Garret K. Woodward

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Stepping out of the muddy truck, I laced up my trail running shoes and disappeared down the Cataloochee Divide Trail for a few miles of trotting, wandering and pondering. 

About a mile and a half up the ridge, there’s this small opening looking down into Cataloochee Valley. I always stop there and gaze out, wondering who else is, perhaps, looking back at me from one of those faraway peaks. Last Friday, I stood at that spot and felt the first crisp breeze of an impending fall. 

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Pulling onto Lake Street last Saturday afternoon, an odd sense of self flowed through my veins while cruising through Rouses Point, New York. My hometown until I left for college, the tiny Canadian Border community had seen better days. And yet, Saturday was another happy occasion for my family, who has lived in that town for generations. 

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With its latest EP, “Something New: Vol 1,” the Maggie Valley Band is breaking new ground, whether it be sonically or what lies within the creative spirit of the emerging Haywood County act. 

In recent years, the sibling duo of Whitney and Caroline Miller (amid a rotating cast of guest backing musicians) have transitioned from an acoustic ensemble pushing the boundaries of folk and mountain music to a melodic entity that constantly stokes the hot coals of Americana and indie-rock stylings. 

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Situated at the corner of N.C. 107 and 281, in the Tuckasegee community of rural Jackson County, is a newly-built Dollar General. And sitting in his pickup truck in the convenience store parking lot one recent afternoon is acclaimed author David Joy. 

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On Aug. 11, my late grandfather, Frank Kavanaugh, would have turned 100 years old. But, alas, it’s been some 13 years since Fred left this world (June 9, 2007). I tend to think of him quite often, especially as I’ve gotten older and continued to wander the backroads and highways of the rollicking, undulating landscape that is the United States. 

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Celebrating two decades together this year, the Steep Canyon Rangers have evolved from a group of budding musicians in a college dorm room at UNC Chapel Hill into one of the marquee string acts in the country. 

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On Aug. 9, 1995, I was 10 years old and living in an old farmhouse on the Canadian Border of Upstate New York. 

With my entry into fifth grade just around the corner, I was starting to wind down another curious and carefree North Country summer of swimming, bike riding and backyard shenanigans.

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With the current pandemic and economic shutdown, the music industry was the first business sector to close its doors and will most likely be the last to reopen when all is said and done.

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Stepping out of my pickup truck this past Saturday afternoon, I stood in the parking lot of the Maggie Valley Town Hall. 

In the front entrance of the building were an array of local law enforcement agencies from around Haywood County. Underneath the big trees in the front yard were Black Lives Matter protesters. On the lawn next door, with eyes aimed at those under the big trees, were the counter protesters. 

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Standing in front of a microphone on Sunday evening, singer-songwriter Jane Kramer looked out onto the small, socially-distant crowd inside The Grey Eagle Music Hall in Asheville. Each table of patrons were several feet from the next table. Though masks covered the faces, the smiles and laughter could not be contained.

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It was odd and surreal feeling to be watching live music this past weekend. As you probably read on the opposite page in this newspaper, I was on assignment for the #SaveOurStages initiative and how it being (or not being) passed in Congress will greatly affect the music industry moving forward. 

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One of the most versatile and intriguing musicians in Asheville and greater Western North Carolina, singer-songwriter Eleanor Underhill chases the artistic muse with a reckless abandon of curiosity, joy and self-reflection. 

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Stepping out of the pickup truck in my little sister’s driveway last Saturday, I was immediately greeted with the sounds of children laughing and splashing around in the backyard. It was my niece’s sixth birthday party in my hometown of Rouses Point, New York, a tiny village on the Canadian and Vermont borders. 

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If you’ve ever spent time in New Orleans, Louisiana, you know all too well the grandiose nature and immense splendor of the rollicking metropolis. 

It’s a place where you can experience the organized chaos of the French Quarter, and yet also find yourself amid a serene silence along the Mississippi River or down some side street of breathtaking architecture where history comes alive right before your eyes. 

