Garret K. Woodward

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Waking up in the hotel room at the Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, last Saturday morning, I rubbed my eyes and stretched out in the king bed. Another solo excursion of irresponsible enlightenment, which has now landed me above the border — in the land of friendly faces, poutine and hockey.

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At age 63, singer-songwriter Marty Stuart is regarded as an American musical institution. With a core tone radiating the sounds of country and bluegrass, Stuart careens across the musical spectrum — onstage and in the studio — making additional stops in the realms of rockabilly, blues, folk, roots and soul.

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Monday afternoon. Plattsburgh, New York. Grabbing a few things for my intended hike up near Tupper Lake, in the depths of the Adirondack Mountains, I walked out the door of my parents’ farmhouse just as my mother asked where I was going.

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Sliding into a booth at The One Stop, a storied basement music venue in the heart of downtown Asheville, lead singer Brett O’Connor readies himself to soon take the cavernous stage, standing before a microphone in front of a sea of anonymous faces — all eager to see just what he and his band, Sneezy, have to offer.

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The alarm on the smart phone shook me out of some foggy, odd dream. Par for the course, in terms of the subconscious realm. Lots on the mind lately, whether near or far from my inner thoughts and emotions. Turn off the alarm and emerge from one’s slumber. 

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What’s that feeling the day before a big trip? More so, a road trip? Where you’re mulling over what to pack and what to not forget to do before you leave town — your friends and all things familiar now in the rearview mirror.

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One of the finer experiences of being a bona fide music freak is to witness and appreciate the growth and development of a particular group. You’re not only seeing new layers added to an ensemble, but also the continued trajectory of their artistic and creative pursuits.

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Before March 2022, 28-year-old Zeb Ross didn’t have a social media presence. No Instagram, TikTok or Twitter. He did have a personal Facebook account for a little while, but got rid of it when he was a teenager because, according to Ross, “there’s good and bad with social media, but it can also be a distraction.”

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Stepping out onto the porch late Sunday morning, the air was cool. The first sign of an impending fall, even though there’s exactly one month left of summer, at least according to the calendar. 

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Sitting on a barstool at The Water’n Hole in Waynesville last Monday afternoon, I took a pull from the cold Budweiser bottle and let out a slight sigh. Stories and tales were being exchanged all along the bar counter about where folks were and what they were doing during “The Great Flood of 2021.” 

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Handing an old red bandana back and forth to wipe away the tears emerging from their eyes, Wendy and Chuck Rector sit in two plastic Adirondack chairs on what was once a pristine property — a dream home of sorts, truth be told.

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A pillar of the Americana, country and bluegrass realms, legendary singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale is one of the few artists who has been able to seamlessly drift between three distinct, sacred genres of music.

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Once the paved road turned to dirt, I noticed a small pull-off to the right. Putting the ole Tacoma in park, I emerged from the vehicle and could hear the sounds of passing cars on the Blue Ridge Parkway just above me and through the nearby tree line on this lazy Monday afternoon. 

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It’s Thursday morning. In just about a half-hour, The Sweet Onion restaurant in downtown Waynesville will open for lunch — another rush of locals and visitors alike soon to walk through the door on Miller Street. 

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Tapping my smart phone, it lights up and indicates that it’s now 2:34 a.m. Saturday. Sitting on my tailgate in the depths of the FloydFest camping woods, I’m sharing the vehicular platform with my new friend, June. It’s dark, with the only light coming from an illuminated dirt road on the other side of the tree line and the red glow at the end of the joint June just sparked up.

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Not far from the intersection of N.C. 107/281, just down Shook Cove Road in the heart of Tuckasegee, a large driveway soon appears to the right. On a recent evening, the massive entry gate is wide open to the public, all in anticipation of the evening’s impending performance.

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Maybe it’s the espresso or maybe it’s the rush of blood to my heart from thinking about the faces and places that have led to this point. This week will mark 10 years since I first stepped foot in Waynesville and decided to call Western North Carolina home. 

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With a hot mid-July sun falling behind the mountains last Thursday evening, rock legend Tommy Stinson strapped on his Gibson acoustic guitar and stood behind a microphone on the side lawn of Yonder Community Market in Franklin. 

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It’s 9:58 a.m. Tuesday. Downtown Waynesville. Back at the office, this week’s newspaper is being edited and proofed before it heads to the printer, onward to newsstands around the region tomorrow morning. 

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It was during the third sip of my fourth beer on Monday evening at The Scotsman in downtown Waynesville when my thoughts started drifting to this essay from The New Yorker I’d read several years ago — one which I often return to, usually when the late summer warmth transitions to the early chill of an impending fall and soon-to-be-here winter. 

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With a quick roll start to crank over the engine of the 1916 Traub motorcycle, Matt Walksler hops off the bike and knocks down the kickstand. The 106-year-old machine rumbles, the smell of oil and gasoline soon permeating the air. He turns to the crowd of a couple dozen folks making a semi-circle around him. 

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For someone who rarely comes down from his mountaintop cabin in the backwoods of Western North Carolina, writer David Joy will put aside his eternal quest for solitude and silence for one thing only — France. 

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Tucked in the corner booth at a dive bar in Maggie Valley on Monday afternoon, I slid across the vinyl seating across from the young couple. They’d already ordered a couple drinks, mozzarella sticks and some fried grouper bites. Some Lynyrd Skynyrd song was blasting from the front bar. 

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While studying English at the University of Mary Washington, Christina Bendo decided to, by chance, take an elective one semester — pottery. 

