Garret K. Woodward

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If the old adage, “obstacles are opportunities,” rings true, then Art Alexakis might just be the definition of an opportunist. 

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Stepping into the lobby of the Days Inn just north of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, last Wednesday evening, I was immediately hit with the faint smell of cigarettes. The sign next to the front desk of the lodging establishment said “No Smoking: $150 Charge.” 

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For the last 25 years, few R&B/soul performers have risen to height of success and level of mainstream talent as Brian McKnight.

With his signature falsetto and seemingly unending vocal range, the multi-platinum artist is also a triple threat — singer, musician, songwriter. All of which has culminated into several radio hits and 16 Grammy nominations over the decades. 

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Emerging from the beer line along the top of the hill with a Fiddlehead IPA, I heard the slight sound of distortion and feedback echoing loudly from the massive stage down below.

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Five years ago, when the Southern Porch opened its doors in Canton, it wasn’t hard to get a parking spot in downtown.

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Nathan Manuel Arruda, age 42, passed away unexpectedly on Monday, June 28, at his place of residence in Rouses Point, New York. 

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In an effort to preserve and perpetuate the heritage arts and lore of the Great Smoky Mountains and greater Southern Appalachia, the Smoky Mountain Heritage Center has now come to fruition at the Meadowlark Motel in Maggie Valley.

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The air was cool and the sleeping bag warm when I heard the early morning loon from across Buck Pond. 

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In the annals of country-rock history, a handful of acts were able to ride the line of mainstream radio success, all while breaking new ground in fusing the respective genres. Like a buckin’ rodeo bull, these bands straddled the sounds of honky-tonk twang and razor-sharp electric six-strings. 

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It was about 15 minutes into meeting Sailor Steve and Texas Jeff when I knew I’d met some of the wildest souls on this damn planet. 

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A blend of jazz-fusion, bluegrass and avant-garde folk music, the Jon Stickley Trio is at the core of the current acoustic movement that’s been roaring through the national and international scenes over the last decade. 

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I was already 10 minutes late to my niece’s seventh birthday party some 20 minutes away last Sunday afternoon. 

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It was exactly a week ago when it was decided as a newsroom to cleanup up our offices for The Smoky Mountain News “Distant Social & Birthday Bash” last Friday afternoon. 

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It’s late morning at Citizen Vinyl in downtown Asheville. Formerly the Citizen-Times Building, the historic structure is now home to a record manufacturing facility, café, bar, record store and recording studio. 

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Leaving his hometown of Syracuse, New York, in 1988, singer-songwriter Martin Sexton hit the road — in search of not only himself and his place in the world, but also his audience, too. 

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He walked into the bar, grabbed a seat next to me, and proceeded to order four shots of Jameson Irish whiskey. He was surrounded by two friends to the left and one friend (me) to the right. I figured he was buying us a round, even if I wasn’t in the mood for liquor this past Monday evening.

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In the late spring of 2020, Russ Keith was cruising down U.S. 19 through the heart of Maggie Valley. Soon, he noticed the festival grounds out of the corner of his eye. He pulled in, stopped and got out of his car. 

Crossing the threshold of the White Moon café in downtown Sylva, one is drawn in by the scent of culinary delights and unique beverages. 

In its 14 years together, Haywood County’s own Balsam Range has risen into the upper echelon as one of the marquee acts in the national and international bluegrass scene — this once in a generation blend of songbird harmonies and lightning fast finger pickin’. 

About three years ago, Sarah and Eric Rehmann uprooted their lives in Raleigh and headed for Western North Carolina. 

On most days, the patio at Lazy Hiker Brewing in downtown Franklin is filled with locals and visitors alike, each enjoying the concoctions pouring out of from the large warehouse behind the taproom. 

Grabbing a seat inside Mad Anthony’s Taproom in downtown Waynesville one recent evening, Benji Boessel and Alex Tinsley can’t help but gaze around at the other tables. 

Sitting in the dining room of The Rivers & Rails Tavern in Dillsboro, Craig Szymanski looked out the window and watched a family wander down the row of shops on Front Street. 

Friday morning in downtown Waynesville and Orchard Coffee is bustling. There are those entering and waiting patiently for strong coffee and freshly baked goods, those exiting with full hands and big smiles. 

Coming off Exit 85 on the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway, a funny thing happens to drivers when they’re about halfway down the hill heading into Sylva — they start to get hungry. 

When the entire music industry shutdown last year, acclaimed singer-songwriter Edwin McCain wasn’t necessarily concerned with not being able to hit the road and perform onstage, something the 51-year-old has been doing for the better part of the last three decades. 

