Garret K. Woodward

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fr drinknthinkIt’s a room full of strangers, ideas and alcohol.

Still in its infancy yet gaining steam, the Drink-N-Think congregation came together last Wednesday evening at the Mad Batter Bakery & Café in Cullowhee, near the heart of Western Carolina University.


fr pancakedayIt’s 6:15 a.m., and Woody Griffin is ready.

“It’s the calm before the storm,” he chuckled.


art frDarkness enveloped the vehicle as soon as it exited Interstate 40.

Cruising around sharp S-curves in the mountain community of Fines Creek in the remote northern reaches of Haywood County, headlights peered across vast fields and by quiet farmhouses where inhabitants were winding down after another bountiful day. A heavy fog rolled into Western North Carolina as distant homes sparkled like far away stars in the sky. Barreling further into the country, and away from any semblance of town, it seemed you could drive off the edge of the earth if you kept pushing any longer.


art frA cold wind howls through the campus of Western Carolina University as the screams of a young woman echo from a nearby building.

The voice is Stefani Cronley and her attackers are a gang of apes.


cover2With her hands fluttering like a hummingbird, Dana Claire loops skeins of colored yarn around a large pegboard.

Claire has been interested in fiber crafts her entire life and now, in her retirement years, has she decided to pursue her true passion of working with her hands by going back to school. Offering a nationally recognized professional crafts program, she found herself at Haywood Community College in Clyde. This semester, she’s learning and engaging in the new Creative Arts facility constructed on campus.


art frRhiannon Giddens is an old soul, but one that embraces modernity.

Vocalist/fiddler of renowned Americana string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens is a jack-of-all-trades in not only her instrumentation but also her exploration of the history and evolution of American music.


fr gunshowEditor’s Note: Given the national debate over gun legislation and controversy swirling around gun shows in particular, The Smoky Mountain News was curious to see just what goes on at a gun show. Join our reporter on a stroll through the exhibit hall of a gun show at the Haywood County Fairgrounds last weekend and meet some of the hobbyists that wheel and deal in collector’s firearms.


art frTimes may change, but stereotypes tend to linger.

Venturing into the off-color humor and often offensive images of Southern culture portrayed by cartoonists throughout American history, Western Carolina University will address the issue head-on in its newest exhibit opening next week.


art fr“Once in awhile you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right…”
– Grateful Dead “Scarlet Begonias”

If the Grateful Dead taught us anything through their music, it would be the mere fact that surprises, in all shapes and sizes, can come from the most unexpected of encounters and corners of the universe.

The town of Sylva is one of those corners.


art frJohn Driskell Hopkins was driving in his truck when it struck him.

It was a song. Radiating from his satellite radio, it sounded like a fond memory he once knew. The voices and melody were familiar, but he hadn’t ever heard it before, and had no idea who wrote it. He looked at the radio. A band name appeared in the digital display: Balsam Range.


out frIt’s all started with a phone call.

A lifelong thirst for adventure led Ronald R. Cooper to a love of backpacking, where he soon began hiking around the Grand Canyon and beyond. But, he was in search of a new challenge, one that ultimately tied together his Native American ancestry with his own modern existence.


art chrisrobinsonChris Robinson is a freak‚ a damn musical freak.

Finally wrangling everything into the studio with his freewheelin’ solo project‚ Robinson has already released two albums this year (Big Moon Ritual and The Magic Door)‚ both of which could be considered cornerstone records for any group.


art frPulling into a row of unimposing metal garage-sized storage units on Frazier Street in Waynesville, the sound of buzzing is heard.

You think maybe the truck heater is finally kicking on and combating the cold December morning, or it’s the usual hustle and bustle of traffic on the highway bypass. Yet, the source of the noise seems to be echoing from a slightly cracked garage bay at the end of the row.


At a McDonald’s in Canton, S.R. “Sha” Shahan sits quietly in one of the corner booths, casually sipping his coffee and reflecting on where it all began for him.

