Tag Archives: Michael M. Barrick

The Deceived ‘god’

A poem dedicated to Dominion Resources

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This poem is dedicated to Dominion Resources. Originally published in January 2015, I am re-publishing it today in light of recent news stories about Dominion, including this one we published yesterday and this one

Dominion they call themselves.
And they believe it.
They have deceived themselves,
intoxicated by false power.
They are a god – of greed.

Though their foundation is illusory,
disregarding all in life that is of true value,
it sustains them for they esteem only profit.

Their minions are experts in the law.
Like Sanhedrin, they use the letter
to crush the spirit.

What is theirs is not enough;
what is yours is in their sights.
What is yours is negotiable –
on their terms.

What is sacred to you
they curse.

The old home place;
the sunrise over the ridge;
the moon hanging in the
deep blues of night.
The stars which pre-date
their temporal, mortal
white-washed tombs,
they don’t even glimpse.

The only green they see
is on currency.

The ancient rocks,
which for generations
have served as sentinels,
as comforting reminders of
a shared heritage,
they plow away
with their machines.

A walk in the woods,
which for you is a moment
of holiness – an opportunity
to pass along wisdom
to your grandchildren –
is to them merely a survey.

The narrow, crooked paths
made through time by
your ancestors
will not be enjoyed by
your descendants.

They shall cross them
with a straight, 42-inch
cylinder of pipe,
indifferent to the heritage
they disrupt and destroy.

AJ and Grandpa 9

Above, the author enjoys a walk in the woods with his granddaughter in Lewis County, W.Va. Below is Shenandoah Mountain in Virginia. Photo by Brad Striebig. Though Dominion did not create these streams, woods, ridges and mountains, it will not hesitate to claim it all as its own and destroy it. Unless, we dare to speak out.

Shenandoah Mountain

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014 – 2017

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Applying Scripture in Our Communities

It may not mean what you think

By Alan M. Eddington and Michael M. Barrick

Biblee

Biblical literalists wishing to impose their will upon the rest of Americans are faced with a conundrum – the words that are in the Bible.

So, before you start waving the Christian flag and demand that we become a “Christian nation,” consider this passage from Acts 2: 42-45:

They devoted themselves
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone,
and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need.

How many U.S. Christians do you know who are willing to live communally? How many are willing to sell their stuff and divide the proceeds to those most in need?

Exactly. Applying scripture in our communities may not mean what you think.

So, think critically. Think for yourself.

Discover your soul and embrace its majesty. Then, use your critical thinking to guide your heart to a better world, a better neighbor, and a better you.

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017. The Appalachian Chronicle is a sister publication of The Lenoir Voice.

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Now I’m Seriously Peeved at Donald Trump

Mess with the Muppets, and you mess with my family

By Michael M. Barrick

Donald Trump’s determination to build the military-industrial complex and a stupid wall (that just ain’t gonna happen folks!) is so important that he must kill off Big Bird. Public Broadcasting, which is the home of “Sesame Street,” Big Bird, Kermit and their many ethnically and racially diverse family and friends, is targeted for elimination from the federal budget.

So, I’m seriously peeved. You mess with the Muppets and you mess with my family.

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And you don’t mess with my family ‘cause I’m from Wild, Wonderful, Almost Heaven, West-by-God-Virginia, and we are obligated to stand up for our children – and their friends.

Well, when our children were growing up, the Muppets were their only friends on television. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, we were poor; rumors of us having dozens of Chock full o’ Nuts cans buried in the back yard full of cash were simply unfounded. Our children discovered that to their disappointment only after they and their friends had spent a day digging up our yard to no avail, other than to aerate it for me. And, secondly, if we could have afforded cable, we wouldn’t have let them watch the crap on it anyway.

You see, the theory was that the airwaves belonged to the public. So, we could get a PBS station in rural, central West Virginia – and later, more urban North Carolina. Wherever we took our children to live or visit, we knew that this sound programming, full of nothing more than lovely parables about living with one another in harmony – and of course many great lessons in the humanities and sciences – was available.

Sesame_Street_sign.svgAnyway, our children – now 34 and 32 – managed to get through their early childhood by watching only – and learning from – the Muppets and the many lessons they learned on Sesame Street.

