Monday, July 31, 2006

WETS 89.5 FM

Maybe it's just that I get to listen to this NPR station once a month or so when I venture into Southwestern Virginia but I believe it to be the best Public Radio station that I've come across. Living in the Roanoke market, we get our fair share of good programming of Appalachian content but it often strays into other areas of Virginia (cough...Nova, Eastern) that I couldn't care less about (that is to say until politicians want Appalachian money for pet projects (another bitter subject for me)). Through WVTF in Roanoke, we get to listen to Mountain Stage and A Taste of the Blue Ridge on Sundays but that is more or less it for programs that one needn't stay awake until 3am to find quality mountain issues.

This is why I love WETS. Every time I travel through the Johnson City market area I tune into this station to find wonderful programming. For instance, this past Sunday I was able to listen to a program, "Inside Appalachia", which must have been taking notes from this website. Virtually all of the show was dedicated to the opposition of mountaintop removal in search of coal. The show focused on the implications of a perceived cheap fuel, it's acquisition impact in the view of the locals, region, entire country and world. Basically, until someone in the upper level of guv'ment puts their foot down, the mountains will continued to be raped because we Appalachians are the minority in this fight. It will leave our grandchildren only telling stories of hills and hollers in Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. (Also, look up this Sunday's edition of the Bristol Herald Courier. Part One of Two of the "benefits of Strip Mining" was published. Places like vineyards, airports and industrial parks can be built on filled-in valleys. Aren't we so lucky!).

You'll also find bluegrass galore, the Grateful Dead Hour, Roots and Branches and other great programming broadcast from the ETSU campus. If you're ever passing through the Tri-Cities area, be sure to keep your radio on 89.5. You're sure to find programming to your liking.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

National Geographic

In the last few months one of my favorite magazines, National Geographic, has had articles about two of my favorite Appalachian landmarks: Mount Airy in North Carolina and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina. Not only were the articles pretty fair (especially the former of the two), they framed up some really wonderful photos. Well, these articles brought to mind another National Geographic venture (specifically from their Traveler magazine) - the "Discover Appalachia" article, map, and accompanying website (sponsored by every tourist agency in the region, it should be added).

Needless to say, I became intrigued - what other features on the Hills has ol' NG put together? Thus began the "web-searches."

I was pleasantly surpised to find that there were far too many hits for me to link even a tiny fraction of them. So, after about three hours of skimming and rummaging, I came up with this "must-read" list. And you must read them. Or risk failing the quiz. Which I've written for you. Secretly.


Friday, July 28, 2006


[Ani Difranco at Floydfest '05]

Yes, it started today and I'm a slacker for forgetting to mention the music and arts festival prior to this hour but there is still time to attend. The Floydfest line up this year highlights Los Lobos, Donna the Buffalo (one of my favorites), Edie from Ohio (Doing Time at the Lifeguard Stand is a classic!), Tim O'Brien, Drew Emmett and Rory Block plus a ton of other acts. From African rhythm dances to Bluegrass, this field off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan has grown leaps and bounds over the past five years into what it is today. Camping is available and it's within a stones throw of Chateau Morrisette (wine tasting on the Blue Ridge anyone?) Between this festival and next week's Galax Fiddlers Convention, can one fill his appetite for live music?

There is a band playing called "Sun Dried Opossum". What more do you need?

Aside from the festival, the Town of Floyd, Va. and the outlying county is a neat place to visit. Here in the NRV, it is looked at as a commune. Many "hippies" moved to the rural area in the 1960's and never left. Today, it is the arts and crafts center of the Valley. The Jacksonville Center is a huge old dairy barn that has been converted into a gallery and a place in which artists can rent studio space. The Harvest Moon Store and Over the Moon Gallery are also top places to find locally grown food (bison, mmmmm) and crafts. Floyd County has one stop light, no railroads and three two lane highways (route 221, route 8, Blue Ridge Parkway). In the past 7 years, commercial growth has invaded Floyd with a Hardees, Subway, Food Lion and Family Dollar. Other than those stores, every other business is a small family run business, including several town restaurants that host live music on a regular basis.
Not much changed in the past 40 years there and that is how the residents like it.

It is a true mountain oasis.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Mountain Top Removal (MTR) Mining

It's a topic that draws emotion beyond words from some folks, in others the emotion is buried down somewhere beneath the overburden and money. It is a disastrous practice which benefits a small number of corporations at the expense of local communities, the environment, and our mountain future. It is Mountain Top Removal mining and it is the gravest threat to Appalachia since the broad form deed.

Until recently, the fight against MTR has remained largely out of the mainstream media airwaves and thus out of the public eye. Several highly regarded publications and personalities including National Geographic, Vanity Fair, NOW with Bill Moyers, and NPR's Bob Edwards (whose compelling documentary "Exploding Heritage" airs this weekend on XM 133 and NPR!) have recently featured MTR. And there are several excellent websites by folks dedicated to increasing awareness about MTR and how we can hopefully one day stop it.

Links and descriptions are provided below:

  • Appalachian Voices A grassroots organization working with coalfield residents and legislators to end Mountaintop Removal. Lots of facts and resources for learning more about Mountaintop Removal

  • Kentuckians For The Commonwealth - a grassroots activist organization that fights against Mountaintop Removal mining.

  • Economic Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Coal-mining Communities -- an article by Kristin Johannsen

  • Moving Mountains Article in Orion magazine by Erik Reece.
  • Death of a Mountain -- A gut-wrenching account of MTR by Erik Reece

  • Mountain Justice Summer Campaign

  • Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

  • Mountaintop Removal Clearinghouse A blog attempting to bring together the many resources and people working on issues related to mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining in Appalachia.

  • Missing Mountains: We Went to the Mountaintop But it Wasn't There -- 35 Kentucky writers explore mountaintop removal mining.

  • Bringing Down the Mountains: the Impact of Mountaintop Removal Surface Coal Mining on Southern West Virginia Communities, 1970-2004 A Ph.D. dissertation that is the first historical treatment of mountaintop removal coal mining and its various effects on southern West Virginia communities by West Virginia University alumnus Dr. Shirley Stewart Burns.

