Garret K. Woodward

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He’s the common denominator.

When you look back at the career of iconic bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman, you’re diving deep into the rich and vast history of that “high, lonesome sound.” And yet, the more you wander into that melodic hub of David “Dawg” Grisman, you also find yourself zooming like a rhythmic train across the spectrum of sound, making additional stops at folk, jazz, world fusion, and acoustic music.

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Once they announce your name, you stand up and move towards the bright lights.

Meandering around a sardine can ballroom of tables, chairs and random folks milling about, The Smoky Mountain News made it to the stage at the Sheraton in downtown Raleigh last Thursday evening.

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“You know, history becomes personal,” Reggie Harris said to a silent auditorium last Sunday afternoon. “These are our stories, and our history — black and white — on this long road of broken dreams and possibilities.”

Sitting onstage at the Swain Arts Center in Bryson City, Harris was joined by Scott Ainslie during their “Black and White and Blues” program, which received support from the North Carolina Arts Council.

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It came out of the blue.

Sunday morning. My smart phone dinged next to my bed. I groaned, rolled over and reached for it. One eye open, my blurry vision tried to make out the sender in the message. It was a name I hadn’t spoken to in several years, more than a decade since we’d seen each other in person.

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What would you do?

A pile of drugs. A stack of cash. More money than you’ve ever seen in your life, and more illegal fun and chaos than you ever thought possible. And yet, while standing at this crossroads there’s a dead body on the floor, bullet hole through the head, blood spilling across the floor, ever closer to your shoes, and also your link to the situation.

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I finally had a moment of silence.

After a raucous Saturday night attending the Perpetual Groove show at The Salvage Station in Asheville, I found myself in the living room of my friend’s house in West Asheville. Midnight had come and gone, and there I was, sitting on the couch, wide awake as folks were already asleep atop the air mattress on the floor and in the back bedroom.

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It wasn’t the film that was shocking. It was the mere fact I had previously thought “I was aware,” and yet actually have fallen so short in my pursuits.

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In a bizarre discovery, over 50 intentionally placed spikes have been identified and removed from the popular trail system at Pinnacle Park in Sylva.

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Within almost two decades together, Greensky Bluegrass has grown from a scrappy string band to one of the premier live stage acts currently touring the country.

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I hadn’t slept that long in years.

After driving up and down the East Coast for the better part of the last two months, from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, I found myself awakened from a deep slumber last Thursday morning — almost 6,000 miles and 15 states total. 

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How could something so beautiful be so ugly?

Standing at the edge of the ocean on the Gulf Coast of Texas, I looked down at my feet being washed over by the relentless waves of crisp waters filled with mystery and wonder. I kicked around pebbles and broken shells, just glancing down at them with such awe, almost a Zen-like state of mind where you simply zone out and immerse yourself in the winds of change, and of self.

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They wanted to shake things up.

In 1971, a young Sam Bush aimed to create a new kind of bluegrass music. The legendary mandolinist was a teenager when he formed New Grass Revival. In the “classic lineup,” the group brought together the likes of Curtis Burch, Courtney Johnson and John Cowan (and later Bela Fleck).

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Sitting in the back of his tour van in a Texas parking lot on a recent cold prairie night, Hayes Carll takes a sip of Jameson from a small plastic cup, leans back into the bench seat and kicks up his boots.

He’ll be the first to tell you the world today is an odd — and sometimes confusing — place, and he’ll also be sure to remind you that the sky ain’t falling. Sure, there’s an increasing divide between who we are and where we’re going as a society. But, real compassion and understanding comes from seeing the other side as a piece of some large pie of humanity, rather than a segment of the population that needs to be alienated, or worse — eliminated.

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Popping the tailgate down in my truck, I jumped up, my eyes gazing straight ahead.

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In her short tenure, Executive Director Lindsey Solomon has righted the unknown direction of the ship that is the Haywood County Arts Council. But, Solomon — who came into the fold a year and half ago — will be the first to point to the countless volunteers and artisan members who have made the HCAC a viable and valuable entity within the Waynesville and greater Haywood County communities.

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I had just enough water left.

Squeezing the last of my water bottle onto my dry toothbrush, I managed to get a halfway decent cleaning session. And there I was, sitting in the passenger’s seat of my old pickup truck, at 9 a.m. this past Monday morning, in the parking lot of a Waffle House in rural Arkansas.

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It was a 1963 station wagon with six musicians and their equipment.

When Tony Butala reminisces about the beginning of The Lettermen, a legendary vocal trio, he remembers crisscrossing America, playing upwards of 200 shows a year in the early 1960s. Starting the ensemble in 1957, Butala created one of the most successful acts of an era where vocal style and intricate songwriting reigned supreme.

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Has it really been that long?

When I looked at the calendar this week, I realized it said 2017, which means I’m entering my fifth year as your features editor for The Smoky Mountain News. Truth-be-told, when I arrived in Western North Carolina in August 2012, I didn’t think I’d be here much longer than a year. Bank some cash, get some articles for my resume, and move on. That was the plan, or at least that’s what I thought the plan was.

