Garret K. Woodward

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In 12 years together, Haywood County-based Balsam Range have played some of the biggest stages in the music industry, and have also taken home some of the highest awards in the bluegrass world. 

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I was handed a telephone number and told good luck.

In the fall of 2007, I was 22 years old. Once graduate school didn’t pan out, I found myself scrambling to find a gig in the journalism world. Based out of Upstate New York at the time, I applied for a position at The Williston Observer, a small newspaper just across Lake Champlain in Vermont. 

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Just west of the town of Franklin, along a winding back road heading into the mountains surrounding Wayah Bald, sits a picturesque old farmhouse across the street from a babbling stream. Sitting on the porch of that farmhouse one recent afternoon, gazing out over the free-flowing, peaceful waters, is Tom McNish.

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In the six or so years I’ve lived and worked in Western North Carolina, the amount of craft breweries in our region has literally quadrupled. And as someone who has written extensively about craft beer, industry trends and so forth, it’s pretty impossible to keep up with it all. 

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I was born in the wrong decade. 

Or so I often hear from others. Some are musicians or artists, dreamers or history buffs, movers and shakers. Heck, I’ve even felt that sentiment above on many occasions, especially when I was a kid. 

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What Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester are doing is artistically and politically groundbreaking in the world of comedy.

Known worldwide as the “Liberal Redneck,” Crowder and his touring/writing partners on their “wellRED” tour rolled into the Bardo Arts Center at Western Carolina University on Oct. 29. Performing to a packed audience, the comedians presented their completely unique — and increasingly popular — brand of southern comedy.

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Let’s go Sox. 

Standing and shouting at the large television at a pub around the corner from my apartment in Waynesville this past Sunday evening, I kept pounding the wooden bar counter in hopes it would echo through the bright, high-definition screen and rattle the Dodgers out in Los Angeles, in hopes of another Boston Red Sox World Series Championship. 

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A true mark of a timeless artist is how well they age. Not simply by the passing years on the calendar, for that's a privilege in itself to experience and behold. But, to age gracefully within your craft, always evolving, peeling back layer after layer, mining the depths of your soul — one filled with a never-ending curiosity, a childlike wonder that forever resides at the core of all things beautiful and true. 

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Dave 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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About six years ago, I moved from Upstate New York to Western North Carolina. I was, and remain, some 1,100 miles or so from all things familiar and beloved back in my native North Country. 

But, it was always the music of that place, and also of my time there, I would return to for comfort whenever that feeling of being homesick would rear its ugly head, usually on those nights when you’re simply alone on your front porch amid a sometimes-deafening silence. 

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Like a tumbleweed from his native Texas, Rodney Crowell has bounced and rolled along through life to wherever the four winds of the cosmos push him. 

In his 68 years on this earth, the singer-songwriter remains the fiery epitome of a troubadour, where truth is stranger than fiction, and the only way to make it through the day is to make sense of it through song and dance — with or without company, no matter. 

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There was a slight ringing in my ears leaving the show last Sunday evening at Ambrose West on Haywood Road in Asheville. The small, intimate venue had just busted at the seams with the heavy vibrations of San Diego-based Elektric Voodoo. 

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When one is in pursuit of their dreams, once-feared obstacles become golden opportunities, where you see what it will take to achieve what you need to do, in your own time, and you simply chip away until you overcome and overtake what it is you ultimately want, and need, to accomplish.

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With brightly colored leaves falling from nearby trees in my front yard, the mountains appearing in the morning fog, and the whirlwind that is summer in the rearview mirror, I began to slow down and slide into the serenity only found in this magical time of the year. 

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Sitting on a bench in the lobby of the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium last Thursday evening, Marc Pruett waits quietly for the rest of his band, Balsam Range, to arrive for the International Bluegrass Music Association award show. 

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I had to really think back and question it. Had I ever crossed that line into what could be considered sexual assault during my interactions with the opposite sex? I mean, no, I haven’t ever. At least, I felt I had not in my immediate recall. 

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For over 15 years, Michigan-based string act Greensky Bluegrass has been blurring the lines between bluegrass, rock-n-roll and jazz music. Whether it be the use of certain pedals, an elaborate lighting rig or simply a nod every performance to the likes of genre-bending bands like the Grateful Dead, New Grass Revival, Phish or Old & In The Way, what remains is a quintet at the top of its game — day-in-and-day-out.

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At 69, Thomas Rain Crowe feels pretty good, considering.

“I’m not looking forward to 70, it’s kind of a psychological thing with a lot of people,” he chuckled. “But, I feel great, except for that my body is starting to do what it normally does as it gets older. Certain things start to go down, go out — I’m slowing down.” 

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At 69, Thomas Rain Crowe feels pretty good, considering.

“I’m not looking forward to 70, it’s kind of a psychological thing with a lot of people,” he chuckled. “But, I feel great, except for that my body is starting to do what it normally does as it gets older. Certain things start to go down, go out — I’m slowing down.” 