  • Photographs and Images of MTR:

  • Satellite photographs of Mountaintop Removal sites in Kentucky

  • West Virginia photo gallery

  • Mountaintop Removal Photo Gallery

  • Some government links on MTR:

  • Mountaintop Mining & Valley Fills in Appalachia: Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Final PEIS)

  • US Government Office of Surface Mining page on mountaintop removal

  • And the nasty curmudgeons who practice, advocate for, and promote MTR:

  • Massey Energy Company

  • International Coal Group-The corporation responsible for the Sago disaster

  • Peabody Energy

  • Arch Coal, Inc

  • Friends of Coal - Political Action Committee and advocacy group that defends the positions of the coal mining industry and argues for less government regulation; the site has no page specifically dealing with mountaintop removal

  • Kentucky Coal Education This pro-coal website contains "Fun Stuff" for kids as well as lesson plans and other resources for teachers and the public.

  • West Virginia Coal Association West Virginia's pro-business, pro-coal site. The site contains many statistics on production and employment.
  • Wednesday, July 26, 2006


    If you live, sleep and eat Appalachian culture, you'll love what Appalshop does. Visit and explore their web-site, it's a vault of valuable information.

    "Appalshop is dedicated to the proposition that the world is immeasurably enriched when local cultures garner the resources, including new technologies, to tell their own stories and to listen to the unique stories of others. The creative acts of listening and telling are Appalshop's core competency.

    Appalshop began in 1969 as an economic development project of the War on Poverty. The idea was to recruit a group of Appalachian youth and train them in media skills. The expectation was that the young people would use their new skills as a way to "escape" Appalachia. Instead, the trainees saw their media knowledge as a way to stay in the region. In looking at Appalachia through the eyes of the existing media, they saw little or nothing that reflected the reality they knew; so they began making films to document their own communities. Over the ensuing thirty-six years Appalshop has grown into a nationally recognized media center working in film, video, recordings, literature, theater, presentation of live performance, and radio. The subject matter of this work ranges from documenting traditional arts to exploring history to dealing with the social issues that affect the region today. The underlying philosophy has always been that Appalachian people must tell their own stories and solve their own problems."

    Monday, July 24, 2006

    Appalachian Stereotypes in Art (Part 1)

    "She's liquored up,
    And lacquered down.
    She’s got the biggest hair in town.

    She’s liquored up,
    And lacquered down.
    Me and my baby gonna paint the town.”

    -Southern Culture on the Skids

    Appalachians constantly have to deal with the stereotypes that hang on the region. Stereotypes are indeed rooted in some degree of truth, even if they are unfair. It has been said that those perpetuated about Appalachia are the last form of acceptable cultural bigotry in America. True or not, the image that Appalachia is a backwards place populated with uneducated, tasteless substance abusers is indeed accepted by a great many people.

    Some take these faulty ideas and use them to create art. These artists in various forms highlight and broadcast this widely-accepted and misunderstood imagery of Appalachia. These are likely people who watch The Dancing Outlaw, the documentary film about the exploits of West Virginia Elvis impersonator Jesco White, and don’t laugh at it as many do, or get offended by it as some defenders of Appalachian culture have, but are inspired by it.

    Are these artists doing an injustice to Appalachian culture by perpetuating these stereotypes, or are they merely pointing out the absurdity of these ideas? Does spreading the image of an Appalachia full of dumb, mullet-haired sots that believe in the reality of professional wrestling add anything to our culture? Does this work have any artistic value, or is humor its only significance? In two parts we will take a look at some of these artists and their work, and try and ascertain the value of this style.

    Yee-Haw Industries

    In 1996, Julie Belcher and Kevin Bradley started a printmaking company in a barn in Corbin, Ky. Two years later, having outgrown the barn, the pair moved Yee-Haw Industries to downtown Knoxville, Tenn. Their historic Gay Street space includes a studio, wood-block letterpress and a small storefront where patrons can buy their posters, stationary and other “art-like products.” Yee-Haw’s old-fashioned, block-lettering style is unique and immediately recognizable.

    In its ten years, Yee-Haw has created all sorts of different wares, from wedding invitations to advertisements for nationally-known rock and roll bands and New York fashion houses. Bradley and Belcher’s work has been recognized by their peers, and featured in publications like The New York Times. Lately Yee-Haw has offered its designs on items like t-shirts and handbags.

    While not all of their work fits neatly into this old-fashioned block-letter style (some is highly abstract, with no text), many of the more popular pieces do. Peruse through Yee-Haw’s studio-front store and you will find posters and prints advertising artists like Lucinda Williams, Bill Monroe, Otis Redding, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn. While not all of these musicians are Appalachian per se, they are all in general embraced in the American South, and mostly recognized as Southern artists. Similarly, Bradley and Belcher are not artists that pursue strictly Appalachian themes, but their work certainly has the flavor of the region.

    One way that Yee-Haw displays its Appalachian-ness is through imagery. Many of the figures in their work are meant to represent a specific - usually famous – person, but nearly all of these illustrations amount to a generic mock up more than they are caricatures. What is interesting is that they end up looking like characters borrowed from the telling of any Appalachian folk tale. This is part of the charm of Yee-Haw’s work; Hank Williams doesn’t have to look like Hank Williams for the piece to be effective.

    Take the poster at left featuring Tammy Wynette. Without the bold typeface announcing the character’s identity at the top, no one would recognize this figure for who it represents (first of all, Tammy Wynette was blonde). Still, taken as a whole, the poster is a fitting tribute to the singer and writer of “Stand By Your Man.” It is worth noticing the bun hairdo and bold red lipstick. Notice also the allusion to Wynette’s marriage and decades-long romance with country crooner George Jones. It is represented by a simple heart-shaped arm tattoo with Jones’s nickname written inside: “POSSUM.” Finally consider the red-state patriotism expressed by putting the image of Wynette in front of an American flag. This is a symbol that recurs in Yee-Haw’s work. Overall this piece throws back to several symbols that are often associated, right or wrong, with Appalachia.

    Consider also the poster below advertising a Greeneville rock and roll festival, Cutshaw Nation. While Bradley and Belcher did not give the festival its name, they certainly rolled with the idea when they were commissioned for the poster. Locals would know that the name Cutshaw is often associated with several working-class and notoriously rowdy families in the community. Again, this is certainly a terribly unfair stereotype. Having the Cutshaw surname no more damns a person to a lack of education and runs-in with the law than the name Rockefeller guarantees a life of privileged, blue-blood excess. The festival was so named in order to invoke thoughts of a gathering of people united in the pursuit of loud, drunken tomfoolery.

    Two pieces of imagery stand out here. Most obviously is the muscle car set in the center of the layout, spinning its tires and flinging dust in rapturous hell-raising glory. The oval cutout in the middle of the car’s door panel contains the words, “Bean Barn,” the name of a famous burger joint in Greeneville (other printings of the poster feature the word “Edgemont,” a well-known local gas station where many 13-year olds probably bought their first pack of cigarettes). Along the top of the poster are cutouts of the heads of various former professional wrestlers. Both of these pieces of imagery bring to the fore ideas that fall in with stereotypical Appalachia. For the poster’s purpose, it works perfectly. No doubt the festival promoter’s target audience identified with these symbols.