We did not miss a Muppet movie. It was from watching “The Muppets Take Manhattan” that we learned from the wise owner of a restaurant that “Peoples is peoples.” That simply profound statement of tolerance, understanding and ultimately acceptance is a critical life lesson, and that phrase – in the context of the plot – could be understood by a child.

Unfortunately, it isn’t understood by Donald Trump. I believe he suffers from arrested development and probably has the outlook of an eight-year-old that never benefited from watching “Sesame Street.”

So, as I said earlier, I’m seriously peeved. Unfortunately, short of writing letters and holding up signs in protest, the best chance we had to prevent this has passed. And for that, we can thank the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and in particular Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who as DNC chair last year, did all she could to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination. Since she was quite competent at her job, she and her compatriots among the Democratic Party’s shrinking (but wealthy) elite have ironically caused us to find ourselves at this point. For those thinking it’s unfair to pick on the DNC, I will simply note that it is that defensive, head-in-the-sand attitude that will ensure defeat in the next election cycle. By the way, I’m not a Democrat, so I’m not advocating; just stating the obvious.

So now, the Republicans are in control, doing exactly what they said they would do.

Pbs-logo-800How, then, do we respond? We do our best. We let our voices be heard in Washington. We can support our local PBS and/or NPR stations.

As you consider that and other options, a brief story from about 30 years ago will illustrate the importance of the Muppets to our family – and, truly, to our nation.

We were at the mall. That itself was rare. There was a store there that had something I needed, but I don’t recall the details. But what happened with my wife, Sarah, and our children is quite memorable.

You see, Sarah has a rare ability to mimic perfectly the voices of the Muppets. They told bed-time stories at our home. They had “conversations” with the children through the stuffed versions we had at the house (I still have a small 6”-tall figurine of Kermit as a journalist – in trench coat, pen and pad).

In any event, while waiting on me, they were just inside the entrance to a department store where there was a large Muppet display. To occupy their time, Sarah started bringing the Muppets to life through her various voices. In time, an audience had gathered, enjoying the show as much as Lindsay and Allyn, who gazed at their “talking” Muppet friends, enraptured.

When the time to rendezvous came, Sarah told the children it was time to go. They protested. “We don’t want to go! We want to keep talking to Big Bird!” Sarah insisted. “No, we must go. It’s time to meet Daddy.”

Their response was classic. “We don’t want to meet Daddy. He’s a meanie!” I still wonder what the others watching this show thought. Nevertheless, I dispute that assertion and claim that they didn’t quite know how to express their objections appropriately. (Though they keep saying that).

BigbirdnewversionI learned something very important that day. Do not get between Big Bird and my children. I had senselessly forgotten that the Muppets were part of our family. I learned my lesson that day though, and will always remember it.

So, Republicans, look out. Sesame Street might go through rough times for the next few years because of you. It might come to resemble Detroit even. In time, though, the family and friends of the Muppets will have the day. Why? Because we yearn for community far more than we desire war.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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NC-based Sycamore Bones Just Keeps Creating

Trio bringing their own brand of music to annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is another installment in a series about the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase – ‘Handmade & Heartfelt.’ A list of previous articles is below. The Showcase is scheduled for Sat., March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center.

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Sycamore Bones on stage. From left, Abigail Taylor, Cory Kinal and Andrew Massey.

LENOIR, N.C. – A few years ago, Andrew Massey was desperate. He wanted someone to play music with. His wife, Anna, was encouraging him to find more outlets to play the music he was beginning to write and sing. Finding a partner, though, isn’t easy. Especially when one is new to the community; breaking into a tight-knit musical scene isn’t always easy.

So, he put an ad on Craig’s List. Cory Kinal saw it, reached out to Andrew, and they’ve been playing together since. In short, even though Massey jokes the arrangement is “no strings attached,” he acknowledged, “We started jamming together and I went and bought an upright bass in South Carolina so we could start an acoustic band.”

That they did. Through a series of discussions, they settled on the name Sycamore Bones. In order to focus on those acoustic roots, the band recently added Abigail Taylor.