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WOW has produced a semi-nude calendar featuring its own members for seven years and all proceeds go toward the nonprofit’s mission of helping women and children in Haywood County.

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It will mark 1,000 days straight.

This past Tuesday, I will have gone for a run 1,000 days in-a-row. “The Streak,” as it is known to myself and close friends/family, has overtaken my subconscious for the better part of the last three years. Not in bad way, more so as that one thing I do, and look forward to doing, each day, even if it’s a whirlwind in finding the time and place to lace up my shoes and head out the door.

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In the mid-1990s, just as the raucous nature of the grunge scene in the United States was hitting its peak, a wave of new rock acts from across the pond began to explode across the radio dial.

British groups like Radiohead, Blur, Oasis and The Verve were finally breaking into the mainstream, many after years of chipping away in the underground. And right at the forefront of this “seize and conquer” quest by these now legendary acts was, and remains, Bush. 

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With the massive rainfall from Tropical Storm Florence on Sunday, my truck carefully navigated its way through deep puddles and down slick backroads, the windshield wipers barely able to keep up. 

The church was just off the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway, tucked above Barber Orchards in Balsam. It’s had been awhile since I stepped foot in a church. Raised in a Catholic family, I’d go to church sometimes twice a week (Thursday for school, Sunday for family). Though a deeply spiritual person, I hadn’t crossed the threshold of a house of worship in some time. 

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With a slight jog around an empty basketball court at the Waynesville Rec Center last Monday evening, I dribbled the ball with a little more confidence with each bounce. 

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Following the passing of her husband last year, after a lengthy illness, Betsey Sloan was looking for an outlet, something in her community that would nurture her creative and spiritual soul. 

“So, I decided to get into my car, come here, get out, and say, ‘Hi, can I join?’” Sloan smiled. “And I’ve made such great friends here. The people here are wonderful, always helping me out and encouraging me in whatever it is I want to pursue.”

If change is the only constant in life, then Sanctum Sully is the epitome of change. 

Celebrating a decade together this summer, the Asheville-based band has always been hard to pindown in description, and in stage presence. Initially a rag-tag bluegrass and Appalachian music act, they’ve shed as many layers of their sound as they’ve conjured. The group has meandered along like a river through a deep holler, heading in whatever direction feels most comfortable and exciting at that moment in time. 

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Hello, from the “Mile High City.”

Sitting here in Denver, onward back to Asheville tomorrow morning. This summer has been quite the physical and emotional odyssey. The fog in my heart and soul is slowly lifting, disappearing into the cosmos. I went north in July and out west in August to find myself once again. 

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In the digital age that is the 21st century, and in many aspects of this modern era, the culture and history of Western North Carolina and greater Southern Appalachia is disappearing. 

Whether it be an old-timer passing down their wisdom or listening to a well-aged recording of someone long gone from this earth, or vast shelves of often forgotten books gathering dust at your local library or historical society, how one tracks down the essence of who came before us, and who will surely come after, resides in the annals of storytelling. 

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Every-so-often, I’d look around the crowd and wonder if I’d have known any of these folks, perhaps called them dear friends, if I had stayed all those years ago.

Standing in the middle of Teton Village, in the shadow of the Grand Teton Mountains, just outside Jackson, Wyoming, this past Sunday, I immersed myself in the raucous sounds of rock act Futurebirds. I thought of who I was and what I wanted out of life when I was 23 years old and living in this part of the country. 

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Legendary troubadour Jim Lauderdale is a longtime pillar of the fiercely independent singer-songwriter scene in Nashville. He’s always gone his own way, this melodic water witch, seamlessly following the ebb and flow of energy and inspiration, knowing exactly when and where to strike the ground in search of untapped creative waters. 

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Back to square one.

Dammit. You’d think that after existing on this earth for 33 years, and being a legal adult for the last 15, that I’d get this relationship and/or love thing correct, eh? Somewhere on I-40 West right now is my now ex-girlfriend, bolting across the Mississippi River toward the next, new chapter of her life in New Mexico. 

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Well, 15 years ago this past weekend, I spontaneously bolted from Upstate New York straight to northern Maine to attend Phish’s “IT Festival.” 

A lifelong fan of the beloved jam-rock act, who was raised in the Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont (home base of the band), it was my first time seeing them in all their melodic glory. I was 18 years old that summer of 2003. Just graduated high school, spending the summer working front desk and maintenance at my aunt and uncle’s motel in downtown Lake Placid, New York. 

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Following the announcement of its upcoming Sylva outpost, aimed at a fall opening, Bryson City-based Nantahala Brewing will launch an Asheville location by the end of this month. 