    Text is also a major part of Yee-Haw’s work. Some of their work features a few words, some quite a lot (still yet, many pieces feature almost only text). Typical Yee-Haw verse is a kind of hillbilly-stream-of-consciousness style.

    In this particularly funny print about Hank Williams, Sr., Yee-Haw artists imitate the language of the stereotypical Appalachian redneck. Notice especially the opening line, which reads perfectly like the start of a know-it-all hurangue: “You think he gave a lumpy shit about the so-called music business hell.” In reading the line, it is easy to imagine it in the voice of self-described hillbilly Billy Bob Thorton, or perhaps in the character of Boss Hog. Also, the penultimate sentence is a particularly interesting mimic of the stereotypical Appalachian: “I believe Hank saw the light brother Amen.” This tribute to the Bible Belted part of Southern Appalachia is a clever ironic twist to the cursing in the opening line.

    This use of stereotypical Appalachian language pairs nicely with the illustrations that lampoon hillbilly white-trash culture. White trash is exactly what Yee-Haw presents so effectively in its art. It may be unfair, but it communicates a sentiment that is in essence true. While Appalachia is not all redneck, Camaro-driving hillbillies and big-haired, easy women that wear too much make-up, these characters certainly do exist to some extent. And while we may think it progressive to understand what is problematic with this simplistic view of the region, the fact that we can see facets of these characters in the people that walk among us all (and no doubt in ourselves) allows us to relate to Yee-Haw’s art, and appreciate it.

    In the next part, we will take a look at a North Carolina band that uses similar imagery in its songs and live shows to entertain thousands in and outside of Appalachia.

    Appalachian Sustainable Development

    During my vacation I headed to the Mountains once again to spend a couple of nights in the woods under the rain. On Saturday I headed down to Abingdon and stopped by the local farmer’s market on Main Street. Here I ran into a pleasant man named Anthony Flaccavento who at the time was busy folding tables and taking down the tents from various booths. Mr Flaccavento is the Executive Director for a wonderful organization and community called Appalachian Sustainable Development. I very quickly became interested in the mission of ASD and the expanding community of organic farmers in the region. ASD is a not-for-profit organization that incorporates 10 counties in the Appalachian districts of Southwest Virginia and Eastern Tennessee in the hope to bring awareness, education, commerce, and hand-to-hand help to the sustainable resources of the region. The mission of ASD is a follows; “We come together as citizens living in and near the watersheds of the Clinch and Powell Rivers to affirm the need for development that is sustainable and beneficial for nature and people, for culture and community. Thus we pledge ourselves to work for this sustainable development:

    *By promoting the values underlying a respect for people, nature, community and culture;
    * By enabling local communities to meet their own needs;
    * By establishing ecologically sensitive businesses;
    * By creating services enhancing human potential; and
    * By utilizing strategies building upon regional strengths”

    ASD is broken into two main focuses. One is called “Appalachian Harvest” which is “a network of certified organic family farmers in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee who have come together to make locally grown, organic produce available in area supermarkets.” The goal of ASD is to help these family farmers work off their land in a way as to support the community, and the environment along with a way of life so crucial and known in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. The members of ASD along with community farmers share in the methods of raising crops and animals while working to strengthen the ties between the farmer, the community, and the land. For many years now, the industrial giants have pushed the small farmer off their land and into a state of desperation of life to make a buck and to squeeze out opposition to their own products. Now with the growing awareness to the benefits of organic farming and the need for the produce of small farmers the ASD encourages workshops and outlets for new and old farmers.

    Appalachian Harvest produce can be found in

    Most Food City stores.

    Richmond, VA

    Elwood Thompson's

    Whole Foods stores in Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and northern Virginia.

    The second focus is “The Sustainable Woods Program” which “operates a wood-processing center that supports local production of environmentally friendly lumber, harvested through the use of ASD's sustainable forestry standards.” In this focus ASD encourages and uses education of proper environmental cutting of forests and woods as a basis of sustainable lumber products and works with the notion that clear cutting is detrimental to our world, culture, and environment and that by replenishing and conserving-as-you-go will keep the forestry industry beneficial for many years to come. This organization recognizes “that the strength of the local economy is closely linked to the long-term health and productivity of our forests. Rather than simply viewing this resource as a short-term commodity, we see our forests as long-term investments. Through proper stewardship, quality forest products can be periodically obtained while at the same time enhancing our natural environment, protecting air and water quality, conserving biodiversity and wildlife, and providing recreational opportunities.

    Please support these individuals because this is such a wonderful and needed organization. Plus, I might need some help on that farm one day. Check out the website and look out for the Appalachian Harvest label in your grocer or farmer’s market.

    All images and info comes from ASD

    The Blue Ridge Parkway

    Today, as I mourned the horror of my blessed laptop going to be with the Deity. . . sigh . . . I sought out the internet's finest entertainment values - I needed undepressing after considering how much a new laptop was going to cost me. Oy.

    Well, Yahoo's The Spark! threw me a serious bone with this entry on, yes, the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    I have many, many memories of the ol' Parkway. Key among them for me? Well, hmm. I remember the region of the Parkway (and its Northern continuance, the Skyline Drive) around Waynesboro, Staunton, and Charlottesville in Virginny. Now, I remember brief jaunts off the interstate there when I was a kid, usually on my way to Eastern Virginia to see my Dad's folk, but it was during my two years at UVA that I came to know the road intimately. I'd jump on the Parkway at any one of a series of points: Roanoke Mountain, Humpback Rocks (where Whittaker and I walked after Mom died), Whetstone Ridge, Peaks of Otter, Indian Gap, and so on. And while I have riden and driven on many of the truly astounding stretches of the North Carolina Parkway, I have to say, nothing contends, to me at least, to the experience of sliding around the long curves of the Virginia Blue Ridge in deep fog, when the whole world is white and green and the concept of a time-of-day seems alien - those rare moments when you really know what the mountains (and the rest of the Earth) looked like before our species came a'conquering. Plus, when the fog comes - not to mention rain, snow, or ice, well, admittedly I enjoy the extra advantage - the flatlanders (God bless 'm) stay home. The Parkway, when it is deserted, well, it really is something of a religious experience - I've worked out more problems and come through more trials by driving down the Parkway while listening to Johnny Cash and considering the Mozi and Taoist philosophy than I care to admit.