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My eyes shot open when the air-conditioning unit kicked on. It took me a couple of moments to realize where I was. Our room was dark and silent. The queen-sized bed, sheets and pillows were extremely comfortable, and damn well better be if you’re paying a pretty penny to stay at the Wyndham Garden in Greensboro. 

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Though Oct. 17 was just seven months ago chronologically, it feels like seven years emotionally with all of the social, political and economic chaos and strife in this current era of Covid-19. 

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It was just about 8:30 a.m. when I awoke in my pickup truck last Saturday. 

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For over three decades, moe. has remained a pillar of the ongoing and ever-evolving jam-band scene — this melodic entity blending the raw power and essence of arena rock bravado with the subtle, intricate nature of jazz improvisation. 

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Standing in a hotel room last week, Charley Crockett peered out the window onto the quiet morning streets of Amarillo, Texas. 

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Sitting in the waiting room of my hometown mechanic last week, I knew it wasn’t good when he called for me to come into the repair bay. The rusty, musty Toyota Tacoma pickup was up on the rack. And the look on the mechanic’s face wasn’t one of optimism. 

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At 37, Grace Potter has already positioned herself as one of the finest stage performers and singer-songwriters of the early 21st century. A signature blend of soul, rock, folk and pop sensibilities, she left her native Vermont as a teenager and never looked back.

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Woke up this morning with the thought of the impending summer, impending “state of being” for all of us slowly sliding back towards to some sense of normalcy amid “all this.” 

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Before the shutdown of the entire music industry in March 2020 due to the pandemic, The Infamous Stringdusters were widely-regarded as one of the hardest touring, most talented and innovative acts in the bluegrass and jam scenes.

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Coming to a stop at the end of the off-ramp of Exit 40 along Interstate 87 last Saturday evening, I turned right and headed down the Spellman Road. Entering the small hamlet of Beekmantown, New York, it’s a few miles from the off-ramp to my parents’ farmhouse. 

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In its 14 years together, Haywood County’s own Balsam Range has risen into the upper echelon as one of the marquee acts in the national and international bluegrass scene — this once in a generation blend of songbird harmonies and lightning fast finger pickin’. 

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It is with an extremely heavy heart that I share the news of the passing last Friday morning of Brian Power (aka: “Mr. P”) after a long, debilitating illness. 

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If there ever was a 21st century musical ambassador for the state of Tennessee, it would be Drew Holcomb. 

Born in Memphis. Attended college in Knoxville. Lives in Nashville. And puts on an annual festival in Chattanooga with his band. 

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Yesterday, at the corner of Brown Avenue and Hazelview Drive in Waynesville, this weird feeling washed over me. The thought of getting older, and to a point to where most of the people that knew you (your stories, personality and ethos) would slowly fade into the background of time and place. 

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From 1933-1957, Black Mountain College was formed and thrived within the context of its seemingly unconventional methods and ways, only to simply disappear — into the history books of the town it was named after, into the fond memories of those who passed through the magical space along their respective paths in life. 

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It was a flood of memories I hadn’t thought of in years. There I was on a date with this girl the other day. She works in town, not far from my apartment. A casual conversation turns into a casual drink. Kind of nice to have that rare interaction these days amid “all this,” truth be told.

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In its 15 years together, Papadosio has remained on a steady, upward trajectory as one of the premier jam-bands currently roaming the innovative and ever-evolving live music scene. 

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The sound of thunder and a heavy rain awoke me from a deep slumber. Opening my eyes, I relaxed into the king-sized bed and stared up at the 19th century moldings on the ceiling. Looking out the large bedroom window, I could see a transit bus parked below and a Starbucks sign on the building at the corner. 

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On March 14, 2020, Songs From The Road Band jumped onstage in the backroom of the Wicked Weed Funkatorium in the South Slope district of Asheville. What was to be a showcase of the immensely talented hometown string band turned out to be the last show within the city limits for the foreseeable future. 

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Stepping out of my old apartment in downtown Waynesville on Monday afternoon, I placed my old laundry basket on the passenger’s seat of my old truck.

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Wander along Everett Street in downtown Bryson City these days and you’ll be hard-pressed to find two things: a parking spot and an open bench to sit and enjoy your sandwich. 

Though the dining area and main ordering room for The High Test Deli & Sweet Shop remains closed to the public (due to ongoing safety concerns amid the pandemic), an endless stream of hungry faces and fanatic foodies can simply walk up to the takeout window and select from a sea of gut-busting options. 

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It was probably one of the most uneasy beers I’d ever drank. Sitting on the back porch of Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville, myself and the rest of The Smoky Mountain News staff gathered for one final adult beverage together before we ventured into the depths of the unknown for the foreseeable future.

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Coming off Exit 85 on the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway, a funny thing happens to drivers when they’re about halfway down the hill heading into Sylva — they start to get hungry. 

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