Massey, a vocalist who plays bass, is straightforward in his description of the band’s focus. “I would describe us as an Americana band, which is just a fancy way of saying that we take our style from a lot of different types of American roots music – Country, Blues, Bluegrass, Rock & Roll. We even like to believe there is a little bit of Punk rock in there somewhere.”

Kinal’s description is a bit more nuanced. “It’s hard to say what kind of music we play, we combine so many genres that its easiest to just call it ‘Americana,’ but I feel like that’s such a broad term. We play folk, Alt-country, bluegrassy, foot-stompin’ old-time. We play a little of everything everyone would like – or we hope they do.”

Kinal plays guitar, sings lead and, in his words, “sings sweet, sweet harmonies to the beautiful voices of my fellow bones.”

Kinal added that the band truly is hard to define. “It’s hard to describe the music of a band who plays a song about a newlywed couple promising each other everything in life then dying in a train crash, and then follows that with an uplifting song about not letting life’s worries and problems get you down.” He explained, “It’s like we’re working in unison to even each other out; it’s nice to sing some harmony on a song of happiness, when you’ve just sung a song of hard times and sorrow.”

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Cory Kinal (left) and Andrew Massey are the founding members of Sycamore Bones.

The purpose of the band’s music is clear, insisted Kinal, even if it is complex. “I hope our music exemplifies life, maybe not at its greatest, but at its deepest.” That’s why he said he doesn’t have a favorite song from their repertoire. “It changes daily or maybe weekly. I love seeing someone in the audience really get into a song. It gives me even more of a connection with the lyrics I’m singing.” He added, though,  “I’d say right this very minute my favorite song is ‘Saint Sophia.’ On the outside it’s about Saint Sophia and her three daughters, Faith, Hope and Charity who met horrific fates, but really I use their story to portray different aspects of my life, my own thoughts of faith, hope, love and charity.”

Taylor has been friends with Massey and Kinal for a few years now. She shared, “Andrew and Cory are a great mixture. Cory’s this poetic northerner and Andrew’s a heart-on-his-sleeve southerner. You’ve got kind of a gothic Country/Americana from Cory’s side and a wailing rockabilly from Andrew’s side.” She added, “I tie the two sides together with bluesy harmonies, and the occasional tambourine.”

Massey added, “We all love so many different types of music so to narrow down influences is a little hard. I know John Prine and Bob Dylan would be the first two guys I would mention. A few of my personal influences are also bands like Wilco, or the Clash and guys like Tom Waits.” He continued, “When I was 18 or 19 Bob Dylan blew my mind! This is probably the reason I picked up acoustic guitar and started writing songs. Something about those first few albums he had was like going to church for me. The simplicity and the faults in his voice, the way he used words really all connected with me.”

I’ve … been lucky enough to be surrounded by a huge amount of people that appreciate live music and support it every chance they can.” – Cory Kinal

Kinal explained why the moniker “Heartfelt” fits the music of Sycamore Bones as well as does the description, “Handmade.” He shared, “Everything, every style, every song is played with pure emotion. My influences are from punk to bluegrass and every branch of music connected to both of them. I’m proud to be surrounded by talented musicians and have been my entire life. But it’s not just the musicians that have been the greatest influences on why I play the music I do. I’ve also been lucky enough to be surrounded by a huge amount of people that appreciate live music and support it every chance they can. Without my family and my friends, I wouldn’t have had the courage or talent to start a band that plays mostly original music.”

Showcase SC&D

Strictly Clean and Decent (Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch, and Ron Shuffler, r) are hosting their 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

Still, the enjoyment of writing and playing original music is essential for Sycamore Bones. As Kinal shared, “I want to experience a relationship with every song we play and every audience that listens. There’s a certain feeling you get when you play an original song and you see people really connecting to it. I want people to have fun, to listen to the lyrics, the music, and really get as much joy out of our performance as we do.”

Taylor’s influences were somewhat different. “I grew up on Rhythm & Blues and Jazz; I didn’t start listening or playing the kind of music we’re playing until I went to college in Western North Carolina, where it’s everywhere! My singing style is still heavily influenced by R&B and Jazz singers. But I like to think it adds something just a little different to the guys’ sound.”

Each of the band members expressed confidence in Caldwell County’s future because of the Showcase, and spoke also of the privilege of performing in it.