    Well, the Spark! site I linked to above is pretty darn good - there are a number of interesting links which, most likely, will give anybody ten, fifteen minutes of pleasure. Minimum. If you have a low attention span. that said, I decided to see what else I could dredge up for you. Here's what I found.

    To start with and All-Important,
    The US National Park Service Blue Ridge Parkway Official Site: Everything you think would be here, including the magical, mystical, exciting list of road closures. Laugh it up - you won't be laughing if you get halfway down the Parkway and find yourself turning around thanks to a snowstorm when its 50 degrees in the valleys.

    The Perry-CastaƱeda Library Map Collection (The University of Texas, Austin): Scroll down just a bit and you'll find scans of the length and breadth of the Parkway in substantial detail. The maps were originally the product of the US National Park Service, so you know that they'll be "dumbed down for idiot who never used a map before BUT detailed enough for someone who has" quality (which is good).

    Blue Ridge Parkway & Skyline Drive
    : Put simply - functional guide with tons of data - of specific interest? Chamber of Commerce-style lists of businesses and events, and, not to mention, a list of free internet access points along the way (which, like a blessing from the Dahli Lama, is nice). Also, for bonus points, there are pages that show-off vintage post-cards and brochures. Neat.

    The Blue Ridge Parkway Association: This one is pretty awesome. First, it has a history of the Linn Cove Viaduct - reason number 4623 why Appalachia is one of the best places to see awe-inspiring, practical architecture. Also it reminded me to use the term "viaduct." Of course, the site has some pretty decent maps, a list of developed areas actually on the Parkway, and an interesting (if unusual) Trip Planner.

    Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway
    : Basically, an organization that helps to maintain the Park. Way. On the other hand, consider the . . .

    Blue Ridge Foundation: Which serves as an organ for raising funds for the Parkway. Additionally, it maintains an archive of families who formerly and currently lived along the roads that now constitute the Parkway.

    The Roanoke Times: :Miles, Mountains, Myths: The Blue Ridge Parkway"
    : Great stories, some truly fantastic multimedia jonx, and yes, a brief discourse on the "myth of the hillbilly". . . and how early Parkway administrators exploited that myth to increase tourist appeal. Really a must see.

    Blue Ridge Parkway Mile-by-Mile Travelogue
    : A seriously detailed list of the Parkway's sights. . . it really has the potential to allow for actual "stopping the car" traveling that isn't based simply on whims. Really cool data.

    "Highways in Harmony": Read this quote:

    The Blue Ridge Parkway (BLRI) was documented in 1996-97 by the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), a division of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. This recording project was cosponsored by the the Federal Highway Administration's Federal Lands Highway Office, through the NPS Park Roads and Parkways Program. The collection of drawings, photographs and historical reports is available through the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress.

    Point made, point taken.

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    the everybodyfields.

    Johnson City, Tenn. has long been a place where a person could, without much trying, find enough Appalachian Music to make content the twangiest of hillbilly hearts. Venues like the Down Home, and festivals like the Blue Plum and, just down the road a piece, the Covered Bridge all welcome world-class Appalachian musicians and bands. Many of those very musical masters make their homes in the gentle foothills of upper East Tennessee. It is safe to say that Johnson City is a bastion of Appalachian music.

    Out of this place comes the everybodyfields, a unique bluegrass/folk outfit that is busily gathering loyal fans with each new stop and record sold. If you have ever wondered where Appalachian music goes when even its most progressive branches start to seem tired and worn out, the everybodyfields is a good place to start looking. The listener enjoys a unique duality in the everybodyfields. With each lingering note, haunting harmony, or crushing crescendo they are both old time, and entirely fresh. Rather than being simply progressive for the sake of modernizing an older sounding music, ala New Grass Revival or Acoustic Syndicate, the everybodyfields maintain the earthy twang that is the most recognizable feature of real Appalachian music. Still they explore themes to which the modern listener can relate personally, all wrapped in a lyrical slideshow of sepia-toned imagery.

    Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews anchor the everybodyfields, trading off vocals and sharing harmonies. Aside from the lead pair, there have been other incarnations of their fabulous line-up, which always features a guitar, bass, dobro or lap steel guitar, sometimes fiddle, and even lately a swinging country electric guitar. The mix is immediately recognizable to the ear as southern Appalachian string country music. It is at times slightly honky-tonk, but it draws listeners in for closer inspection, rather than sending them out in search of booze and fast women. It’s more of a swing than a line dance, more aching melancholic sorrow than cry-in-your-beer lonesome.

    On Wednesday the everybodyfields brought their current line-up through Knoxville in the midst of a summertime crisscrossing of the nation. They made two stops. First, they played a live appearance on WDVX’s Blue Plate Special, a live noontime radio show broadcast from the stage in their Gay Street studio. For seasoned everybodyfielders, it was a fantastic preview of what the group can do with different instruments. For most in Knoxville familiar with the group, word that they had added electric guitar raised eyebrows. Judging from the whoops and hollers at their second show later that night at Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria, most agree the new line-up is fantastic.

    The everybodyfields are an odd gathering of differences. Sam, the chief songwriter for the everybodyfields, is a skinny half-bearded character, complete in awkward Napoleon Dynamite-looking attire. To his left stands Jill, a vision fit for the swankiest debutante ball. The newest members of the group are Megan McCormick on lead and lap steel guitars, an Alaskan that sports a mohawk and adds chilling country tones to Quinn’s ballads. Finally Emma O’Donnell on fiddle very unassumingly brings a powerful punch to each tune, adding volume and depth to their sound.

    There was a time when seeing a performance of the everybodyfields meant adhering to one rule: Be quiet. The group, formerly a trio, played a shy, hushed show that at times was barely audible above clanking beer bottles and the occasional kackle from the audience. That’s no longer the case. The more dynamic line-up has given the everybodyfields a welcome thrust of volume that keeps the entire room focused on the stage, on the four little people up front offering up a big sound.

    The everybodyfields held a full room in the palms of their hands Wednesday night at Barley’s. The hippie girls were swing dancing in front of the stage while the drunk guys hollered and yelped every time the songs mentioned Tennessee. Some tapped their feet and bobbed their heads, while others snapped their fingers, grooved their shoulders and mouthed their favorite lyrics. The opening chords to favorites like “T.V.A.” and “Nubbins” generated rousing applause and beer-swilled singalongs. At certain moments, as if they had the crowd under a spell, the band could silence the audience with a particularly aching harmony that cut swiftly through the room, demanding everyone’s attention. As the chord would drift off and give way to a new progression, the room exploded again in applause.