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Sitting down at the old wooden kitchen table in the kitchen of my parents’ farmhouse in rural Upstate New York, all is quiet save for the sounds of the burping coffee pot on the counter and a few birds in the trees outside the nearby screen door.

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Whizzing around a rink on wheels conjures feelings of nostalgia for many people. This favorite American pastime has been enjoyed since 1902 when the first public skating rink opened its doors in Chicago to a whopping crowd of 7,000 patrons. Even before that, rinks were popular in Europe. 

Amid the evening whirlwind of friendly faces and hearty banter at Boojum Brewing in downtown Waynesville, John Duncan sips a craft ale, pauses momentarily, and ponders just what it means to be a conduit for the sacred traditions of Southern Appalachian music in the 21st Century — it’s preservation and, ultimately, it’s perpetuation.

In an effort to preserve and perpetuate the heritage arts and lore of the Great Smoky Mountains and greater Southern Appalachia, the Smoky Mountain Heritage Center has now come to fruition at the Meadowlark Motel in Maggie Valley. 

Growing up on a family farm just outside of Greensboro, Jean Osborne was surrounded by hundreds of cows and thousands of acres — a place where she roamed freely and in her own time on her horse. 

It’s early Thursday afternoon, and the two-story taproom of Mountain Layers Brewing in downtown Bryson City is buzzing. 

September Burton and Taylor Miller opened The Chef & The Baker in Maggie Valley in January 2022. They are a talented couple boasting a multitude of culinary skills. We sat down with September for a Q&A where she shared a little about their lives and the story of their new business. 

Serendipity is a word Makyia Blair has been using a lot lately. “I’m a firm believer in that everything happens for a reason,” Blair said. “And, so far, everything that’s happened has been serendipitous — it’s just worked out that way.”

Although the 5 o’clock dinner rush is still a few hours away, Chef Kanlaya Supachana is zipping around the kitchen of Dalaya, preparing several signature northern Thai dishes with such meticulous and precise care — no small detail overlooked, whether for presentation or palate.

Within its upcoming sophomore album, “American Pastoral,” rising Haywood County-based Americana/rock act The Brothers Gillespie has cultivated a vast, vibrant landscape of sonic and lyrical textures.

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With the Mason-Dixon Line in the rearview mirror, I pushed the accelerator down and proceeded to make my way up Interstate 81 North towards the Pennsylvania/New York border. 

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It was just about four years ago when Jeremiah Chatham decided to put down the hammer and pick up a spatula.

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I first got word about Steph Wilkins while sitting in the kitchen at an old flame’s parents’ house in the small, desolate Adirondack Mountain town of Tupper Lake, New York. 

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Amid a brisk walk down Phillip Fulmer Way towards the Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee, last Tuesday evening, I found myself quite possibly the last soul with ticket in-hand to enter the venue for the Paul McCartney concert.

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The beauty of the blues is that it’s a style of music you grow up alongside, one where you may pick it up early on and, perhaps, easily, but it’ll take a lifetime to journey down the rabbit hole of its intricate nature, endless depths of sonic textures and unlimited melodic possibilities. 

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Last Thursday afternoon. Downtown Waynesville. Rifling through a fresh load of laundry, I was beginning to sift through my clothes to figure out just what I needed for the weekend’s impending road trip to Maryland to cover yet again another music festival. 

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It’s been just about three years since the Cold Mountain Music Festival took place in a large field within earshot of the picturesque Lake Logan. And, for Jeff Whitworth, although the long road back to the stage has been arduous, he’s starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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Standing on the sidewalk, I leaned onto the open garage door window of Sauced in downtown Waynesville. Sunday evening right before the rainstorm rolled in. An array of the younger, service industry crowd finally sitting down to congregate and enjoy a beverage on their own time. 

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At age 51, acclaimed singer-songwriter Tim Bluhm feels like he’s just getting started. The creative well of inspiration remains deep and pure, where his band, The Mother Hips, are continually exploring further and farther down the rabbit hole as this melodic endeavor is now 32 years in the making.

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It’s early Thursday afternoon, and though the Memorial Day Weekend summer kickoff is still a couple weeks away, the two-story taproom of Mountain Layers Brewing in downtown Bryson City is buzzing with locals and visitors alike. 

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Although I had a press pass waiting for me at the box office of the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in Asheville for rock legends Chicago on Sunday evening, I found myself stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 24 East just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

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Feeling a bit deflated lately. It’s funny how one thing just triggers everything else, this domino effect that tumbles and echoes throughout the infinite physical and emotional chambers of your body, mind and soul. And usually (seemingly) out of nowhere. 

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Although the 5 o’clock dinner rush is still a few hours away, Chef Kanlaya Supachana is zipping around the kitchen of Dalaya, preparing several signature northern Thai dishes with such meticulous and precise care — no small detail overlooked, whether for presentation or palate.

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Standing on the massive main stage at the SweetWater 420 music festival in downtown Atlanta last Saturday afternoon, I hoisted the cold pale ale tallboy high into the air and saluted the moment at hand.

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At age 33, singer-songwriter Lukas Nelson is already building a sturdy, bountiful existence as a beloved troubadour, one whose onstage presence radiates genuine calmness, talent and inclusivity — a similar ethos and aura of solidarity established decades ago by his father, the universal musical institution that is Willie Nelson (who turns 89 this Friday). 

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It was somewhere towards the end of Set One of Night Two of The String Cheese Incident’s gig at the sold-out Salvage Station in Asheville on Saturday evening when the jam-band icons went into its new song, “Into the Blue.” 

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