Garret K. Woodward

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It’s the hottest show in town, but nobody is allowed in. 

Tucked in the depths of The Gem downstairs taproom at Boojum Brewing in Waynesville, J. Rex & The Gem Rats took the stage for a bluegrass jam last Wednesday evening. 

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So, here we are, eh? 

What a difference a day makes, where now each morning we seemingly wake up into another new normal in the fight against the coronavirus. It’s this existence of being stuck at home for the sake of society’s health and well-being — all dressed up and nowhere to go now taking on an entirely different meaning.

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Amid the current coronavirus pandemic overtaking our world and our daily lives, local businesses and organizations in Western North Carolina are now thinking about how to deal with cancellations and shutdowns — changes that could drastically impact the regional economy moving forward.

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In a move that’s been a year or so in the making, 7 Clans Brewing has recently purchased Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville.

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When Dr. Michael Abram thinks of the late Cherokee artist John Daniel “Dee” Smith Sr., he can’t help but smile reminiscing about his old comrade. 

“We were really good friends and I miss him. We used to sit talk about Cherokee art and history for hours,” Abram said. “He would paint on anything. Artists just have that urge to create with anything around them. Anything is art, and Dee saw that.”

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Being the nighthawk that I am, it was around 3 a.m. on March 3 when I found myself listening to some music and scrolling through Instagram. 

Suddenly, I kept coming across images of a massive storm in Nashville and of a pile of rubble that was once The Basement East music venue in the city.

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In any rock-n-roll band, the unsung hero is the drummer. With a soaring singer and whirlwind guitar solos, the person behind the kit is the anchor for the group — holding up the light at the end of the tunnel of a melody in motion.

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In March 2011, I was a 26-year-old freelance writer traveling down Interstate 87 in Upstate New York to one of Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles. The legendary singer/drummer for The Band, Helm held these intimate concerts in his barn-like home, tucked away in the backwoods of the Catskill Mountains. 

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Walking up to the Civic Center (aka: Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville) this past Sunday evening, the building was buzzing wildly from a sold-out crowd of thousands eager to see Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers take the stage. 

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the images of Jay Blakesberg are worth a thousand notes.

Initially following and photographing the melodic cosmic force that was The Grateful Dead from the late 1970s onward, Blakesberg has traveled the country and the world over, always in search of these serendipitous blink-of-an-eye encounters and interactions that define not only a scene and a generation, but also a culture and the essence of the humanity — love, compassion, rhythm.

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I awoke in the guest bedroom and it took me a few seconds to realize where I was. Tampa, Florida, was the destination this past weekend. And there I was amid Gulf Coast sunshine and beautiful chaos only found in the depths of the unknown night. 

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Normally, when one hears the sounds of hammers and saws at 61 Depot Street in Bryson City, it signaled an expansion of the Nantahala Brewing’s original taproom and production facility. But, with an announcement last week, those sounds are of big change for the craft beer company. 

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For the better part of a quarter-century, Umphrey’s McGee has remained one of the most fundamental and innovative acts on the live music scene. 

Originating at the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) in 1997, the band soon called nearby Chicago, Illinois, home. But, the group’s reach has unrelentingly extended in seemingly every direction — geographically and sonically — from the Midwestern musical hub. 

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It had been several years since we’d sat down over a drink and chatted. An old friend and former lover, she reached out randomly on a recent rainy day. 

“I’m having a shitty day. Let’s meet for a beer?” the out-of-the-blue text stated. Sure, I figured, always up for hearty conversation with good, genuine folk. 

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About a mile from downtown Bryson City, on a dirt road alongside the swift moving Deep Creek, sits a bungalow. Inside the tranquil home of Frank and Allie Lee, there are several instruments hanging on the wall. And there’s also a stack of the duo’s latest album atop a nearby desk. 

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By the time you read this, it will have been my 35th birthday. Yep. It’s here. No doubt about it, I’m officially, unashamedly in my mid-30s. As of Wednesday, I’ll be closer to 50 than 20. Sheesh. 

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K.M. Fuller isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, onstage and off. And it’s that exact honesty and sincerity that has made him one of the most electric singer-songwriters in Western North Carolina in recent years. 

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For my generation, Kobe Bryant was the torchbearer and living link between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. He was basketball in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

Kobe was also a figure who genuinely transcended the sport, one who rose to the top of the mountain of pop culture and media celebrity, something that came to fruition just as the internet age and social media became an integral part of our daily lives. 