Massey said, “I just want to thank anyone in the community who creates music, art, or owns a small business. It’s these people that make us who we are as a community and create a culture that we can take pride in. Keep creating!”

Taylor noted, “The showcase is a yearly staple of Caldwell County. So it’s just exciting to be a part of that tradition, and to also be a part of an event that people of all ages come to experience. We hope it remains a yearly tradition and that it continues to grow.”

Kinal continued, “We were all super excited to be asked to play the Showcase. I remember Massey saying that we’ve kind of ‘made it’ in Caldwell when Patrick and Kay ask you to play alongside the county’s best musicians. It means everything to us that they would like our music and performance enough to ask us to be part of their lineup.” He added, “Caldwell County’s story is so similar to my rust belt upbringing, so close to where I grew up that it has the same feeling for me as a town 500 miles away that influences many of my lyrics.”

Massey said the Showcase is critical to the community because, “Music keeps life worth living. It’s exciting when a whole community gets together to support that cause.” Taylor simply added, “I second what Andrew said.”

Massey concluded, “I think the goal for all of us is that people connect with lyrics of the songs. We all want people to feel what we sing and the words we write. I think that may be the most gratifying part of performing.” 

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017. 

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Previous 2017 Showcase Articles

Handmade & Heartfelt: Theme of 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase inspired by area musicians

Jimmie Griffith Exemplifies Showcase Theme: Music is handmade in Caldwell County and is heartfelt from his native Brazil

Nancy Posey Bringing Her Humor and Wit to Showcase: Calls her role as emcee a mere ‘footnote’ to the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

Strictly Strings Carrying on the Old-Time Tradition: Boone-based group brings energy, excellence and creativity to Showcase

showcase-handmade-heartfelt-logo

Showcase Information and Performers

The 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase will be on Sat., March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center. Purchase tickets here from the Civic Center.

 This year’s concert will include eight groups or individuals. The total of musicians performing will be around two dozen, in addition to JAM members.

Strictly Clean and Decent with Kay and Patrick Crouch and Ron Shuffler.

Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.

Ridgeline: A bluegrass band featuring Jim Matheson on guitar, Mike Nelson on banjo, Tim Greene on mandolin and guitar, April Flanders on fiddle, Larry Wright on bass, and Jimmy Houston on guitar.

MaisCeu featuring multi-instrumentalist Jimmie Griffith performing Brazilian music.

Max Waters playing Southern gospel, jazz, and blues piano.

Strictly Strings performing old time and contemporary string band music.  The band is Kathleen Burnett on fiddle and guitar, Anissa Burnett on bass and fiddle, Willow Dillon on banjo, fiddle, bass, and cello, Caleb Coatney on mandolin, banjo, and guitar, and Cecil Gurganus on guitar, fiddle, and bass.

Sycamore Bones with Cory Kinal, Andrew Massey, and Abigail Taylor performing original music.

Darren Bryant and Justin Clyde Williams performing country music.

Nancy Posey will be emcee.

 Editor’s note: Abigail Taylor is also co-owner of The Lenoir Voice.

Strictly Strings Carrying on the Old-Time Tradition

Boone, N.C. -based group brings energy, excellence and creativity to Showcase

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is another installment in a series about the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase – ‘Handmade & Heartfelt.’ A list of previous articles is below. The Showcase is scheduled for Sat., March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center.

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Strictly Strings as seen on the cover of their album, ‘High on a Mountain.’ Photo by Martin Church.

BOONE, N.C. – Though Watauga County is home for Strictly Strings, the group clearly has a natural home in the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. The five-member band has connections to Caldwell County through the Boone campus of Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute. That is not all though. The group’s enthusiasm for traditional music clearly marks their music as heartfelt.

Indeed, the group’s enthusiasm for – and mastery of – traditional music is apparent in its newly released album, “High on a Mountain.” The title track can be heard on the band’s website. It includes 16 songs, most of which are covers of traditional Appalachian music, but also includes some original work as well. In another connection to Caldwell County, the album was recorded and engineered by Patrick Crouch in Lenoir at Ticknock Studio.

Strictly Strings is Kathleen Burnett on fiddle and vocal, Anissa Burnett on bass, fiddle and vocal, Willow Dillon on fiddle, cello, banjo, and vocal, and Caleb Coatney on mandolin, guitar and banjo. As the senior member of the group, Cecil Gurganus holds down the rhythm guitar and vocals.

