blink of an eye. 

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At 23, guitarist Marcus King has quickly transitioned from a prodigy into a bonafide legend on the electric six-string. 

Crisscrossing the globe since he was a teenager emerging from Greenville, South Carolina, King and his band have risen to the upper echelon of rock-n-roll and soul music, a modern-day realm inhabited by the likes of the Tedeschi Trucks Band and JJ Grey & Mofro. 

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This past weekend at Kickin’ It On The Creek marked my 20th music festival in the last 27 weeks.

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For the better part of the last three decades, G. Love (aka: Garrett Dutton) and his band Special Sauce have been crisscrossing America with its signature blend of hip-hop, blues and jazz.

Coming up through the 1980s hip-hop scene in Philadelphia, G. Love soon found himself a young street busker in Boston, eventually taking his intricate rapping skills, old-time harmonica and folk guitar stylings into the studio for the group’s groundbreaking 1994 self-titled debut album. 

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I’ve been feeling some overwhelming gratitude this week during the premiere and continued rollout of Ken Burns’ 16.5-hour PBS documentary series “Country Music.”

I sat there in utter awe during the first episode on Sunday evening, something I’ve always felt watching Burns’ films since I was a kid. My entire existence is wrapped around his influence on me as a writer, journalist, storyteller, history freak, and as a human being trying to make connections with others. 

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Clocking in at over 16 hours, the new Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” is an extremely detailed and intricate look at the genre through the lens of our nation and the wide variety of its citizens that inhabit it.

The film lays down the foundation and continual evolution of country music. It’s a portal and rabbit hole into this never-ending melodic history and its artists, a true sense of discovery of self — of time and place — through songs about heartache and redemption.

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Last Sunday morning, at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Route 27 in Wiscasset, Maine, I decided to turn right instead of going straight. 

Instead of the usual drive down U.S. 1 to Interstate 95 and back into civilization, along the highways that lead me to my native North Country of Upstate New York, I chose Route 27 and pushed north into the desolate backwoods of Maine. I had a lot on my mind and preferred the scenic path. No need to rush back to my parents’ house. 

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It’s a serendipitous sort of happenstance when you stumble across the White Moon coffee shop. Tucked in the depths of Mill Street in downtown Sylva, the cozy establishment is meant to be a refuge from whatever may be distracting you from hearing the most important voice in your life — your own.

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Pulling off Interstate 87 onto Route 9, the fading sun lowered itself behind the cornfields and open meadows of the Champlain Valley. It has been a while since I’d found myself crossing into the village limits of Rouses Point, New York, a place where I spent the first 18 years of my life.

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Atop a hill on the western edge of downtown Waynesville, just past the invisible line where the delicious smell of down home food stops wafting from nearby Bogart’s Restaurant & Tavern, sits a picturesque century-old home. 

With a fresh cup of coffee in hand one recent sunny morning, Joe Sam Queen sat in a rocking chair on the side patio of his serene abode and reminisced about the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival. 

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The 50th annual Smoky Mountain Folk Festival will be held on Aug. 30-31 at the Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat Center. Both nights will include a rich variety of the region’s finest fiddlers, banjo players, string bands, ballad singers, buck dancers and square dance teams as well as the marvelous sounds of dulcimer, harmonica, Jew’s harp, bagpipes, spoons, saws, and folk ensembles.

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Heartbroken and stunned. That’s about all I can say or feel at this moment with the tragic passing of singer-songwriter and guitarist Neal Casal. 

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It’s one of the most recognizable voices in all of American music.

When Richard Sterban famously coined the “oom-pa-pa-oom-pa-pa-mow-mow” bass solo during The Oak Ridge Boy’s crossover 1981 smash hit “Elvira,” he not only forever solidified his tone in the halls of country music, he also became a lifelong pop culture icon in the process. 

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It was 50 years ago this past weekend that Max Yasgur, a 49-year-old conservative Upstate New York farmer, stood onstage at Woodstock in front of 400,000 youthful faces of the counterculture and simply proclaimed, “You’ve proven to the world that a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music …”

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Now syndicated on PBS stations from coast to coast, “David Holt’s State of Music” has become a beacon of traditional music and worldwide exposure for countless local, regional and national acts hailing from Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia.

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It’s around midnight, early Tuesday morning. Just sitting here, thinking. Finally getting around to drinking a cold beer on a recliner in an apartment that I’ve barely called home this spring and summer. 

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