    Appalachian music, particularly bluegrass, is a musical form that lends itself to improvisation and interpretation. Since its invention halfway through the last century, those that have played it have sought out new directions for bluegrass mountain music. The everybodyfields offer something new for fans of Appalachian music that sounds eerily like the old. Buy their recordings for sure, but see them live and it’s likely the everybodyfields will put a smile on your face so wide it could very well compromise the God-given placement of your ears.

    Update: the everybodyfields are playing in Johnson City tonight (07/22/06), at the legendary Down Home Eclectic Music Room. If you're anywhere near, go! Take cash, no cards.

    Thursday, July 20, 2006

    Exploring Appalachian Language

    The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an article today on the Appalachian dialect. While it does have some interesting historical information, I can imagine the blue-bloods in Richmond and greater Megalopolis, sipping on their double lowfat decaf latte, getting their jollies from quoting some of the people interviewed in this article.

    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    Steppin' Out

    August 4th & 5th, over 170 arts and crafts vendors will descend upon Blacksburg for the town's annual street festival, Steppin' Out. Additionally, the culinary arts are always well represented and music fills the air. And at night, there is just something special about smelling bratwurst, sipping on some fine cold beverage while you and a thousand of your closest friends groove to some live music in the middle of the street under the stars. Check out the music line up for Friday and Saturday.

    The festival has been going strong as in it's current format since 1980, due to an unfortunate act of violence. The following apeared in the Roanoke Times on August 3, 2005:

    The family festival slated to pack downtown with musicians, vendors and visitors this weekend owes its name to two teens: Edward Charles Disney and the boy who murdered him.
    Although a Blacksburg merchant came up with the moniker for Steppin' Out, the two-day event wouldn't exist -- at least in its current form -- but for the events of Aug. 5, 1979.
    In the early hours of that Sunday morning, following Blacksburg's western-themed Deadwood Days celebration, Gary Lee Reed, 15, shot and killed 17-year-old Disney just outside of town.
    It was an early chapter of Reed's criminal career. At 41, under the name of Gary O. Shanks, he's still serving time in Keen Mountain Correctional Center for a slew of other convictions in Montgomery and Pulaski counties.
    It was also a defining moment in the history of Blacksburg, a town that merchants were striving to put on the map as more than just the home of Virginia Tech.
    In 1980, the town canceled any summer festivities at the request of Disney's friends and neighbors. And local merchant Richard Walters had to come up with a new theme, and a new name, to sell downtown on another festival.
    This time, it would be family-friendly fun, without cowboys and six-shooters.
    Walters, who owned a store called Books, Strings and Things where the River Mill restaurant now stands, is one of the few people active in the downtown goings-on of that era who is willing to talk about Deadwood Days.
    Many of his contemporaries seem to pretend the annual western gathering, which took place on the first weekend of August for four years, never took place.
    Steppin' Out was conceived with the hope that people would put on their dancing shoes and go out on the town for a few days, Walters said.
    "And that didn't have the word D-E-A-D and didn't have a cowboy theme," he added.
    Deadwood Days, on the other hand, found its roots in Deadwood, S.D., the mining town where Wild Bill Hickok was killed. Yet the event wasn't meant to encourage violence, said Blacksburg Mayor Roger Hedgepeth.
    "The cowboys weren't envisioned as the shoot-em-up, B-movie type of cowboy," he said.
    Still, the beer was flowing at area bars and the crowds were sometimes rowdy. The Roanoke Times reported that police charged more than 20 people with possession of marijuana and two with possession of cocaine at the 1979 event.
    Steve Miller, owner of local art store Mish Mish, which opened in 1970, remembers that Deadwood Days got a little wild. "People would ride through town on horses with a six-gun on their hips," he said.
    Then, Disney was abducted and killed. His body was found by some boys who were walking on Ellett Road in Montgomery County, according to the medical examiner's report.
    Court records state that Reed wanted to take Disney's car and was considering a drive to California. He and another teen, 16-year-old Roger Dale Pack, were charged with capital murder, abduction and grand larceny.
    Psychological evaluations of Reed taken after the crime determined him capable to stand trial, although they noted that he claimed to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of the killing. One report states that the 15-year-old might have taken as many as 10 Valiums in addition to drinking alcohol before committing the crime.
    Reed was sentenced to 41 years for Disney's murder and served 13 before being paroled in April 1993. Pack was found not guilty of murder but ultimately was sentenced to 20 years for the other crimes.
    Lois and Ralph Disney, Edward's parents, still live in Blacksburg. His mother said recently that her son did not know Reed or Pack.
    Reed's adoptive parents, David and Becky Shanks, did not return calls seeking comment. Shanks declined a request for an interview.
    After her son's death, Lois Disney attended the town council meeting at which members discussed the summer festival. She didn't speak out, she said, but many friends and neighbors did, lobbying for the town to take at least a year to recover.
    There was no event in 1980. When 1981 rolled around, the three-day Deadwood Days became Steppin' Out, a two-day festival featuring merchants and craftspeople.
    "Changing the name was a very important symbolic thing to do," Walters said.
    He and Bev Patterson, then-owner of clothing store Fringe Benefit, were some of the event's early architects. They stood at the center of a coalition of downtown merchants who managed every detail of the festival, from vetting vendor applications to sweeping the streets.
    Twenty-five years later, Fringe Benefit still plays a pivotal part in Steppin' Out. Camped out in the back of the store is Sue Drzal, executive director for the Downtown Merchants of Blacksburg, the event's annual sponsor.
    She's managing this year's 25th anniversary celebration of Steppin' Out, which, as the merchants' largest fundraiser for the year, is expected to bring in 30,000 people.
    Though the event always has given a boost to downtown, Walters said it started not as a money-maker but as a party. The Steppin' Out T-shirts, however, have become a hot commodity, selling enough to provide the merchants' budget for the year.
    Drzal declined to say how much money the downtown merchants have put into this year's festival or how much they expect to get back.
    The 25th annual Steppin' Out will include 170 craft vendors. More than 30 merchants will offer special sales, and about 15 food vendors will be participating.
    That's a huge step up from the early years, when Walters and company operated on a budget of as little as $2,000. In 1981, the merchants expected 40 craftsmen and artists, who each paid $15 a day for a booth, according to Roanoke Times archives.
    Now, Drzal said, a booth costs $135 for two days. And these vendors get a crack at crowds that have grown by about 13,000 people since 1984, according to news reports at the time. Walters, who stopped working with the festival in 1986, thinks Steppin' Out has succeeded because it has never been geared toward students.
    And people needed something to liven up the monotony of the so-called dog days of summer, he said, whether it was about Will Bill Hickok or funky dance bands. Today, downtown would rather celebrate the latter and forget the former.
    Hedgepeth said he still has the summer cowboy hats he used to wear.
    But the reign of the cowboy in downtown Blacksburg ended in bloodshed, and many locals would just as soon pack Deadwood Days away in their closets with old clothing and photos.
    "That certainly put a dark cloud over the whole town," Hedgepeth said.

    Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    Mountain Music School

    Anyone who is a fan of Bluegrass music should check out Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, VA from July 28 through August 4. They will be offering their 2nd Annual Mountain Music School with classes for both beginning strummers and intermediate level players.

    Instruction will be available in old time fiddle, guitar, claw hammer banjo, mandolin, and dulcimer. Registration is pretty reasonable, too; only $150 for five days of classes.

    More at MECC's website.

    John Henry

    You're gonna' want to click on this first.

    There was a man, an steel-driving man, a man named John Henry.

    Hell yes there was.

    Let me tell you about John Henry. Because he is one of the few heros I have who is, was, or will be, in any shape or form, an idealist. That puts him in elite company, it should be noted, with Jesus of Nazareth, Ghandi, Kungfuzi (Confucius to you laowai) , Martin Luther King, Jr., and my Mother, Margaret Gatherum Smith.

    John Henry is one of only a very few people not related to me that I have considered naming a child after - again, putting him in the elite company of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Niccolo Machiavelli, and (and this is the one people laugh hard at) Hieronymus Bosch.

    You know why I love John Henry? I'll tell you why I love John Henry. Because John Henry did what was right. No, that's not all. Apologies. John Henry did what was right and what was hard. Hold the boat - that's still incomplete. John Henry did what was right and what was hard and what no one believed he could do. Not only all that, but he did it at a time when other men and women believed that he was inferior to their persons. In a country where the ruling elite were trying to say that black men and women were inferior to white men and women, this gentleman set out to demonstrate the essential dignity of all of humanity.

    And he died.

    He died and the steamdriver survived to be used again. And ultimately, well, that automated steamdriver still replaced all of John Henry's peers on the job. Despite his sacrifice. Yessir, John Henry was a simple of inefficiency, of ineconomy, of unreasonable and unwise Luddite romanticism.

    John Henry was a damned samurai, riding across the fields of Japan, sword high while automatic rifles and exploding shells tore his comrades and, ultimately, himself apart.

    Now, don't take me wrong. I am definitely not a Luddite, nor do I feel that the essential qualities of humanity can or should be justified in terms of our relationship with any machine, nor any other species, nor especially in relation to the Deity. We are us and our value is intrinsic - I feel no need to prove it by being better than anything in nature or by being publicly close to God or by slowing down the pace of human innovation. But when we devise and scheme and create new technologies and theories and we fail to stop and consider the effects of these technologies and theories on the real people who compose our polities, societies, and economies, especially without preparing both psychological and practical cushioning, we have reactionism, violent rejection of otherwise right and proper advances. Communism, fascism, and religious fundamentalism (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or otherwise), to name a few, are all the products of human beings not only feeling practically displaced, but furthermore feeling essentially displaced, as if by knowing their place in a universe billions of years old, filled with trillions of objects, on a planet overwhelmed by billions of humans, they are less valuable.

    John Henry knew that was bull. Sure, he wasn't a scientist or a philosopher, but he did know that he was a human being - a free human being - and there is an intrinsic value in that, no matter how wildly advanced our science, engineering, or philosophy become.

    The difference between John Henry and that samurai I mentioned above, as well as many, though by no means all, communists and socialists and radical fundamentalists is this - John Henry never hurt or threatened to hurt other people. John Henry never, ever believed he had the right to sacrifice anyone except himself.

    I assume he felt the same about the sacrifice of other people's freedoms, by and large because he knew the costs of that path as well.


    Well, I've finished my little emotional outpouring. I know I normally write more analytical pieces here, but for John Henry, well, perhaps only sermonizing would do. If you don't know the story of John Henry, well, I have a few links for you. First off, ibiblio, a kind of internet-based public library and database, posts this site in which the debate between West Virginia's traditional claim to John is compared to Alabama's claim. I'm not a historian, so I won't formally weigh-in on this one, but I will say this - whether or not John Henry lived in West Virginia, I firmly believe his ghost walks there now. So butter your bread with that.

    Oh, and for the record - he lived in Summers County, West Virginia. Dammit.

    That said, apparently somebody over at NPR loves and admires ol' John the same way I do - look at this page. Chock full! Really, seriously, it'll take you awhile. Be prepared.

    And, for the comic book guys out there, dig on this article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch . . . I don't know if the ol' Prof is right, but I do know that later comics artists, well, they were inspired.

    Also, if you're wondering, yeah, many radical organizations hold up John Henry as a model of the dangers modernization is presenting to the average man in the form of objectification and alienation and so on, and they're not wrong to do so. But if they advocate first-use-of-force violence against others, well, I hope they choke on their slogans. There it is.

    PS - That damn fine music I recommend early on in this tirade is by a fellow named John Cephas - I suggest you read the relevant entry on the C.A.R.T.S. site.

    Friday, July 14, 2006

    A History of a People

    DAVID CROCKETT (1786-1836)

    *(The next post is somewhat extensive and still very much undefined because of its immense complexity and lack of factual information but please stay with me as I try to cover the topic.)
    This is a long post but very important.

    A Hidden Race of People in the Appalachian Mountains.

    One of the last times I went home to the parents house I turned into the driveway and my mother came running out like usual to greet me. This time her greeting was somewhat different. No “hi” or “hello,” all she said to me before she walked back into the house was “Vaughn, you are part Indian.” For some reason I have heard this a couple of times from members of my extended family but no deeper discussion continues. This has always perplexed me because what I know is that I am Irish. I have traced my family back to Ireland, England, and then America. My family names are Garland, Holley, Crabtree, and Gourtney. Sometimes I think I would have been a cool tree in another life (maybe a shrub.) But the whispers of my family being part American Indian is somewhat never discussed. It was not until recently after speaking with Eric and others, along with doing some of my own research have I stumbled upon the Melungeons. Now, things are making more sense to my family’s statements. But I am still not sure. I guess that is the point.