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I’m currently sitting at the old kitchen table in my parents’ 1840 farmhouse in Upstate New York. Our family dog, Madison, is lying down a few feet away, always within a short distance of me whenever I’m walking around the house or wandering the backyard. The coffee in hand is fresh and strong. There’s a lot on my mind, too. 

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Hailing from the Southern Appalachian backwoods of Castlewood, Virginia (population: 2,045), 49 Winchester is a rapidly rising alt-country/rock act. 

For the better part of the last decade, the band has been relentlessly working its way through the Southeastern music industry — playing every stage and festival that’ll have ‘em — where now the raucous group is whispered in the same breath (of raw talent and sincere passion) as the Drive-By Truckers, Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson, to name a few.

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Much like New Year’s Eve, the Fourth of July is one of those holidays that everyone you know will definitely be doing something of some sort. But, for some damn reason, nobody ever seems to decide what that something is until the last minute. 

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Sitting in the back den of my parents’ Upstate New York farmhouse last week, I could hear the familiar sounds of the big brown UPS truck and its squeaky brakes slowing down to full stop in front of the driveway. 

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Back in January, the Haywood County Arts Council was setting itself up for another year of growth, creatively and financially. With artisan membership numbers on the rise, the nonprofit organization had high hopes for its May 24 Americana concert featuring Balsam Range & The Atlanta Pops Orchestra. 

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It’s been a wild and wondrous thing to be able to wander around my native North Country right now: to see old friends and family, and actually be able to sit and make time with them. 

Usually, I only find myself back home in Upstate New York when it’s 20 below zero and there are presents under the brightly-lit tree in my parents’ farmhouse. But, with the current pandemic and shutdown, I was able to (safely) head home and be with family over the last few weeks. 

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At just 27 years old, singer-songwriter Andrew Scotchie has already become a beloved fixture and voice of reason in the Asheville and greater Western North Carolina music scene.

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Somewhere between finishing my column last Tuesday morning and lunchtime, it was decided by my mother that she and I would head to the coast of Maine for a few days.

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Coming into this spring, Executive Chef Kaighn Raymond was looking forward to his restaurant hitting the 10-year mark. What he didn’t expect was for Frogs Leap Public House to be closed to the public. 

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It started with a text message. While making a sandwich for lunch in my parents’ Upstate New York farmhouse the other day, my smart phone vibrated. It was my old friend Leah, a beloved face I hadn’t seen or heard from in several years. 

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If you had told BearWaters Brewing founder/co-owner Kevin Sandefur eight years ago that some day he’d be at the helm of two brewery locations in Haywood County, and also play a big role in the economic revitalization of downtown Canton, he’d probably call your bluff.

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In a highly-anticipated relaunch of a beloved Waynesville business, Frog Level Brewing has finally opened its doors following renovations and relaxed government mandates in the era of the coronavirus. 

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On Monday morning, I woke up in a big, cozy antique brass bed at my parents’ 1840 farmhouse up near the Canadian border in Plattsburgh, New York. Rolling over, I grabbed my ukulele nearby and plucked a few jovial chords.

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For a group whose core mission is to promote positivity and compassion, The Get Right Band has found its ideals tested and pushed to the brink during the current Coronavirus Pandemic. 

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I awoke to the sounds of tractor-trailers zooming by on the other side of the motel parking lot. It was a Super 8 right off Interstate 84, just outside the town of Maybrook, New York. 

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Sitting on his side porch in West Asheville last Thursday morning, guitarist Jon Stickley strums his 1958 Martin acoustic. Sunshine cascades onto his large backyard filled with the sounds of birds and wind chimes hanging nearby. 

And though the scene is serene and relaxing, Stickley would rather be on the road and onstage in the midst of the organized chaos that is the annual festival circuit. 

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It’s been exactly two months since I remember what it felt like. You know, “normalcy.” 

