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art theplaceBoo yah. That was my exact response (loudly) when I was informed last week I’d won a few awards from the North Carolina Press Association that were handed out at their annual banquet in Chapel Hill. First place “Arts & Entertainment Reporting,” second place “Columns,” and third place “Niche Publication.”

Sure, in essence, awards are just pieces of paper that signify one group’s opinion on someone or something. But, for me, I look at those three pieces of paper as milestones, a moment to stop and look back at all this trials and tribulations it took to get to this spot, and also looking ahead to what tomorrow will bring. 

First place “Arts & Entertainment Reporting.” It’s a notion that immediately sends a flood of memories speeding across my field of vision. Winning the award doesn’t make me smile, per say, but thinking about all those people, places and things that have culminated into this recognition sure does .…

• Aly Richardson: One of my best friends from college, Aly came into my life like a whirlwind, a glorious bull in a china shop, if you will. Senior year at Quinnipiac University. When we crossed paths that first night in some sticky floor dive bar, we were like magnets. Music obsessed, with a hunger for the writings of Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac, we became fast chums, thick as thieves. It was smoking Parliament Light cigarettes and drinking cheap beer at midnight, all while watching (for the hundredth time) the films “Almost Famous” and “The Song Remains The Same.” We’d view those two flicks in sheer excitement, always saying, “Someday, I’m going to do that, to travel, to write, to see live music, to conquer the world.” Aly sparked a fire of creativity and curiosity within me that burns brighter and brighter each day. And in those rare moments of vulnerability, where I find myself questioning the cosmos, she remains, someone who once told me, “It’s never too late at night to call.”

• Mike McKinley: Towards the end of my time at Quinnipiac, I was dire need of an internship. Initially, I’d wanted to be on TV or radio, some kind of music personality who would interview all the latest bands and such. And yet, I couldn’t find any traction anywhere. Low and behold, I ran into Mike at a concert one cold night in 2006. He offered me a spot at his publication, the beloved (now defunct) State of Mind Music Magazine. I didn’t know the first thing about writing. All I knew was that I wanted to be around music, around arts and entertainment — that “buzz” I’ve always sought after. Mike taught me how to listen, which is quite possibly the most important thing about being a journalist. It’s about truly letting your subject blossom and expand, where you’re simply there to nurture and explore the conversation. He also taught me how to write, in that if you aren’t honest with yourself and what you want to say, then how can your readers believe in you?

• Andrew Wyatt: My brother-in-arms. There isn’t a single soul on this earth who knows me better than Mr. Wyatt. When I took my first reporting gig in the Grand Teton Mountains, I became acquainted with Andrew over a hearty game of horseshoes in the back of some honky-tonk bar on the Eastern Idaho prairie. He was a music freak photographer in need of a writer. I was a music freak writer in need of a photographer. Following the economic collapse of 2008, he and I, each still trying to find stable ground in our careers, hit the open road for the next three years, covering dozens of festivals and traversing a total of 37 states together. Thousands of miles and countless hours traveling, sleeping on hardwood floors or in the cold truck, and also immersing ourselves in the sincere kindness of strangers far and wide. We saw the country together, and also our potential in this crazy industry that is journalism. 

The three names above represent the basis for who I am today. Back then, I was a wet-behind-the-ears kid with this stubborn and unrelenting aspiration to write, to wonder and ponder, to seek and discover, all in utter amazement of what lies around the next, unsuspecting corner. Aly, Mike and Andrew are a handful of faces within the innumerable folks I’ve been lucky enough to not only befriend, but also orbit around their bountiful lives. It’s hardscrabble blacksmiths and mad scientist craft brewers, hummingbird fluttering bluegrass pickers and backwoods moonshine grinners, wildfire culinary maestros and poignant old-time veterans, gung-ho trail runners and front porch rocking chair sitters. It’s America, and by god, ain’t it grand?

All I’ve ever wanted to do is tell stories. I want to track down characters, either known and unknown, and dive deep into what makes them tick. I want to open up the world right outside your door, a place of wild things and pure beauty that can be seen, heard and touched, just as long as your willing to reach for the stars. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

 

 

Hot picks

1 There will be a celebration of Indian food and dance at 6 p.m. Friday, March 11, at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville. 

2 The Smoky Mountain Roller Girls will be cranking it up with 80s and 90s theme trivia at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 5, at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva

3 Andrews Brewing Company will host Heidi Holton (blues/folk) at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 6.

4 Author David Joy celebrate the one-year anniversary of the release of Where All Light Tends to Go with a reading of new works at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 3, at Innovation Brewing in Sylva.

5 Sagebrush Steakhouse (Canton) will host Kevin Fuller (singer-songwriter) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 8.

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