    The Melungeons are now (maybe) considered of as the first group of early settlers to the Americas from Spain, Turkey, Portugal, Greece, and several other Mediterranean countries. The main influence, which brought these groups to America, were the Spanish. Yet, what we know of them is still a mystery for the most part. The Melungeons were very private individuals and for hundreds of years their ancestry was shunned and never really talked about. The Melungeons headed for the hills and mountain valleys of the Appalachian landscape and kept a very secluded life. They lived off the land like that of the Indians and continue to prosper under the identity of other American groups.

    What history tells us now is that America was discovered and colonized by the English settler but in fact and what we are now finding out and even allowing is that the Spanish were the first footpaths across our lands. “The Spanish were colonizing the Southeast before the English got there. The most northwestern fort of Spanish Florida was near Knoxville, Tennessee. The coast of Georgia and both North and South Carolina had several Spanish settlements. Santa Elena (Parris Island) was the largest and is being excavated at the present time. Most of the colonial population was not ethnically Spanish, but was drawn from other groups. Marrano Jews (Jews pretending to be Catholic in order to escape persecution), Moriscos (Moorish Arabs and Berbers who joined the Catholic Church to avoid the Inquisition), Portuguese (Portugal was ruled by Spain for a while at this time), and Catalans from Minorca (an island in the Mediterranean) were all important elements in the colonists. Since many of the Jews and Moors were from Portugal, they were frequently called Portuguese.” (Link) These new Americans were of dark skin because of their native lands and so were regarded at the time as free blacks in America. But as these settlers moved from the lowlands into the highlands of America they integrated with the American Indian and the Irish. Most of the time the Melungeon chose Irish names in order to separate themselves from the conflict between freedom and slavery in the segregated south where they were treated as “mongrels’ or “half-breeds” and thus assumed what was considered proper names to fit into the free community. But I must make it very apparent that these settlers also intermixed with the African American community and so a crossing of several groups in a family started to rise. One of the initial intermixing of the Mediterranean settlers came with the influence of Indian cultures and tribes. For many reasons and one documented at the time the Indians began to die off with the arrival of the English sicknesses. The Indians started to intermix with the English and the Melungeons for the basic reason that their children would have a stronger immunity to a new array of diseases brought to America by the arrival of the Europeans. The original term “Melungeon” did not appear until the group reached the Appalachian Mountains, but were referred to as they called themselves, the “Portughese.” Melungeon research directed by Dr Kennedy describes that when Europeans came into the region they noticed that the Melungeons had already farmed the most fertile land in the valleys and so the Europeans stated to push the Melungeons off their land and into the high mountain ridges where Melungeons live to this day.

    The American Indian influence with the Melungeons was very important and after further research within language we know that some Indian words come from Mediterranean derivatives. “The principal groups of Indians contributing to the Melungeons were the Siouans of the Virginian and North Carolina Piedmont (mainly the Saponi or Eastern Blackfoot), the Algonquians of the Coastal region of these states (Powhatan, Pamunkey, Nansemond, etc.), and the Appalachian tribes, Southern Iroquoian (Cherokee and Tuskarora) and the Yuchi (Yuchean language is related to the Siouan languages, but not considered close enough to actually be called Siouan). The Indians of the Coastal and Piedmont regions were the mixed groups that formed the original mixed race groups that became the Melungeons and several remnant groups, which still identify themselves as Indian. Appalachian Indians were less mixed with Black and White, but they did not become involved with the Melungeons until the Melungeons had already formed and moved from the Virginia - North Carolina border in the Piedmont to the Appalachia area. The Cherokee particularly inter-married with the Graysville Melungeons of the Tennessee River Valley. The Saponi are probably the most important Indian element in most groups of Melungeons. As they broke up and scattered, they were generally known as Blackfoot. That is the name used for them in the Melungeons of Appalachia, the Cherokee and in the Black community. There are many Blackfoot descendants in all three of these groups… Melungeons today may identify themselves as Mestee (triracial or multiracial), White, Black or Indian. They may be found anywhere, but many are still in the states of NC, VA, TN, KY, OH, WV, AL, LA, TX, AR, MO and FL. The Melungeons formed in the Piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina, not in the Appalachian Mountains, and three of the main groups never were in the Appalachians, the original Goinstown group, the Graysville Melungeons and the Person County group, so those definitions that describe the Melungeons as Appalachian are wrong. Of course, many Melungeons did and do live in the Appalachians, and that is where the word Melungeon was popularized. Of the eleven separate groups identified as Melungeon, five are in the Appalachians and six are not.” (Link )

    Until very recently and since the arrival of these Mediterranean settlers the Melungeons sought secrets in their identity. They were forced to be silent because of racial segregation but in the mountains where secrets are common place these extraordinary individuals have lived off the land like that of the farmers, they have become travelers, and Indians, and have continued to be a people of a quiet strength. Their story is very important to us and to the history of our nation.

    DAVID CROCKETT (1786-1836) came from a Tennessee French Huguenot family originally from Bordeaux in southern France (Crocquetaine). The family evidently before that were Spanish-Portuguese Jews. He exhibited good looks typical of Sephardic Jews as well as an acid wit in storytelling and is remembered as the father of political public relations in American history. Crockett identified strongly with the Cherokee Indians and opposed their removal both in Congress and in virulent pamphleteering campaigns.

    Image above from

    Monday, July 10, 2006

    Moonrise on the Cove

    First off, sorry about the somewhat unnannounced hiatus from blogging. I spent the month of May in Germany, and have been dividing my time now between work and school, a quality combination.

    On a recent trip into the mountains with my dad, we decided to make the drive through Cades Cove in the park. In order to try and defeat the crowds of tourists that normally plague this beautiful area, we decided to try to make it in just before the gates closed 30 minutes after sunset. It was a good idea. We made it to the back of the loop and decided to take an 'unimproved' dirt road (unimproved is an was a normal gravel road) over the ridge and out of the park, and in the entire journey saw a total of 2 cars and 1 hiker. I've been in and out of the park hundreds of times and I've never seen it quite that deserted, not that it was a bad thing. It was very nice to be able to enjoy one of the most naturally beautiful areas of the mountains without the constant annoyance of the minivan loads of urbanized individuals stopping and glaring at every one of the hundreds of deer in the cove that they might happen to see, or having an individual attempting to prove Darwinism by walking between a bear and her cub. Watching the the moon rise over the mountains and fields was an experience not easily forgotten. It seemed like another era, driving down through the cove in a Jeep without seeing another individual.