It was a Tuesday and also St. Patrick’s Day. By order of the governor, the bars and restaurants of North Carolina were to close until further notice at 5 p.m. Oddly enough, it was one of the nicest days of the year at that point in the mountains of Southern Appalachia. Sunshine and a warm breeze signaling spring after another winter gone by. 

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Walking out of my apartment this past Tuesday, the morning sun illuminated the mud plastered all over the side of my ole Toyota Tacoma. It was time to edit and put out the newspaper, but the only thing I could think about was when I could once again escape into the wildness. 

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When Richard Gray was 9 years old, he would get up at 3:30 a.m. and ride his bicycle down to the docks on the coast of Maine to help the lobstermen of his hometown of Gouldsboro. 

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Though most of us have acclimated to the idea and implementation of silence in this era of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the sounds of hammers and sawblades have been echoing down McCracken Street in Waynesville as of late.

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Though the front door is locked, the large garage and repair bays of Waynesville Tire are wide open and ready for business.

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While society continues to adapt to ongoing shelter-in-place orders, many folks would jump at the chance to be in the presence of endless shelves and coolers filled with craft beer. But, for Marlowe Mager, all he can think about is how to get rid of all the bottles and cans that currently surround him.

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Stepping into the hotel room, my mother had an odd expression on her face when she looked at me and said, “I got you something for your birthday. If you don’t like it, then you can give it away to someone.”

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It’s late morning and situated behind his desk in the back office of the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville is Steven Lloyd. Leaning back in his chair, Lloyd sighed at the question posed to him: what’s the current status of HART? 

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While waiting for my coffee to be brewed in the back of the newsroom this past Tuesday, I stared blankly into the abyss. 

Looking around the small nook, there were memos on the wall, sink filled with cups and dishes, small fridge in the corner and stacks of office supplies on the shelves. The coffeepot burped and shook me out of the trance. 

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Walking down the empty hallways of the WNCW studios on the campus of Isothermal Community College in Spindale, Martin Anderson passes by silent offices on his way to broadcast in front of a microphone for all of Western North Carolina to hear. 

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In its 20 years together, Chatham County Line has organically grown and blossomed into one of the most distinct and progressive acts in the realms of modern traditional string and acoustic music. 

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Last Thursday evening, I sat in my recliner, in my one-bedroom apartment in downtown Waynesville, and gazed over at the overflowing pile of old clothes and junk slowly sliding out of the nearby closet like some Southern Appalachian landslide after a heavy rainfall. 

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

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So, probably like most of y’all out there, I’ve spent a lot of time during the continuing quarantine combing through the details of my life, physically and emotionally, whether I intended to or not. 

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Emerging from the back of his bicycle shop in downtown Sylva, Motion Makers owner Kent Cranford squeezes around a service desk blocking the front entrance and steps outside to ensure he’s adhering to proper social distancing in the era of the coronavirus while being interviewed. 

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Sitting on the side porch of the Fryemont Inn one recent sunny afternoon, Monica Brown overlooks downtown Bryson City. The lawn is newly green, and so are the trees. But, the main lobby is empty, so is the massive dining room and all 37 guest suites within the historic property.

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Darren Nicholson has played the Grand Ole Opry and the International Bluegrass Music Association award showcase numerous times. He’s got a bookshelf full of glass IBMA recognitions and more number one bluegrass hits with his band Balsam Range than he has fingers to count with. 

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Sunday afternoon in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The date on my phone says April 5, but I really haven’t had any sense of time since early March. Coming into a month of the “new norm” during all of “this.” 

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It’s a crazy world out there right now, folks. And yet, it’s always been kind of nuts anyhow, just more so under the current circumstances. 

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It’s Saturday evening at The Sweet Onion in downtown Waynesville. Normally during the time of year, the dining room and bar counter would be packed with locals and tourists alike, servers zipping around in every direction, the open-air kitchen buzzing with orders atop a fiery grill. 

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