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Wednesday, 17 July 2013 14:32

This must be the place: Bringing the world to your doorstep

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art frIt all started with an email. 

Last July, I was at a crossroads. Being a freelance writer for a few years, my usual summer work dried up before the warm weather even arrived. The publications I was contributing to in Upstate New York were losing money, rapidly, with their freelance budgets being the first casualty of a haphazard newspaper industry.

 

So, I started looking for work, everywhere. Using JournalismJobs.com, I scoured the site, clicking on positions in the deep woods of Maine, rural North Dakota, suburban Ohio, wherever. More than 100 resumes were probably submitted during that month. Eventually, I came across an opening at The Smoky Mountain News. It was a feature writer position, covering all of Western North Carolina, seeking out all of the things that make it unique.

I was intrigued. I had been to Asheville before, and driving through the area left an impression of interesting people amid a beautiful landscape. So, I applied, sending all of my notable clips, references and resume, and waited.

The next morning, a reply from The Smoky Mountain News was sitting in my inbox. They liked the clips I had sent and were interested in doing an interview over the phone. It went well. The next step was an in-person interview. 

Publisher Scott McLeod wanted to meet me, but I was 1,016 miles and 16 hours of driving away. 

Screw it, I said to myself. I decided to make the trek the following week to Haywood County. Leaving on a Thursday afternoon, I drove straight through the night, fueled on rocket fuel truck stop coffee and endless hours of NPR on the radio. The next day, I rolled into Waynesville – dirty, tired, hungry and delirious from the journey. The clock said 2:35 p.m., with my interview set for 3 p.m. 

McLeod had a chuckle when I showed up on time and exhausted from New York. The interview went smoothly, but one last test remained – I had to prove I could write on the spot. He handed me a pen, notepad and camera, and said, “Ok, go get me two stories about Folkmoot.”

I thought, “What the hell is Folkmoot?”

McLeod gave me a quick rundown of the festival, pointed to Main Street and shut the front door of the office, leaving me standing there, wondering what to do. I turned towards the commotion on Main Street and immersed myself in the melodic chaos.

It was a mesmerizing weekend. I found myself amid a plethora of talented Southern Appalachian musicians and cloggers alongside innumerable international dance groups. Watching these two entities come together as one was inspiring. One moment I was interviewing the Talija Folk Dance Troupe of Serbia, the next, eating dinner with the Whitireia Performing Arts from New Zealand or tapping my foot to the sounds of right-from-the-source Appalachian mountain music.

“Soon, a sea of people were all moving together; everyone smiling. There they were, teenagers from every corner of the globe, standing as one, a place where there were no borders, language differences or societal conflicts,” I wrote. “It seems the only true currency here is a high-five of appreciation between foreign entities, now fast friends thanks to the common bond of rhythm and performance.”

These were the exact experiences I had been chasing after, things that sparked my initial interest in journalism years earlier. After two days, I had found and written my stories. By Monday morning, I shook McLeod’s hand and accepted the position. And thus, the journey continues. Onward and upward.

 

Hot picks

1: Country megastar Miranda Lambert rolls into Harrah’s Cherokee on July 19.

2: Broadway musical “Brigadoon” hits the stage at HART in Waynesville from July 18 through Aug. 4.

3: Indie-rock act Kovacs and the Polar Bear perform at Western Carolina University on July 25.

4: Leonard Adkins presents his new comprehensive guidebook about the Blue Ridge Parkway at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva on July 22.

5: Bluegrass ensemble Frogtown plays during the Franklin Folk Festival on July 20.

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