Hailing from the coal-mining hills of West Virginia, the 86-year-old was raised in Bristol, a town “about as small as you can get,” he chuckled. His father was a self-taught fiddler who would perform at regional line dances and other special functions with his handmade instrument that was constructed from a wooden cheese box.

Eventually, he taught Sha how to play percussion and keep a rhythm by having him tap the neck of the fiddle to the beat as he played. Sha began to take an interest in music, finding himself playing bass in the high school band. Though he enjoyed it, the passion didn’t click inside of him, not yet at least, especially with World War II breaking out. The action was across the globe, and music seemed to take a backseat to adventure. He was drafted in 1944 and found himself on a military train heading west to destinations unknown.

“No one knew where we were going on the train,” he said. “We were about halfway there when the guy came out and said we were in the Air Force and heading to Texas for training. We all applauded to that because you didn’t want to be an infantryman at that time.”

Assigned as a tail gunner for a B-24 bomber in the Pacific Theater, Shahan was in combat a handful of times. As a gunner, a particularly dangerous and often fatal assignment, he manned two .50 caliber machine guns.

“When you shot them, your whole body shook, your head rattled,” he said.

A troop carrier soon scooped him up, and they headed for the Okinawa Island shortly after the infamous battleground had been liberated and was being prepped as a launching paid for air raids over Japan. Shahan was gearing up for flight when a captain approached him on the carrier.

“The day we pulled into the harbor, the sirens went off,” he said. “The captain came in and said, ‘Son, the war is over. They just dropped the A-bomb.’”

Coming back to the mainland, Shahan immersed himself into post-war America. He got married, had children and moved along in a worthwhile career. Working for an independent insurance adjusting system, he was then recruited by Allstate and found himself in Florida, managing home offices in Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Life was going pretty well, but after retirement, something seemed to be missing. That something was music — the music of his past. He soon found himself at local music jam sessions in Clearwater and decided to participate.

“It was like something new, something you got back into that you’ve been missing and didn’t know you were missing it,” he said.

After getting inspired by a washboard player at one of the sessions, Shahan tracked down his wife’s washboard in the garage and made his own, ultimately bringing it to the next event. The organizer threw him into the mix with a skilled banjo player and professional drummer. Unbeknownst to Shahan, the drummer was Eddie Graham, who backed jazz legend Earl Hines.

“I had no idea who Eddie was,” Shahan chuckled. “The two of them would start up and sound like they’ve been playing together all their lives. We each had to do a solo, and I thought I would die.”

But, Shahan pushed through and found himself on the other side. He now had plunged back into music, a deep itch he was finally scratching. By 1994, he bought a seasonal home in Maggie Valley and began jumping into the local music scene, which included playing with innumerable talented musicians like renowned banjoist Raymond Fairchild.

“I got asked to go up and play with Raymond,” Shahan said. “We did a tune, and it went fairly well. Raymond turned around and gave me ‘the look’ [of approval], so I knew I was safe.”

Now bouncing around the Western North Carolina mountain music circuit, Shahan and his friends were shuffled around to several spots where they could play. The location and people in attendance seemed to change like the seasons, but those playing remained the same. The passion and pursuit never seemed to wane. As time passed, Shahan found himself putting together the sessions, wrangling his friends and those curious to come out and pluck.

“It’s unbelievable how many good pickers are in Haywood County, not to mention the surrounding counties,” he said. “It’s back to the roots of what Appalachian music is all about, and it’s just enough people to try and keep that going.”


art frIt’s the greatest show in town, but the location is a secret.

With the tall smokestacks of the Canton paper mill falling into the rearview mirror, the pickup truck meandered up into the surrounding hills. The road snaked deeper into the woods. Pulling into a muddy entrance, a few sporadic vehicles lined the driveway. Tires squish through puddles in search of a place to park.


art frHe went east to discover the final frontier.

