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Stories about Modern Appalachian Life

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Many of these Appalachian musicians were punk before punk was even a thing.
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Tyler Childers and Silas House craft a heartbreaking love story about a gay Appalachian couple in the 1950s.
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At first, Patty Loveless had trouble getting into the song that might end up being remembered as her signature tune — "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive." She first released it back in 2001 on "Mountain Soul," a deeply personal album of bluegrass and old time tunes that sent her career in a new direction while snagging her a Grammy nomination
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While Appalachia is best know for bluegrass, it's also given birth to artists like Nina Simone, who blended genres and drew from her wide-ranging life experiences to create her own remarkable sound and this inspiring song.
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Austin Sawyer, the frontman for Drumming Bird and Chattanooga native, deconstructs Southern myths in this new tune.
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Blue Ridge Parkway near Linville, North Carolina. Photo by Ashley Knedler on Unsplash.

Growing up, I never really appreciated the Blue Ridge Parkway. I mean, I drove on it and hiked alongside it. I knew it had beautiful views. But I somehow didn't grasp what it would be like to live without it.

It's like that with many things I suppose — family, health, home — you only notice how much they mean when they're gone.

With the Blue Ridge, that moment came when I moved away from Roanoke, Virginia for college and was suddenly living on flat land. I could no longer look in any direction and see undulating ridges. I could no longer drive fifteen minutes and stand atop a mountain with sweeping vistas.

I think back to when I was that homesick teen and know this song would have brought me to tears. Written and performed by Boone, North Carolina artist Shay Martin Lovette, it’s bound to tug heartstrings for fans of this iconic road.

To hear more of Shay's work, check out his stirring new album Scatter & Gather (Spotify|Apple), which was mostly written from a rural, creekside cabin.

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Rarely is good relationship advice set to music, but Chattanooga-based The Foothills has pulled it off. Drawing from bluegrass and country traditions, this acoustic trio captures the sorrowful, low down feeling of eating crow.

"It is a song about confronting pride," said Paul Hadfield, the band's lead vocalist. "The protagonist of this story leads listeners through a series of scenes in their life culminating in the realization that their need to be right has only resulted in loss."

For anyone who has trouble saying "I'm sorry," that can be a true revelation. Funny enough, it also makes for a beautiful tune.
If you want to hear more from The Foothills, check out their album Shadow of the Mountain (Spotify), which contains this song, and their latest release Rest Easy (Spotify|Apple|Amazon).


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If you told me a week ago that this classic, sing-along anthem from John Denver could ever be retooled into something creepy, I'd have said you're nuttier than a Payday bar. But that was before I heard this haunting rendition.

Indie country artist Brandi Carlile slowed the tune to a crawl and gave her voice a hint of echo for this new version, which was shot for an equally creepy television series. Images from CBS's "Clarice" are used in this video. (Yes, as in, "Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming.") While the TV tie-in makes it feel a bit commercial, I personally don't think it detracts from the song's power.


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Photo by OfficialBRRR on Flickr.

“We were not only pickers together, we were friends. Losing Tony was like losing a brother.”

— Band Leader J.D. Crowe

When guitarist Tony Rice died on Christmas Day in his North Carolina home, bluegrass music bade farewell to a second-generation star who expressed his music in modern terms and embraced bluegrass’s potential to both blend with and influence other genres.

“The music business has lost a true innovator,” says Jimmy Gaudreau, who played mandolin with Rice in the Eighties and Nineties. “As far as the guitar players of today, they name Tony Rice as the number one influence.”

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Story by Michael Streissguth
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Jake Blount is turning heads. With a carefully researched catalog of old time tunes written or popularized by Black and indigenous people,  this Washington, D.C. native is bringing new attention to often overlooked mountain music.

Given that, it would have been easy for his debut album, "Spider Tales" (Apple | Amazon) to simply be a musical ethnography. That alone would have made it important. But the album is also good. With first rate playing, complex musical arrangements, and Blount's often mournful voice, the album shot to the number two spot on Billboard's bluegrass albums chart.

It includes the below tune, which Blount learned from an old recording of Manco Sneed, whose father was half-Cherokee. From the time he was a teen, Sneed's family lived in the Qualla Boundary, the tribal land of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. This limited his exposure to other musicians, and some think that led to Sneed's intricate style of fiddling, which is echoed in Blount's beautiful rendition.

Here he plays with Tatiana Hargreaves, a young fiddler who, like Blount, represents a new generation of traditional musicians.

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Guest writer Dave Tabler fixes his sights on this month's unusual double full moons and explores the meaning of our nearest astrological neighbor in Bill Monroe's legendary tune. Dave created the popular blog Appalachian History and formerly moderated Appalachian Americans, a Facebook group with nearly 300,000 members.


Although it is often associated with the supernatural, a full moon on Halloween is a rare occurrence. It only happens every 18 to 19 years. Interestingly enough, the next one will be on Halloween 2020. This coming October, there will be two full moons: one on Thursday, October 1st and the second on Saturday, October 31st. Since the full moon falling on Halloween will be the second of the month, it will be a blue moon.


Bluegrass titan Bill Monroe wrote the song he’s most known for right on the cusp of an expansion in public understanding of just what a blue moon is. In the 1940’s, astrologists and meteorologists started using the term to describe when the moon takes on a blue coloration. This happens when small atmospheric particles interfere with light, causing a bluish tint to the moon’s appearance from earth. This only occurs “once in a blue moon.”


So was it the coloration of the moon that reminded the singer of how sad and blue he felt, or was he comparing the inconstancy of a blue moon—meaning the second full moon in a month—to his lover’s inconstancy? Maybe both.
Kentucky’s General Assembly offered no answer to this question when, in 1989, it passed KRS 2.100, designating the song “Blue Moon of Kentucky” as the official state bluegrass song.

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Returning to Western North Carolina, singer and songwriter Sarah Siskind found herself inspired in ways she never expected. “What started as a move to live a simpler life and raise my family among the mountains," she said, "soon became a full-blown discovery of self beyond being a musician, but a woman, a mother, and a human.”

After years in Nashville, where she performed her own music and wrote songs for luminaries like Alison Krauss, Randy Travis, and the indie band Bon Iver, she saw her homeland with fresh eyes. That new perspective was channeled into Siskind's latest album, Modern Appalachia (iTunes|Amazon).

She hopes its unique title serves as a question as much as a name. "What does Appalachia mean in current times?," her bio asks. Is "Appalachia" just a word or a living, ever-evolving way of life?

With "In the Mountains," the below tune, Siskind cuts through preconceptions about the region with sharp riffs from her electric guitar. At the same time, her soaring vocals tie us to our old time roots.

"When writing this song," she recently told Broadway World, "I let go of all thought process and just channeled what I felt being back in an environment where mountains, water, and nature-based quality of life are paramount. This song has become an anthem for me, for my return to the [mountains], my faith, and my need to discover who I am as a complete human."

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