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Strictly Srings. Photo by Martin Church.

Gurganus, who moved to Watauga County in 1976, began to teach fiddle classes in the Boone Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) Program about a decade ago. He shared, “Strictly Strings band came out of our many years together in the classes, as well as their interest in all the other instruments.” He added that the members are determined to create “diversity for themselves.” He explained, “While we started out as an old-time fiddlers and string band – hence, ‘Strictly Strings’ – these young musicians are consistently seeking out a variety of musical tastes, including great vocals.” That explains the assertion on the group’s website, “Strictly Strings is no longer strictly strings.”

Also according to its website, “The group … has blossomed into an exciting multi-faceted band, enjoying the genres of old time, bluegrass, Irish, and swing, all topped off with fresh harmony vocals.”

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Strictly Strings on stage. Photo by Lonnie Webster.

Gurganus shared how he came to appreciate the music of the region after moving to Watauga County from South Carolina to help teach a class on traditional instrument building with Stanley Hicks. He said, “I played music in the Blowing Rock bar scene to make some cash. I was learning to play the fiddle, thinking bluegrass.” But, he continued, “What I found in the mountains of Watauga was a rich heritage of old-time music, fiddling, banjo picking (clawhammer style), ballads and dancing. I met many traditional musicians who had never been recorded, the exception being Doc Watson, of course.”

Gurganus continued, “The depth of the non-commercial old-time fiddling struck a chord with me, and I took the old-time path, away from the more commercial radio music called bluegrass. And, actually, there is a great deal of crossover between the genres. One person described the difference as ‘bluegrass showcases the individual musician, old-time music showcases the tunes.’”

He added, “I was a part of the Laurel Creek String Band, which played around Boone for old-time dances, weddings, ASU events, parties, and just for our own pleasure. So my influences were the older generation local musicians I met or listened to such as Doc Watson, Fred Price, Clint Howard, Ora Watson, Glenn Bolick, Stanley Hicks, and those I met in the numerous fiddlers’ conventions around the region.”

Through Strictly Strings, Gurganus is passing along that heritage. He shared, “I hope we can showcase the talents of these young musicians, and to honor them as the next generation carrying on traditional music in any genre. We are honored for Patrick Crouch to have asked us to be a part of this amazing and diverse group of musicians in the Showcase.”

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Strictly Strings. Photo by Martin Church.

Following are brief biographies of each of the band members (to read the entire biographies, visit the group’s website).

Cecil Gurganus – Guitar, Vocals: Cecil has been a part of the old time music community in Watauga County since 1976, playing fiddle in the Laurel Creek String Band. He has been an instructor in the Watauga Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) Program at the Jones House in Boone since its inception in 2006. As fiddle instructor and mentor for the young members of Strictly Strings for more than five years, Cecil has seen these JAM students come full circle, as they have become a working, performing band, including beautiful vocals, and now teaching him tunes!

Kathleen Burnett – Fiddle, Vocals: Kathleen was born and raised in the mountains of Boone. She began playing the fiddle and singing at the age of 5, and has grown up performing in several local bluegrass and old-time bands. At age seven, Kathleen began instructional classes in the Boone JAM program, which has been an integral part of her musical growth, as well as performing with her sisters in The Burnett Sisters. Kathleen plays the fiddle and guitar, and is the lead singer for Strictly Strings. Currently, she is enrolled in Caldwell Community College, and plans to pursue a B.A. in Old time/Bluegrass/Country music at East Tennessee State University.

Anissa Burnett – Bass, Fiddle, Vocals: Dedicated to learning and performing traditional old-time music, Anissa has also developed an interest in jazz, bluegrass, Celtic, gospel, and other genres of music rooted in the south and Appalachians. She has absorbed much of her music while growing up in Boone, being involved with the JAM program as well as attending many local festivals and gatherings.