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It’s just after lunchtime at the Haywood County Health Department on a recent chilly afternoon in Clyde. And standing in the front window of the lobby awaiting his appointment for a sit-down interview is Marc Pruett. 

Formerly the county’s erosion control officer for the better part of a quarter-century, Pruett retired some three years ago, only to be asked to come back part-time as the much-needed development services technician (now that the erosion and planning offices have combined). His skill set and personable approach to his position have made him invaluable to those who not only work alongside Pruett, but also cross paths with him — personally and professionally.

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I think the one of the hardest lessons in life is knowing when to cut bait on those who simply do not have your best interests in mind (family or friends). 

Throughout my entire life, I’ve struggled with always trying to make others happy, and taking things so damn personal if someone either doesn’t get my vibe or simply isn’t interested in being a friend, etc. These days, I’m actively working towards not taking those things so to heart, and just focusing on simply being a good person in my words and actions, regardless of what others may think.

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Last Thursday evening, three days of celebration commenced within the walls of Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro on the outskirts of downtown Sylva. 

The gathering wasn’t to look ahead as the business turned 19 years old. Rather, it was to tie a poignant bow on almost two decades of culinary and artisan bliss in this small mountain town.

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The moment the song came onto my stereo, I was immediately transported to a time and a place somewhat foggy in memory, but never to be forgotten.  It was “Saving Days in a Frozen Head” by songbird and guitar wizard Kaki King. So, this past Monday, when the melody filled my headphones, I found myself rapidly traveling to the past. 

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David Bromberg doesn’t have time to wax poetic about life. 

But, more so he doesn’t have time to talk about the life he’s lived as one of the great singer-songwriters who emerged out of the Greenwich Village blues/folk revival in the 1960s, with Bromberg now one of the last remaining figures from that era still touring and releasing new music. 

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Stepping out of my truck, I stretched my legs and proceeded to throw on my running clothes. It was nearing sunset when I locked the vehicle and jumped onto a nearby hiking trail just off U.S. 19 in Summersville, West Virginia. 

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It was around midnight when I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. With Maryland now in the rearview mirror, I pushed into rural depths of south central Pennsylvania. It was Christmas Eve and the temperatures had dropped to around freezing, a far cry from the sunshine felt earlier that day in Western North Carolina.

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Picking your favorite albums of any given year is a wholeheartedly subjective endeavor. You’re drawn to what immediately captures your attention — whatever that song, record or genre may be. 

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For a place that was dry just a decade ago, Clay County is now home to one of the finest craft breweries in Western North Carolina.

“Our beers are mostly driven on tradition, but we also try to push the boundaries,” said David Grace, brewmaster at Nocturnal Brewing in downtown Hayesville. “We definitely do the tried and true American styles craft beers, but we also push heavily into fruity beers and sours.”

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Give or take, it’s about 1,010 miles from Waynesville, North Carolina (my current home) to Plattsburgh, New York (my hometown). I know this fact seeing as about twice a year I roar up and down the interstates of the Eastern Seaboard either heading home for the holidays or back to Southern Appalachia for work. 

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Standing in a two-bay garage in downtown Sylva last Friday afternoon, Victoria Shufelt was putting the final touches on a pop-up art gallery event.

“For such a small town, I’ve always been blown away by the amount of creative folks here,” Shufelt said. “And this space is a totally blank canvas to come together and create in Sylva.”

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As the decade comes to a close, I sip this cup o’joe in a quiet coffee shop in a small town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I think of December 2009 and how incredibly different life was. 

At 24 years old, the economy had tanked a year earlier. Living back in my native Upstate New York (in my parent’s farmhouse), I had left the west in 2008 following my first journalism gig at a tiny paper in Eastern Idaho. 

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Last Saturday evening at Orchard Coffee in Waynesville, two nationally acclaimed singer-songwriters stepped in front of microphones and projected their captivating voices and lyrical aptitude to a silent, spellbound audience.  

“I like having that personal connection in a place like this — there’s such a feeling in here,” said Israel Nebeker. “I was rehearing for the show tonight in my hotel room earlier, and I was thinking back on some these songs I wrote, and those coffee shops I played when I was starting out — it’s really a full circle thing.”

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It was about halfway into the quirky tune “My Sweet One” when the memories started to flood my field of vision. There I was this past Sunday, surrounded by a sea of over 13,000 people, while our band Phish performed onstage in Charleston, South Carolina. 

