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2014: Arts & Entertainment in Review

art frAnother one is in the books. 

With each passing year, I find myself digging ever deeper into what it truly means to reside and thrive in Western North Carolina. Week in and week out, I cross paths with innumerable people, places and things that capture my attention and mesmerize my imagination.

 And 2014 was no different. From the backwoods of rural Swain County to the cosmopolitan downtown of Raleigh, The Smoky Mountain News was there, for all of you, to record and partake in the events that mattered most to us. 

 

Balsam Range wins big at the IBMAs

There was no bigger story in WNC entertainment this year than Balsam Range winning “Entertainer of the Year” at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards in Raleigh. On the heels of winning the “Album of the Year” in 2013, the Haywood County group was unsure of its chances this time around. But, by the end of the evening, the band also collected “Vocal Group of the Year” and “Male Vocalist of the Year” (Buddy Melton).

“You surround yourself with good people, great things will happen,” Melton said afterward. “Life is so funny, you just never know what’s coming. Sometimes it’s challenging, sometimes it’s rewarding. It just shows you to push forward and keep believing that good things are going to happen.”

 

WCU marches in The Big Apple

The members of Western Carolina University’s marching band, the Pride of the Mountains, strolled down the streets of Manhattan as one of the featured acts during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Filled with floats, balloons, music groups and Broadway productions, the televised parade is one of the most beloved and watched spectacles each year, with upwards of 44 million viewers tuning in. 

“This is a band director’s dream to do this parade and a band member’s dream to be part of this,” said Director of Athletic Bands David Starnes in a practice before the event. “On Thanksgiving morning, you’ll get to do something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. You’ll tell your kids about this. You’ll be on the world’s stage and it’s got to be perfect.”

 

Eaglenest reopens in Maggie Valley

Located in the heart of Maggie Valley’s commercial district, the $3.5 million, 18-acre property has loomed empty since 2011, a lost opportunity of what could have been and what could be. Behind the building, there’s also a natural outdoor amphitheatre able to hold upwards of 2,000 people. Simply put, if run properly, it could be a game-changer for the town’s economy. The venue will reopen on New Year’s Eve with a special performance by legendary banjoist Raymond Fairchild.

“I think it really needs to be open. I think the community needs it, and I think it’s better for the theater,” said Eaglenest owner Grier Lackey. “Things tend to depreciate sitting dormant. Though we’ve kept everything well manicured, the building is better opened than closed.”

 

Dillsboro celebrates 125 years 

In what has become a premier pottery establishment in Southern Appalachia, Dillsboro celebrated its 125th birthday on Sept. 6, with many businesses in the community reflecting on a storied past, an uncertain present and a hopeful future.

“The big difference between what Dillsboro was and what it is now, is that before Dillsboro was the art gig for Jackson, Swain and Haywood counties, and now all those towns have built their own gallery scene,” said Joe Frank McKee of Tree House Pottery. “But, the niche for us is that we have more professional craftspeople here, and with that, we hope to build the town back, bring back a steady customer base.”

 

Waynesville welcomes brewery No. 4

A testament to the emerging strength of the craft beer industry outside of the Asheville city limits, Boojum Brewing Company became the fourth location of its kind in Waynesville. Add that to new breweries in Sylva, Bryson City, Highlands and soon in Franklin, and you have more fuel to the fire that is the WNC craft beer explosion.

“It’s been a lot of hard work over the last year to get to this point, and to be brewing our first batch today is amazing to us. We’re just so happy to come in here and see all of this going on,” said Boojum co-owner/brewer Kelsie Baker on Nov. 15. “We have 15-barrel system and three 15-barrel fermenters, which will turn over every three weeks depending on the beer. With the three fermenters we could do a little over 2,000 barrels in a year. But, we’ll see. We’ve got it set up right now to add more fermenters quickly if we need to, and the demand is there.”

 

Canton school to be reborn

Haywood County native William McDowell and his wife, acclaimed Motown/R&B singer Gladys Knight, purchased the abandoned Reynolds High School — a boarded up, dilapidated structure in the heart of Canton that once served as an all-black school for the town. Their hope is to transform the property into a community center for any and all residents and visitors to use.

“It’ll be a good thing for the interactions in the community,” McDowell said. “People will take more pride in where we are because you’ll be coming to our home. A lot of people don’t know that school is there, and for me, what I want to see is not just the school coming up another level, but also the entire community.”

 

Ron Rash releases new book

A renowned Southern Appalachian writer, Rash embodies this mysterious and majestic region. Since the publication of his short story collection The Night The New Jesus Fell to Earth in 1994, his career has been a slow burn of success, a flame glowing brighter every year. 

With a handful of bestsellers under his belt, his highly acclaimed novel “Serena” recently hit the big screen featuring Hollywood starlet Jennifer Lawrence and leading man Bradley Cooper. A two-time winner of the O. Henry Prize, Rash also received the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2010 and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2007 and 2009. In 2014, Rash released Something Rich and Strange, which serves as a collection of short stories, new and old. 

“What makes a short story work is conflict. I don’t bring violence into my work to just shock or titillate the reader, but it’s only in moments of extreme situations that people reveal who they really are,” he said. “I like to put my characters in these extreme situations because then the mask they might wear in everyday life falls away and they reveal who they really are, as people do in real life.”

 

Carroll Best recordings uncovered 

Regarded as one of the all-time great and influential banjoists, Best, a Haywood County native, was known for his signature “fiddle style,” which was a melodic, syncopated three-finger stroke he evolved and perfected. 

“Carroll was a gifted, regional banjo player who influenced national musicians. He was among the first banjo players to move three-finger hillbilly ‘pickin’ toward jazz and melodic melodies requiring a sophisticated ear and independent dexterity given only to few,” said Marc Pruett, Grammy Award-winning banjoist of Balsam Range.

And that unique sound echoing from Best’s fingertips was captured on a reel-to-reel tape by storied “song catcher” Joseph S. Hall during two recording sessions in 1956 and 1959. Those recordings were recently dusted off and released as a 37-song collection by the Great Smoky Mountains Association. 

 

Costner hits the stage in Franklin

An Academy Award-winning actor/director, Kevin Costner also fronts a country/blues band called Modern West. On April 24, he and the band performed at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin. Costner is one of the more recognizable pop culture icons of the last 25 years. He was Ray Kinsella in “Field of Dreams,” Lt. John J. Dunbar in “Dances with Wolves” and Crash Davis in “Bull Durham,” just to name a few of the actor’s well-known portrayals. 

“It’s as good of a feeling as you might get. It’s like a big wave. You can sit out there on the ocean on your board and all of a sudden this wave comes and picks you up,” Costner said about performing onstage. “No matter how bad you’re feeling, once the guitars start and the drums kick in, I swear my face just grows into a big smile.”

 

Bryson brewery owner named ABA president

Co-owner of Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City, Joe Rowland was elected president of the Asheville Brewers Alliance. Created in 2009, the group consists of over two dozen breweries in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Rowland is the first member to be elected whose brewery resides outside of the city of Asheville. 

“I believe it reflects that our organization has grown to represent all of the brewers in the mountains of Western North Carolina,” he said. “I’ve been participating as [an ABA] board member for over three years, and have made it my goal to include the concerns of our members outside of Asheville. I feel honored that my peers felt I have the skills and dedication to help the organization continue to grow.”

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