The strings of tradition and progress echoed from the back alley. Upon further inspection (and a lone door cracked open), the harmonic tone was radiating from the mandolin of Darren Nicholson.
Cruising up Utah Mountain Road outside Maggie Valley, one begins to get the feeling if they drove any further up the hill their vehicle might just disappear off the face of the earth.
Exiting your vehicle at Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley, a cold, late fall wind hits you in the face like a frying pan. Standing atop the 5,000-foot mountain retreat, the vastness and endless beauty of Western North Carolina lies below. Heading towards the main building, you reach for the doorknob and enter eagerly. Soon, your body, mind and soul thaw to the sounds of friends, strangers and old-time string music.
“It’s just a different feeling up here; everybody is excited to be part of this,” said Billie Smith, event planner at Cataloochee. “We really open our arms to local musicians and folks from everywhere to come and join in.”
My ears are still ringing.
From Nov. 1-5, I went and saw nine bands. Yep, that’s nine acts in the matter of five days. It was a musical odyssey, to say the least. If there ever were evidence of my obsession for sound and performance, ideal for my mother to give me that signature puzzled look, you’d find it following me around these last several days.
“I can’t sing.”
“Nobody wants to hear my voice.”
“I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.”
They’re recognizable refrains, the shield of the perceived non-musical whenever the Christmas carolers come around or it’s time for someone to jump-start a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
I sat there, under old copper piping and newly formed spider webs, wondering where the hell my story was.
It was December 2006, and I was in the basement of the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass. A sit-down, pre-show interview with legendary singer/songwriter Peter Rowan was to be my first feature as a budding journalist. And yet, there I was, waiting outside his drab dressing room, listening to him snore and enjoy a cat nap before his performance in the coming hour.
That’s what was texted to me a couple weeks ago. It was my co-worker at the newspaper, stuck in mud somewhere in the backwoods of Maggie Valley. Normally, I would finally get to sleep in on a Saturday morning, but not this time. I pulled myself out of bed, cranked my pickup truck and headed out of Waynesville.
Kacey Musgraves makes me feel like a teenager. Shouts of joy escape my lungs when I find out she’s performing nearby. All my friends grow weary over my constant babbling about her. If there were a life-size poster available, I’d probably buy one — her music is just that good.
I like to get lost.
Though my sense of direction is as strong as a dog’s sense of smell, I purposely wander into destinations unknown. If there’s two ways to a location, I’ll take the one I have yet to traverse. I want to cross paths with people, places and things either unnoticed by a rushed society or forgotten by the sands of time. Plenty of these things are old, some new, with many hovering somewhere in between.
It’s the sound of the ancient mountains, the unique people and rich culture of Southern Appalachia. It’s the sound of Soldier’s Heart.