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.

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?

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

2016 in A&E

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.

This must be the place

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.

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.

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.

“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…”

“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.

This must be the place

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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