Garret K. Woodward

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It’s Monday evening. A heavy rain is soaking Sylva and greater Jackson County. Passing by the Sylva Shopping Area, the empty parking lot is illuminated by the bright lights of Harold’s Supermarket. The rest of the plaza is closed and dark, save for one bright light at the end of the row, a large window with the word “tattoo” emblazoned on it. 

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When the trail bends sharply to the right, I know the waterfall is just behind the brush. I can’t see it, but I can hear it. This eternal rush of water cascading down from the farthest reaches of the surrounding mountains. 

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Before the pandemic and eventual shutdown, The Get Right Band was one of the hardest work musical acts in Western North Carolina. Based out of Asheville, the power rock trio is a cauldron spilling over with indie, folk, reggae, soul and pop influences — a unique mixture that’s become its melodic signature. 

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Hoisting myself up onto the leather chair, I flipped over and laid on my stomach. I could feel the sharp razor shaving the back of my right leg, just below the calf muscle. A few moments later, the sounds of a vibrating needle echoed throughout the small room.

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It’s 8:45 a.m. and 28 degrees outside of Amici’s in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Waynesville. The sidewalk has been shoveled, while the roof of the fine Italian restaurant is still covered in a fresh blanket of snow that had fallen the night before. 

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Late Thursday night. I’m sitting in my recliner. Netflix and the half-full lukewarm beer next to the chair have both lost my interest. I lean back into a horizontal position and take inventory of my apartment, the humble abode that I’ve called home going on nine years now. 

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What started out as a casual jam to entertain a keg party has morphed itself into one of the most intriguing new musical acts in Western North Carolina. 

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Western North Carolina has lost a truly kind and beautiful soul. Erica Waldrop passed away in a tragic car accident last week. She was a friend to many in Sylva and greater Jackson County. A shoulder to lean on. A smile to brighten your day. She was also a friend of mine, too. A good one. 

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In his over 30 years of being part of the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville, longtime Executive Director Steven Lloyd has held pretty much every job title within the organization, from stage actor to set designer. But, there was one duty he’d yet to partake in, that is until recently: volunteer. 

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It was just about a month ago when I received a text from a dear friend, a truly cosmic and beautiful soul. She was heading back to her native home of Western North Carolina to visit family for the first time since November 2019, first time since “all of this” became our new normal. 

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It’s a label that some avoid at any and all costs. But, for Becky Robinson, it’s a sincere and genuine term of endearment that she wears like a badge of honor: “dive bar.” 

“We do wear it as a badge of honor. And I think it’s the comfortability factor,” Robinson said. “I feel that you can come in here and you can be comfortable. You can come in and have a good time. Everybody is welcome. You don’t have to pretend to be somebody else in here — you can just be yourself.” 

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I didn’t grow up, nor have I ever lived, in the state of Vermont. That, and I’m not a musician, not professionally or in any sort of a talented way in my free time. And yet, I was recently asked by a member of the Vermont musical community to contribute to an uplifting video collage for 2021 and the message of hope for the uncertain future of live music and performers. 

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An internationally beloved musician, Claude Coleman, Jr. would often find himself in Asheville while on tour drumming with his band, iconic rock juggernaut Ween. Each time wandering through, he would become more enamored with this region. So much so, Coleman relocated here from New Jersey in 2012. 

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Finishing up my second cup of coffee at Orchard in Waynesville, I gazed out the large bay window onto Depot Street. There’s the historic Haywood County Courthouse, a few vehicles parked on the hill. Snowflakes fluttered down from high above on this Friday morning. 

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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. 

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It was somewhere around the the second mile of my New Year’s Eve jog that I realized that day marked exactly five years since I began my running streak. 

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In the pantheon of legendary jam-grass acts, a handful of pioneering bands broke new ground in the 1980s and 1990s by creating a sonic landscape that was a harmonious blend of bluegrass, folk, jazz and acoustic rock sensibilities — this emerging scene focused on rollicking live shows and keen improvisational aspects. 

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Christmas Eve. Downtown Waynesville. Sitting alone in my one-bedroom apartment, I was bummed that I couldn’t be back home in the North Country for the holidays with my family and friends. Putting on the baseboard heater, I proceeded to make my way to the fridge for a beer.

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With a frigid wind pushing across the parking lot of the Clyde Volunteer Fire Department last Saturday afternoon, Santa Claus stood at the base of the World Trade Center memorial in front of the building and paid his respects. 

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I live in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Waynesville. Been here going on eight and a half years. Aside from my shelves of old books (many already read, most to get to, someday) and vinyl records, there are a handful of old guitars in the corner, of which I’ll pull one or two out around my third beer of the evening, usually strumming some uplifting chords, either through memory or by way of simple curiosity along the fretboard.

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I looked at my smart phone. Monday evening. It nearing 9 o’clock and it was high time I made it back home. Finishing my drink, I paid my bar tab at the neighborhood watering hole in downtown Waynesville and went home — just around the corner, a hop, skip and jump from there to here. 

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For the better part of the last 25 years, the Drive-By Truckers has remained a melodic beacon of truth and light. 

A bastion of hard rock and soulful lyrics, the Athens, Georgia-based quintet drags hard truths out of the darkness and into the spotlight for all to see, understand and embrace — realizations that expose decades and centuries of racial injustice, social tragedies and economic strife. 

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Stepping out of my truck, it was a cold wind rolling off the nearby mountains late Monday afternoon. A stiff breeze pushed across Lake Junaluska as I took the first strides of my four-mile run around the manmade body of water. Heavy snowflakes hit my face. I zipped the jacket closer to my chin. 

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Sitting at a table 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. 

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Though the baseboard heat was on in the living room, my downtown Waynesville apartment was quite chilly come Tuesday morning. Under warm covers with the anticipation of a blanket of white over the mountainous landscape outside the front door. 

