Garret K. Woodward

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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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Hello from Room 1029 in the Blue Valley Cottage at the Old Edwards Inn, situated near the intersection of U.S. 64 and Main Street in downtown Highlands. 

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Hello from Room 6102 at the Sonder motel on the edge of Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s 80 degrees outside in the late morning, with the dry heat of the Southwest steadily rising like the hot sun above the high desert prairie surrounding this vast, metropolitan area. 

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It was at 7:27 a.m. Monday when the red ball of fire broke the horizon line at Wrightsville Beach.

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A soothing mid-fall breeze floats across my front porch, through the screen door and into the apartment, ultimately swirling around the writing desk facing a bustling Russ Avenue within sight. 

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It was an otherwise quiet Tuesday evening when my girlfriend started in on me once again that it was high time to get rid of the old couch in our apartment in downtown Waynesville. By last count, it was probably the fifth or sixth time she’d said that this year.

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Stepping outside the small log cabin, I took a moment to collect my thoughts. Vast farm fields and ancient dirt in the rural countryside outside of Goldsboro, the cool air of an impending fall was felt with a sense of relief in a place where heat and humidity reign supreme. 

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Somewhere around Schroon Lake, New York, just following a quick hike in the Adirondack Mountains, it was decided to head further down Interstate 87 to I-78, onward through Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to get to Raleigh, North Carolina, for the International Bluegrass Music Association award show last Thursday. 

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It’s never easy to go home. And I think it only seems to get harder, perhaps more abstract and blurry, as one gets older — further and farther between from the starting line, literally and figuratively. Case-in-point, I recently returned home to my native North Country. 

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It’s 9:54 a.m. Tuesday. I’m sitting at the old wooden kitchen table at my parents’ farmhouse in rural Upstate New York, within close range of the Canadian border, just a few farm fields away from the mighty, ancient Lake Champlain. 

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It’s 11 a.m. Monday. Currently sitting in the rec room of my aunt’s high-end apartment complex on the outskirts of Charlotte.

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In the winter of 1978, Terryll Evans was a ninth grader in Orlando, Florida. But, by March, she and her family would pack up everything and move hundreds of miles away to the mountains of Haywood County — an unknown landscape for the teenager. 

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The alarm on my smart phone echoed throughout the small cabin. It was 7:30 a.m. Saturday and I had to be somewhere in an hour — hopping onto a saddle for an early morning horse ride. 

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Emerging from the rental car, a slight drizzle from an early evening storm rolled across the high-desert landscape of Morrison, Colorado. The Western skies overhead turned dark and ominous, only to quickly retreat and head for the skyline of nearby Denver. 

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Covered in sweat, I was about three miles into a Friday afternoon run around Lake Johnson on the outskirts of Raleigh.

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It didn’t matter that Pisgah High School defeated neighboring Brevard 24-10 last Friday night. What mattered most were the kids on the field dressed in red and black, the same colors all across the packed-out stadium bleachers filled with Canton’s finest.

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Last Tuesday morning, Doug Gray was standing outside his hotel room in Jackson, Wyoming.

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Mailbox 278 (pictured) along Route 581 in the unincorporated community of Nahunta, North Carolina. In the rural depths of Wayne County on the outskirts of the small city of Goldsboro. 

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Exiting the elevator of the Cambria Hotel in downtown Asheville on Monday morning, I noticed the “Sunset Time” scribbled on the lobby sign said 8:29 p.m. Four minutes shorter than what I first saw when checking into the Cambria last Thursday evening. 

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Parking the truck at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Nolichucky River on the outskirts of the small town of Erwin, Tennessee, early Monday afternoon, a hot sun kissed my forehead emerging from the vehicle all while lacing up the ole trail running shoes.

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On Oct. 20, 1977, a plane carrying southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed into the woods near Gillsburg, Mississippi.

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Hello from Room 209 at the Super 8 on the outskirts of Rawlins, Wyoming. Late morning and taking my time to get my bags packed and tossed into the back of the rental car.

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Hello from Room 312 at the Apres hotel in Whitefish, Montana. Late Sunday morning. High of 91 degrees with low humidity and hot sun high above the desolate Rocky Mountains in this remote part of the lower 48 states. 

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With a hot sun slowly fading behind the Great Balsam Mountains cradling Waynesville, Outlaw Whiskey hopped onto the stage for a recent performance at Furman’s Burger Bar on the west side of town.

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