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Amid the plethora of talented bluegrass, Americana and string acts in Western North Carolina, the idea of a rock trio is more so a rarity than something one might come across in regional musical circles.

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My eyelids fluttered open and it took me a couple moments to realize that I was in my apartment and it was Thanksgiving morning. After a wild, raucous Thanksgiving Eve bouncing through the fine establishments of downtown Waynesville, it was time to dust myself off and be ready for the impending dinner.

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With the recent “10-year challenge” on Facebook — where folks compare photos of themselves from 2009, as a way to celebrate the end of this decade next month — I was curious and tracked down what I was up way back when.

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In just seven years together, the members of Sister Sadie have risen into the upper echelon of the modern bluegrass scene. 

From a Grammy nomination for “Best Bluegrass Album” (for “Sister Sadie II”) to a handful of appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, 2019 was a milestone year for the group. This past September, the band received the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award for “Vocal Group of the Year” — the first all-female act in the history of the IBMAs to do so. 

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Tucked in the depths of Wall Street in Waynesville, the Green Orchid Soap Co. is meant to be found by chance or happenstance — this cozy spot just off Main Street, right down a side alley away from the bustle of downtown.

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When I was a kid, my parents would talk to anybody. Literally anybody. Though my little sister was somewhat embarrassed by it, I was completely fascinated. 

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With over 2,000 folks piling into the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in downtown Asheville for Incubus on Thursday evening, those in attendance walked away from the gathering with way more than simply “hearing the hits.”

Celebrating the 20th anniversary release of the California rock act’s breakthrough album, “Make Yourself,” the performance unfolded with a retrospective film being projected on the large backdrop behind the drum kit, the entire audience on its feet cheering along.

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With over 2,000 folks piling into the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in downtown Asheville for Incubus on Thursday evening, those in attendance walked away from the gathering with way more than simply “hearing the hits.”

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When I lace up my running shoes lately, I’ve found that I usually need to add a windbreaker on top of my normal running attire. It’s that time of year again, my favorite spot on the calendar. The air is colder, the leaves have fallen, and yet the sun’s rays still warm the face — that calm before the storm of holidays and family obligations. 

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Longtime guitarist for legendary rock act Widespread Panic, Jimmy Herring’s sole focus as a musician is — and has always been — about creating an inclusive melodic platform with his electric six-string, by which he and other musicians onstage can stand atop and swirl around each other with ease. 

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It was right around 3 p.m. when I knew I had to escape.

Sitting in the Panacea Coffeehouse in the Frog Level District of Waynesville on Monday afternoon, I had finished my writing for the day. I had concluded all my emails, correspondences and text messages, too. I just wanted to get away, even if but for a moment, from my damn smart phone and laptop in an era of Wi-Fi and unlimited data plans. 

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Cutting through the onslaught of monotonous bar bands and diluted midnight hour showcases like a buzz saw gone haywire, The Hooten Hallers remain one of the most mesmerizing, innovative and raucous acts on the national scene these days.

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In my 12 years as a professional journalist, I’ve seen and heard the good, the bad, and the ugly of what it means to find balance and strength in this industry that is newspapers, magazines and media in our country and around our world.

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First and foremost, Raymond Fairchild was one of the finest banjo players who ever walked the face of the earth. He had a storied reputation for incredibly strong and powerful pickin’ on the five-string instrument — a sentiment also said about his moonshine from behind closed doors. 

Last Sunday afternoon, Fairchild passed away unexpectedly at the age of 80. Though his music and influence will live on for generations, the bluegrass industry and Western North Carolina have lost a true original, one of the last of his kind in rural Southern Appalachia. 

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Raymond Fairchild — a bluegrass legend in Western North Carolina — passed away unexpectedly Sunday afternoon at the age of 80, but his music and influence will live on for generations.

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For a moment, I had thought I’d gone crazy.

Standing in the laundromat just a block away from my apartment in Waynesville, I stared at Dryer #4 with a puzzled look on my face. It was 1:45 p.m. on an otherwise normal Tuesday. I walked up to Dryer #4 and put my hand on the door. It was still warm. It had happened: someone stole my laundry. 

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My 2019 festival season is over as of this past Sunday night at the “Blue Ridge Jam” at Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain. With my first festival of the year in late March, I’ve attended and/or covered 24 music festivals in the last 29 weeks. Crazy, eh?

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In the matter of a song, Charlie Parr can make you laugh and cry, all while finding simple meanings and understandings about the human condition.

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