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It’s an unusually warm and sunny day for late November in Macon County. The patio tables at Lazy Hiker Brewing in downtown Franklin are filled with locals and visitors alike, each enjoying the concoctions pouring out of from the large warehouse behind the taproom. 

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Like every Thanksgiving, I’ll figure something out. 

With my family over 1,000 miles away back up in the North Country, I tend to be an orphan during this holiday feast in Western North Carolina. Luckily, over the last eight years here, I’ve been invited into homes all over Southern Appalachia, where the food is plentiful and there’s always an extra seat at the table for you.

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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. 

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So, where am I right now? 

Well, physically, I’m sitting in the back of our office, by myself in the conference room near the kitchen and mini-fridge. The blue coffee cup next to my laptop is full of the caffeinated black liquid that gives me the strength to type fast enough to meet those pesky deadlines.

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For the better part of the last 30 years, G. Love (aka: Garrett Dutton) has been radiating his message of “peace, love and happiness” from behind a microphone atop stages across the country and around the world. 

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It was during the third sip of my second glass of wine that I decided to splurge. As a minimalist, in terms of materialistic things, I choose to spend my money on good food, drink and experiences. Thus, it was a time to celebrate, so why not purchase the $89 bottle of champagne, eh?

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When it comes to Keller Williams, there are three key elements of his storied live performances — experimentation, fun, unity. 

Hailing from Virginia, the beloved singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has been crisscrossing the country with his singular blend of acoustic, jam and dance music for the better part of the last 30 years.

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I could hear the planes overheard from the nearby Nashville airport. The room was cool. The bedsheets warm. It took me a moment to realize I was in Room 219 of the Red Roof Inn. Monday morning and a few hundred miles from my apartment back over the state line in Waynesville. 

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I awoke to the hammering of nails and the sound of a cement mixer. Opening the front door, it was a steep drop of a few feet to the cold dirt below. The old front porch was long gone. The new front porch now in the midst of construction.

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Coming into 2020, Greensky Bluegrass was looking forward to celebrating its 20th anniversary. A relentless national touring act, it would be countless shows and festivals — in front of an endless sea of folks who travel far and wide to listen and immerse themselves in the band’s seamless blend of bluegrass, jam and rock music. 

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About halfway through the first set of the sold-out Goose drive-in show last Saturday, a friend turned to me and said with a smile, “You know, we’re probably going to follow this band around for the next few decades, right?”

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Not far from Main Street in Canton and the bright lights of the nearby football stadium is an unassuming one-story commercial building along Pisgah Drive. With a couple of vehicles in the parking lot last Thursday evening, a lone light radiates from the front window of WPTL. 

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Awakening in the hotel room in downtown Pineville, Kentucky, it took me a moment to realize where I was this past Sunday morning. I found myself up in the small mountain town on Saturday night for a music showcase at the nearby Laurel Cove Amphitheater of emerging acts from just down the road in Lexington. 

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Crossing the threshold of the White Moon café in downtown Sylva, one is immediately drawn in by the scent of culinary delights and unique beverages. But, against the back wall is a nondescript door. There’s no sign on it, nor is there any indication that the entryway serves any more of a purpose than a broom closet. 

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Approaching the backside parking lot of Upslope Brewing Company in Boulder, Colorado one recent evening, I was immediately greeted by the new normal when it comes to live music. 

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In the 21st century, the living bridge of the “high, lonesome sound” that is bluegrass music is Del McCoury.

At 81, McCoury remains the melodic connection between the “Father of Bluegrass,” the late Bill Monroe, and the ever-evolving contemporary acts that are currently blurring the lines between the neo-traditional and progressive camps. And yet, McCoury is steadfast in his pursuit of the traditional bluegrass tone. 

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It’s 9:29 a.m. on Tuesday at the Holiday Inn off Interstate 135 near the city of Salina, Kansas. Looking out the fourth-floor window, it was hundreds of miles of cornfields, grasslands, gas stations and truck stops. 

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In a seismic move that will further propel the Asheville and greater Western North Carolina music scene into the national spotlight, Citizen Vinyl will officially open its doors to the public on Oct. 8. 

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Nearing midnight here in Eastern Idaho. A landscape I used to call home some 12 years ago. The faces I chase down and interact with in these parts are familiar and beloved. The same faces I befriended when I first rolled through here to put down roots as a rookie reporter in January 2008 for the Teton Valley News. 

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Fresh out of high school in 1970, Sam Bush was a teenager in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with aspirations of being a touring musician. 

With his mandolin and fiddle in hand, he took off for the bright stage lights of Louisville, teaming up with bluegrass guitar wizard Tony Rice as part of the iconic ensemble that was The Bluegrass Alliance. 

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It’s 4:41 a.m. at the Motel 6 in Laramie, Wyoming, which means it’s nearing 7 o’clock back at my apartment in Waynesville, North Carolina. My guitar sits atop the bed with fresh sheets and fluffy pillows, right across from my late grandfather’s old Coleman cooler on the floor near the door. 

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Labor Day 2020. After finishing up my arts feature for this week’s newspaper, I jumped into the old Tacoma and headed for Lake Logan to swim and layout in the sunshine of a fading summer. Park down the gravel road and grab a seat on the dock. Pop open a cold beverage and hoist it high to those familiar and beloved faces surrounding you. 

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A few months ago, 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. 

“The gate was unlocked, so I just walked out there and stood in the middle of the property,” Keith said. “And I knew this was the place — it needs to happen right here.” 

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Sitting in a booth upstairs at The Water’n Hole on North Main Street in Waynesville one recent evening, Justin Wells takes two sips: one from his beer and one from his shot of bourbon.

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