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    A Gem of the Mountains

    I had the privilege of listening to and watching Doc Watson play for a packed house at Appalachian State University this past Saturday night. If you have never attended one of his concerts, make it a point to see him before this legend becomes immortalized in history. At 83 years old, Watson plays and sings with the enthusiasm of a twenty-something. Starting at 8pm, a time when most people his age would be popping out their teeth and bunking down for the night, Watson played for nearly an hour and a half. Even after the ninety minutes, the crowd was left wanting more but thrilled to have shared an evening with a son of Northwestern North Carolina.

    Watson was helped onto the stage by his grandson, Merle's son, Richard. Richard Watson is one mean blues picker who traded off lead and rhythm responsibilities with his grandfather for one third of the show. The two played a mix of traditional bluegrass and old-timey blues. The highlight of this set was when Doc started talking about his wife, Rosa Lee, who he married in 1947 and who was also in the audience. After her introduction, he dedicated the next song to her, Shady Grove. The solos he played during each verse break were amazing. I don't see how a man's fingers can flow so smoothly and fast over the frets and strings much less a man of his age.

    Richard then exited the stage to give Doc some intimate time with the audience. He made a nice comment about Richard as he was leaving the stage that showed the character of the man, "Richard isn't just my grandson but he's also my friend." Most of the songs played during this third of the concert were traditional songs of Watson's. A few foot-stomping bluegrass songs but mainly ballads and blues. After this solo stint, Watson invited guitarist Jack Lawrence to join him on stage. Lawrence's picking is quite amazing in itself. Watson generally did not leave the low end of the neck for his picking where as Lawrence used the high upper octaves to harmonize with Watson's playing. What was even more amazing were the dual solos that the two played during their set, both playing in unison but one playing a third or fifth step above the other.

    For me, seeing Doc Watson is like hanging with your grandfather on a back porch on a steamy, lazy Summer evening; with Grandpa pulling out his guitar and casually mesmerizing you with his rich playing and soulfully warm baritone. His concert showed me is that in many aspects of life, age is indeed relative and music is timeless.


    If you were to dissect what I am saying and what the community of bloggers on Hillbilly Savants refer to in the Appalachian region of Southwest Virginia I feel that everything comes down to closeness. Closeness to what we feel, believe, develop, grow, and live. As I have said before the mountains grow warmth in the people there. I think in some way it has to do with the valley below the peaks of rolling greens. The valley is a meeting place. You come down from the mountain to go into town, to socialize, and to pick up goods. You go back up the mountain to your home. I feel the journey back and forth is very much metaphorical---the Sisyphus cycle. “The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor” (Albert Camus). Here in this movement between top and bottom we have a passage between ourselves, essential and not hopeless. We live as travelers, like what the ancient Chinese ink paintings tried to depict, a journey from the present state in the valley to the mountain top, the point of enlightenment. For me, and I think many of my peers in that valley of Southwest Virginia, the mountaintop is a symbol of peace. Yet that peace can be achieved alone or with all involved. As I stood around beer and laughter the other night our fortunate awareness to that life came up in conversations over and over. Closeness toward each others as travelers, hikers, sightseers, and companions is what brought us together. We could share in something, in that feeling of belonging. When you hear about the life in the mountain there is something that is always left out or miss-understood. You hear about the community but not about how involved the community is to the earth. The mountain man or woman is not only part of that earth, but believes in that dirt with sheer passion like religion. Once again the important part is the road. The passage can become metaphorical or real but for the people the metaphor is reality and vice versa. There is no distinction between the two.

    I am posting this to both Our Goblin Market and Hillbilly Savants

    Image by Huang Kung-Wang
    "Dwelling in the Fu Ch'un Mountains (Detail)
    from VCU Slide Library Collection

    Immigrant Roots

    This is an entry from my personal blog that I wanted to repost here. The Fourth of July holiday got me thinking about all that is good and not so good about our country, including the immigration debate. Just some beans and cornbread for thought from this hillbilly:

    Like most every American, the people of the Appalachian Mountains are descended from immigrants of other countries. One of the predominant ancestries of the Appalachians is of Scottish and Irish decent, also called the Scotch-Irish. They came to America searching for a better life. They fell in love with the mountains and they began to settle.

    Those immigrant roots have been on my mind a considerable amount lately because of the contentious issue immigration has become in America. I often wonder what migrating to North America was like in the 1700's and 1800's, when a good number of my ancestors came here. Were they welcomed to the New World, given the oft romanticized endless opportunites about which most immigrants dreamt? Or were they greeted with inhospitable suspicion, like a non-conforming, criminal subclass?

    The Irish had it especially tough. Stories about their plight in New York and Boston in the late 1800s abound, which is why many eventually found the dangerous but decent paying jobs of the mines. Pulling up roots and moving to a foreign place, with a foreign accent and a foreign culture must have been scary, but they were unwaivering in their resolve. It is even tougher for immigrants to the U.S. today as it was for our ancestors. However, their resolve is just as tough as past immigrants, if not tougher.

    Which is why we, as a nation of immigrants, have the obligation to find a way for todays immigrants to come here without having to cross the border illegally and be treated like criminals for only wanting what the rest of our immigrant ancestors wanted. Increasing border patrols and utilizing National Guard troops might serve as a day to day fix, but the larger problem remains unsolved. Granting amnesty is not the answer either. Immigrants need an expedited process to apply for legal citizenship. The current process is lengthy, cumbersome, and only encourages illegal border crossings. Our immigration policy desperately needs an overhaul.

    America has been the destination of immigrants since 1492. We are a nation of immigrants today. We will continue to be a nation of immigrants in the future. And as immigrants, we must find the resolve to honor that heritage each of us shares. We cannot expect nor accept anything less.

    Monday, July 03, 2006


    I was flipping around on the tube the other night and came across a real gem. Maryland Public Television was rebroadcasting a documentary created by Nashville Public Television called "THE APPALACHIANS". My thumb immediately and instinctively went numb, unable to click any further.

    The three hour series offers a really nice overview of the Appalachian region and its history from Native American to modern times. It takes you through Appalachian geography, culture, music, religion, economics, and activism; all of which are presented in a historical context with a backdrop of mountains and music which makes it move along nicely. It also features interviews with Loretta Lynn, Rosanne and an elderly Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart, and Ricky Skaggs.

    For anyone with an interest in Appalachia, I suggest this documentary. It is on DVD with an accompanying book and CD available. But being just over a year old, it will more than likely be on your local PBS station in the near future.

    Read more about "The Appalachians" from Nashville Public Television here, or view a trailer to "The Appalachians" both in Windows Media Player and Quicktime.