In 1937, Californian Joseph S. Hall was a 30-year-old graduate student. Hired by the National Park Service for a summer job, Hall was commissioned to seek out and capture the essence of the unique people, places and things amid the high peaks and hollers of the Southern Appalachian Smokies.

With notepad in-hand, he jumped into a pickup truck and headed into the isolated landscape, coming out with innumerable pages of stories told in a unique dialect — one that evolved partly out of the Scotch-Irish and German ancestory of mountain settlers, and partly, it seemed, from the mountains themselves.


art blastpasttoysEach day, James Bandy and Clifton Coleman hangout with soldiers, princesses, dinosaurs and aliens.

Their domain is Blast From The Past Toys in downtown Canton, a business endeavor partly forged out of necessity to make a living in a down economy and partly from their love of toys.


art frIf you have it, they will come.

That’s the philosophy for the small facet of independent toy stores remaining in Western North Carolina.

“The kids know it’s here, and this is where they want to come,” said Melanee Lester, general manager of Mast General Store in Waynesville.


art frFor Clark Williams, it’s all about giving back.

Owner of Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville, Williams is celebrating not only the first anniversary of starting his business on Dec. 14, he’s merging the milestone with the annual “Toys for Tots” drive, which collects donated items for children who might otherwise have a dismal Christmas.


art frDowntown Franklin is all sunshine, but it’s the calm before the storm.

Drifting through an array of stores and restaurants lining Main Street, the scene is quiet, but soon, with Thanksgiving falling into the rearview mirror, shoppers determined and curious will overtake the small town, in search of handmade items from regional artists. Strolling the sidewalk, one soon comes upon North Carolina Mountain Made.


art frSnowflakes sprinkle the high peaks, while a stiff breeze cascades into the valleys. Elaborate decorations are being put up in downtowns across Western North Carolina. It’s that time of the year — Christmas is around the corner and the region is gearing up for their annual parades.


coverDown by six touchdowns to the University of Alabama at halftime, Western Carolina University head coach Mark Speir never gave up on his team.

“When you’re getting into an ugly ball game like that, our players didn’t quit playing; they kept fighting,” he said. “At halftime, we were going to play for 30 more minutes and see where our program is at in [its] infant stage.”


art frWhat sounded like a jet engine echoed out of the building tucked away on the hill.

Peering into the large bay doors of the metal studio at the Jackson County Green Energy Park in Dillsboro, the booming noise is coming from a foundry in the corner that was used to turn metals into molten liquid for casting.


art cardenSylva native and renowned Southern Appalachian storyteller Gary Carden received the North Carolina Award for Literature, the state’s highest honor, on Oct. 30 at a ceremony in the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.


art frAt first glance toward her work, you think Sara Alexander is a great photographer.

At second glance, you realize that’s not a picture, but a painting. The detailed, vibrant canvas is straight from the talented hands of a rising star in the Western North Carolina art scene.

Alexander lived in Florida until her family moved to Western North Carolina when she was 11. She knew from a very young age that she not only could create art, but also that she wanted to pursue something within the field.


art frWe’ve all done it.

At a middle school dance, high school prom, college formal, wedding reception, anniversary celebration, New Year’s Eve or perhaps on your kitchen floor during a lazy Saturday morning.

It’s “The Twist,” and Western North Carolina better watch out.


art frThough the weather is getting colder and winter is emerging on the horizon, Doug Weaver is all smiles.

It’s open season for chili.

“Chili itself is not just a dish, it’s a state of mind,” he said. “There’s no better spicy food than chili. It’s an institution.”


art frSliding into the parking lot of the Cold Mountain Corn Maze, the smell of campfire and old, fallen leaves fills the nostrils.

Soon, the sounds of screaming fill the ears.


fr tailgatingIt was a tranquil Saturday afternoon when the stampede began.

Lines of vehicles, like mechanical horses with flags waving high, hurtle down the highway, resembling some cavalry charging into battle, desperately in search of a cherished parking space near the football stadium at Western Carolina University.


art frAmid the blinking lights and stuffed animal prizes at the Cherokee Indian Fair, a scream echoes from behind the trees.