Located at 747 Haywood Road in West Asheville, the two-story outpost was formerly The Anchor Bar (and Buffalo Nickel before that). It will feature a downstairs restaurant that will offer a farm-to-table “cosmopolitan country” style menu. The upstairs taproom will also be poised to become a music venue, primarily focusing on bluegrass and Americana acts. On opening day, there will be 20 Nantahala brews on tap. 

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If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t even notice him.

Sitting by himself at the counter of the Innovation Station in Dillsboro one recent sunny afternoon, David Joy sips on a heady craft brew, the blonde ale to be specific (his favorite). The sparkling new second location for Innovation Brewing (based out of nearby Sylva), Joy is fiercely loyal to the indepently-owned/operated company, a loyalty akin to the hardscrabble characters of his wildy fascinating and acclaimed novels.

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If there was a single voice of reason amid the bombardment of deafening noise in the digital age — of mass media, of used car salesman politicians, of everyday informed/misinformed folks rambling on (and on) — David Cross might be that single voice.

Whether through his iconic stand-up routines, his groundbreaking sketch comedy series “Mr. Show” or his immortal role as Tobias Funke in the sitcom “Arrested Development,” Cross is a bonafide comedy legend. For him, it isn’t about taking cheap shots or reaching for the low-hanging fruit of material. Cross comes from a more cerebral approach, an analytical mind that knows no bounds, and uses his intelligence to reach the masses with his wit and wisdom through the wide-open channels of entertainment. 

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Bolting up Interstate 95, just outside of Portland, Maine, this past Monday, I finally could smell that smell that conjures innumerable cherished memories, genuine emotions and deep thoughts in my mind — the ocean. 

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They just don’t make’em like they used to.

That adage is the pure, honest truth when applied to the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival. In a staggering career of massive mainstream success that only lasted five years (1968-1972), the rock juggernaut produced endless pop culture radio staples aimed squarely at doing two specific things — making you get up and dance, all while opening your eyes and ears to social progress and injustice in our world.

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And there I was, at a dive bar in the 800-person high desert town of Victor, Idaho, with the backdrop of the Grand Teton mountain range, playing horseshoes and sipping on a lukewarm can of Rainier beer. It was the early summer 2008. My friend, Billie, was watching a few of us play, when she asked me what I had planned now that the weather had gotten warmer.

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High atop a mountain overlooking Haywood County, Annie Haslam Colquitt sits across a dining room table at The Swag. A rainstorm has just swept through, with a cold breeze floating through the open front door. She gazes around, her eyes slowly drifting out the windows onto the deep woods of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park bordering the property. 

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Emerging from the Appalachian Trail on the North Carolina/ Tennessee state line this past Sunday afternoon, a hot southern sun hung high, beads of sweat rolling down my face. I turned around and saluted the dirt path I just had finished running. 

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In an era when rock-n-roll has seemingly taken a backseat to hip-hop and electronic acts — on the radio and on the charts — it’s refreshing to come across such a finely-tuned entity like The Orange Constant.

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I still don’t really know what day it is.

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At 63, Ricky Skaggs has spent just about 58 of those years completely enamored and immersed in that singular “high, lonesome sound” at the heart of bluegrass music. 

Given a mandolin at the age of 5, a year later he was onstage playing alongside Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass,” only to find himself at age 7 on a nationally televised variety show plucking with the likes of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. As a teenager, he opened for, and eventually was invited to join Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys, following that up a few years later with stints in The Country Gentlemen and J.D. Crowe’s The New South. 

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It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while now. When news broke last week of the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, that thought now shifted from the back of my mind to the forefront of my thoughts — could it happen to us?

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As the music capital of the world, the bright lights of Nashville have always been a tough place to make it as a band, let alone as a songwriter. But, that mere fact is why so many talented acts from seemingly every corner of the globe descend upon the bustling Tennessee metropolis — simply, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. 

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“If you see all the people playing corn hole in the driveway you’re at the right place,” the familiar voice said over the phone last Saturday evening. 

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In 2013, Western Carolina University cut the ribbon on 7-mile trail system zig-zagging an otherwise unbuildable piece of university property. 

Over the five years since, the trails have become an indispensible resource for mountain bikers — as well as trail runners and hikers — in the Cullowhee area, and last fall a trio of WCU employees set out to back up those observations with hard numbers. 

With the traffic and noise of a busy Main Street in downtown Waynesville zooming by outside her window, Jo Ridge Kelley creates works of tranquility and natural wonders inside her cozy studio. 

“I love being able to pull from myself,” she said. “I’m a very soulful person, and painting is a way to work with my feelings — to be living in the moment.”

Ten years into his tenure with Balsam Range, Tim Surrett can only shake his head.

“The most amazing factor is that somebody hasn’t gotten killed in 10 years,” he chuckled. “It’s amazing because every band in the world is one bad weekend from nonexistence. We’ve been through a lot, ups and downs, frustrations and traveling distances, and it’s still relevant after 10 years. I don’t know how long that will last, but it’s cool to me that it’s still top-shelf relevant.”

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