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I decided to not wear the hardhat.

Standing underneath the magnificent 215-foot high ancient rock arch at the Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia, I found myself in awe of Mother Nature’s creativity, and also of the history attached to the property.

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They are the bridge.

In the bluegrass world these days, it seems there are two camps of thought and performance — neo-traditional and progressive. On one side, you have the “old school” of Larry Sparks, Doyle Lawson and those who truly adhere to the likes of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. On the other, are those who stretch out a little bit, where the lines between bluegrass, Americana and soul are blurred, acts likes The Steep Canyon Rangers, Greensky Bluegrass and Yonder Mountain String Band.

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It ain’t dead.

Rock-n-roll. In an era when sugar-coated pop stars and polished country acts are atop the charts, one wonders if there is any shred of real rock swagger and attitude anymore. Where is that sound and tone that pushes sonic barriers and actually challenges you to think outside the box with lyrical content that isn’t about riverbanks and moonshine, but rather focuses on the raw elements of the human condition?

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Through the strewn lights I could see the Empire State Building.

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Each year, we here at The Smoky Mountain News showcase our “Spoof Awards.” Sometimes they’re meant in good tongue-and-cheek fun, but mostly they’re special events, people and places that we throw the spotlight onto one more time in reflection as another long and bountiful year comes to a close, a new year ready to begin.

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Home.

For me, it’s Plattsburgh, New York. Just down the road from the Canadian border, in the heart of the North Country on Lake Champlain. It’s been almost five years since I lived there, and several years before that when I initially left the rust belt blue-collar city in pursuit of my journalistic aspirations.

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It’s bittersweet.

“I really would hope that this program would expire,” said Tom Knapko. “But, that hasn’t been the case with increasing need for these baskets.”

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It’s about time.

It’s about time someone kicked us all in the ass when it comes to the power and swagger (and social responsibility) of rock music. It’s been awhile since I came across a melodic entity that truly made me immediately blurt out, “Who in the hell in this? And why am I just hearing about this right now?”

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But, I’m not sad either.

Even with that Charlie Brown quote in the headline to emphasize my thoughts on the impending Christmas, I still find myself somewhere in the neutral zone. Sure, I’m a positive thinking and focus-driven person, but why-oh-why do I find myself more of a loner when the inclusiveness of the holiday season taps my shoulder? 

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A frigid mountain wind howled through Bryson City last Friday evening as a handful of folks hurried into the Smoky Mountain Community Theatre. Finding a seat in the old building, one was immediately greeted by numerous actors in full 1940s attire.

“Welcome to the show,” they smiled.

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It’s the heartbeat of a town.

Coming into its 37th year, the Smoky Mountain Community Theatre has become a beacon of culture, education and creativity within Bryson City.

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“You don’t know me but I’m your brother/I was raised here in this living hell/You don’t know my kind in your world/Fairly soon the time will tell/You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me/I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see/Takin’ it to the streets…”

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“I’m glad you’re here right now.”

Standing in line at the Old Europe coffee shop in downtown Asheville, I said that to my old friend, Jerica. It was a rainy Sunday evening and we’d just gotten out of a documentary screening (about Tim Leary and Ram Dass) at the Grail Moviehouse. While I was mulling over the cosmic nature and theme of the film and what our place is in the universe (as per usual), I looked over at Jerica and smiled.

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Dec. 7, 1941. It’s a date that conjures numerous images and thoughts. The USS Arizona engulfed in smoke and flames. Fighter pilots zooming across the sky with the “rising sun” emblazoned on the sides of their aircraft. Machine guns blasting upwards, bombs being dropped down onto unsuspecting soldiers and civilians.


SEE ALSO:
Locals react to Japanese attack
Witness to history
Swain band performs at Pearl Harbor Anniversary

When the Japanese bombed the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor on that dark day, our country not only found itself now pulled into World War II, it also signaled a turning point in our history that still reverberates into today — politically, economically, and socially.

With over 2,400 Americans killed at Pearl Harbor, it was the largest foreign attack on U.S. soil until the World Trade Center in 2001. What Pearl Harbor represents is where the line in the sands of time was drawn. It’s where Appalachian farm boys grabbed their rifles and became national heroes, where housewives grabbed their tool belts and built war machines. It was the unification of a nation that had the weight and fate of the world on its shoulders as the likes of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito salivated at the idea of complete domination and destruction.

My late grandfather was there — front and center — at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Enlisted in the United States Army, Frank Kavanaugh was a 21-year-old from rural Upstate New York, ready to see the world on his own, unbeknownst to the real dangers that lay on the horizon. He rarely spoke of his time at Pearl Harbor, and also of his experience during several key battles in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. But, he did however conduct an interview on Pearl Harbor in 1994 (Google: Home Town Cable Frank Kavanaugh). 