The source of the noise is a group of young men and village elders huddled in a circle. Each face is stone cold, focusing on the moment. Legs jump up and down. Arms flail and stretch. Final words of encouragement are given before the heat of battle.


Bringing a little warmth to the impending fall weather, the Haywood Regional Arts Theatre in Waynesville presents “The Light In The Piazza” this month.

Taking place in Florence, Italy (circa 1953), the story unfolds as a Winston-Salem mother and daughter visit the picturesque country. From the beginning, there seems to be something emotionally off with the daughter (Clara), which is only magnified by the obsessively nurturing and protective mother (Margaret). 


art frIt may look like a grassy field to some, but to Steven Lloyd, it’s a window of opportunity.

Lloyd, executive director of the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville, is currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign to bring a second major theater stage to the beloved local theatrical institution. 


fr bannedbooksDawn Gilchrist-Young doesn’t just read and teach books, she defends them.

As chair of the English department for Swain County High School, Gilchrist-Young is joining “Banned Books Weeks”, which is a nationwide celebration this week in honor of one of our greatest freedoms. 


coverIt’s noon on a Wednesday and Scott Peterson already has beer on the mind.


art frWhat could’ve been a lifelong haunting moment for most turned out to be an epiphany for Josh Merrell.

“I farted in front of my fourth-grade class. The teacher asked who did it and instead of sheepishly hiding at my desk, I raised my hand,” he said. “The room erupted with laughter; I even made a few friends. That’s when I got a taste for comedy, although I took the fart bit out of my routine just recently.”


fr slacklineWith a steady flow of noisy cars and chatty pedestrians zooming through the Western Carolina University campus, Kyle Coleman straddles a tiny rope, ignoring the commotion and focusing on the task at hand.


art frFor a man who has just won the North Carolina Literature Award, writer Gary Carden is quite somber.

At his home in Sylva last week, he rocked in a chair on the front porch, his trusty dog Jack lying nearby. He was recently informed of the award, but it seems bittersweet. His latest creation — and a catalyst for the achievement — is the play “Outlander,” a historical drama about famed writer Horace Kephart who chronicled the lives of hardscrabble Appalachian settlers in the early 1900s.


fr fairchildRaymond Fairchild is a man of few words.

But, it only takes those few words to truly grasp a man that ultimately lives up to myth and legend.


art frBringing together Cherokee artisans and tourists from every corner of the globe, the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual celebrated a decade last Saturday of presenting their Labor Day weekend Open Air Indian Art Market. 


fr theftThe Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee was broken into recently. Sacred and traditional items used by re-enactors who portray early Native American life at the living history site were stolen.


art frMountain music, dancing and tradition will be on display once again on the shores of beautiful Lake Junaluska as the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival, now in its 42nd year, celebrates the culture and heritage of Western North Carolina.


fr beardsThough Aaron Stone has always had a love of mayonnaise, lately the condiment has become a real nuisance in his life.

“It just gets all stuck in my beard,” he said. “That and soups, it’s just becomes a real mess.”


fr firefightersWith torrential rain and a fierce wind blowing through the Haywood County Fairgrounds last Thursday evening, the harsh weather conditions didn’t deter several local fire departments from their mission of the day — to claim victory during the “Battle of the Bucket” at the Haywood County Annual Firefighter Competition.


art tranthamsWhen Doug Trantham was a kid, he wanted to impress his father.

“I was 10-years-old when my dad made a banjo,” he said. “That was around the house and I got interested in playing it. Banjo is my heart instrument. I learned to play clawhammer style and loved it.”

Picking up the instrument, Trantham had an urge to show his dad what he was made of.


coverThe strings of tradition and progress echoed from the back alley.

Upon further inspection (and a lone door cracked open), the harmonic tone was radiating from the mandolin of Darren Nicholson.


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