And as the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor rolls around, we celebrate those brave men and woman of “The Greatest Generation,” who answered the call of war in hopes of defeating the Axis powers in an effort to create a better tomorrow in the face of peril and utter doom. 

— By Garret K. Woodward, staff writer

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Turning onto Qualla Road in Waynesville, the meandering route goes from pavement to gravel to dirt within a half-mile. By the time you realize it has been a little while since you’ve seen a mailbox, a small cabin appears in the tree line to the left.

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It’s about staying true to yourself.

When you converse with country/bluegrass legend Marty Stuart, you’re speaking to the source. From being a teenager, touring and performing side-by-side with Lester Flatt in the 1970s, to finding country radio success in the 1980s and 1990s, to his enduring work with Doc Watson and Johnny Cash, Stuart has risen into the upper echelon of Nashville icons.

SEE ALSO: Marty Stuart, Balsam Range at Lake JBalsam Range at Lake J

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The eternal struggle of bluegrass is being able to balance evolution with tradition.

How does one adhere to the pickin’ and grinnin’ ways of the old days, but also be able to stretch the boundaries into new and innovative realms? That dilemma currently lies at the feet on the bluegrass world. And yet, as that question remains, so does the internal drive by all of the genre’s musicians to ensure the preservation and perpetuation of this melodic force at the foundation of this country.

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“Blue-collar heaven.”

When asked just what the Brar Patch is, Trey Smith was quick with that response. Huddled under a flickering light of the tiny bar, Smith gets head nods of agreement from several folks nearby. Standing next to him was Marty Owens.

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It’s a whirlwind.

With his group Tiny Universe, saxophonist Karl Denson seamlessly creates this vortex onstage, a sonic hub where jazz, rock, funk and soul collide, swirling around one another like a street fight with no determined victor. The sights and sounds hit the listener with such force, it will make you rethink just what improvisational music and live performance can be — and ultimately is — at least within the endless curiosity of Denson.

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Our backyard is on fire.

From Knoxville to Asheville, a large cloud of smoke is currently hovering over this corner of Southern Appalachia. In a seemingly “whack-a-mole” scenario, wildfires keep popping up or are combining at an alarming rate. And though officials are saying these blazes will soon be under control, one question lingers — when will they be extinguished?

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Hate didn't get us to this point. It also didn’t win the election.

A stagnant Congress for the last 16 years, the Democratic National Committee screwing over Sen. Bernie Sanders, longtime internal fighting in the Republican party, the Heartland of America being ignored for decades, and the mere fact Vice President Joe Biden should have run — that’s what decided the 2016 presidential election.

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Taking a seat on the old couch, my foot began to tap immediately.

The living room full of friends and soon-to-friends sat atop a frigid mountain just west of Clayton, Georgia. It was another evening hosted by the Grouse Mountain House Concerts, and standing in the middle of the space was Nick Dittmeier & The Sawdusters, headlong into a rollicking set that shook the floorboards and also the dust off any souls within earshot.

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The most important band in America

My ears are still ringing.

After catching two nights of the Drive-By Truckers this past weekend (Knoxville/Asheville), my eyes were bleary, my head still somewhat rattling. Not just from the sheer force of the rock band, but also from the thoughts bouncing around my mind from what I witnessed.

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Why don’t you go get your crazy pills?

I remember that being said to me by other students when I was in elementary and middle school. They were referring to the Ritalin that I was prescribed to take, and were directing that sentiment towards me when I acted perhaps a little too hyper or antsy in the classroom.

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Life is good.

That’s the vibe one gets when chatting with Chris Robinson these days. Former lead singer for legendary rock-n-rock act The Black Crowes, Robinson has spent the better part of the last five years dusting off his feathers as he takes flight into the heavens above with his popular melodic odyssey — The Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

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It was weird hearing him speak.

As host of “All Things Considered,” the flagship program on National Public Radio (NPR), Ari Shapiro is a distinct voice — in sound and in his observations.

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I’m entering hostile waters here, folks.

So, bear with me as I bring up this ideology I recently heard, which is that feminism and Islam are both “set on destroying the American way of life.” 

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What the hell, I figured.

Sometime around midnight, and somewhere around my third beer, I decided to send her a message.

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It is the rhythm of life.

When you hear the guitar mastery of Tim Reynolds, you’re listening to the joyous and violent sounds of the cosmos. Each note an ocean wave crashing onto the shore, each note a break of sunlight through the dark clouds of the night.

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There were left hooks and right uppercuts. The crowd couldn’t look away as they cringed with each blast and low blow. There was cheering and there were muttered remarks of disgust under the tongues in this presence of this public spectacle. It wasn’t a heavyweight match. It was the second presidential debate in the 2016 election this past Monday evening. 

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The “wow” effect.

“When we reveal a project to a client and they have that ‘wow’ expression on their face — that’s what we’re aiming for,” said Kathryn Greeley.

Although he resides in Nashville these days, songwriter Milan Miller is never too far away from his Waynesville roots. As one of the hit makers for Haywood County group Balsam Range, several of his melodies have received recognition from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

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