Willow Dillon – Banjo, Fiddle, Vocals: Willow spent the years of her early childhood in Hawai’i, where she was introduced to the world of music through ukulele and keyboard lessons. She soon developed a strong passion for music when she moved back to the mainland and enrolled classical violin lessons at her local school. After her first session, her teacher decided to teach her old-time style fiddle instead. When Willow was introduced to the old-time fiddle style she knew that that was the style she wanted to play. When her family moved to Boone, she found the JAM program and started learning traditional Appalachian fiddle from all of the instructors there. … Willow picked up the banjo a few years after learning fiddle and has mostly taught herself to play banjo with the help of a few friends and teachers along the way. After playing banjo for almost a year, she grew an endless passion for the clawhammer style.

Caleb Coatney – Mandolin, Banjo, Guitar: Caleb has played music since he was five, when he started learning piano. Soon after, he began participating in the JAM program at the Jones House in Boone. There, he started on mandolin, but quickly added guitar and clawhammer banjo. Currently, he helps as a teaching assistant in these community classes for children and adults. Caleb has grown up playing traditional old-time, bluegrass, and Irish tunes, but he also plays rock music. During the summer, Caleb enjoys competing at fiddler’s conventions, where he’s placed high in several mandolin and banjo competitions.

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017.

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On Twitter: @lenoirvoice

Previous 2017 Showcase Articles

Handmade & Heartfelt: Theme of 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase inspired by area musicians

Jimmie Griffith Exemplifies Showcase Theme: Music is handmade in Caldwell County and is heartfelt from his native Brazil

Nancy Posey Bringing Her Humor and Wit to Showcase: Calls her role as emcee a mere ‘footnote’ to the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase

showcase-handmade-heartfelt-logo

Showcase Information and Performers

The 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase will be on Sat., March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center. Purchase tickets here from the Civic Center.

This year’s concert will include eight groups or individuals. The total of musicians performing will be around two dozen, in addition to JAM members.

Strictly Clean and Decent with Kay and Patrick Crouch and Ron Shuffler.

Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.

Ridgeline: A bluegrass band featuring Jim Matheson on guitar, Mike Nelson on banjo, Tim Greene on mandolin and guitar, April Flanders on fiddle, Larry Wright on bass, and Jimmy Houston on guitar.

MaisCeu featuring multi-instrumentalist Jimmie Griffith performing Brazilian music.

Max Waters playing Southern gospel, jazz, and blues piano.

Strictly Strings performing old time and contemporary string band music.  The band is Kathleen Burnett on fiddle and guitar, Anissa Burnett on bass and fiddle, Willow Dillon on banjo, fiddle, bass, and cello, Caleb Coatney on mandolin, banjo, and guitar, and Cecil Gurganus on guitar, fiddle, and bass.

Sycamore Bones with Cory Kinal, Andrew Massey, and Abigail Taylor performing original music.

Darren Bryant and Justin Clyde Williams performing country music.

Nancy Posey will be emcee.

The Eyes of a Child (Part 2)

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In our last post, The Eyes of a Child, I wrote that if we all looked at the world through the eyes of a child, we would see only beauty.

Then a reader hit me with a dose of reality, pointing out that is not the case in Syria. I would add Haiti to that list, as well as dozens of other nations. So, to correct the narrow view I offered, I share this photo for your consideration.

The choice is up to us. We can wage peace, or we can wage war.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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The Eyes of a Child

eyes-of-a-child

If we all looked at the world through the eyes of a child, we would see only beauty.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Take a Hike!

Mother Nature nurtures our souls with wonderment and beauty

By Michael M. Barrick

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MORTIMER, N.C.Wilson Creek is officially a National and Scenic Wild River. That federal designation, which took effect in the summer of 2000 is critical, as the purpose of the law according to The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems website, is “ … to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational value in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Wilson Creek earned its designation only because of hard work and cooperation among county and federal elected officials and staff.

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The “creek” which is certainly as much like a river as the stream it feeds into – the Johns River – deserves the designation. Scenic and wild it is, as it tumbles thousands of feet in elevation over 23 miles down the Blue Ridge Escarpment through the Pisgah Forest in northwestern Caldwell County. Through the millennia, it has carved out steep and imposing gorges as well as quiet ponds for fishing or tubing as it nears it confluence with the Johns River.

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Harper Creek, a major tributary of Wilson Creek near Edgemont, N.C.

Its headwaters begin on Calloway Peak, the highest point of rugged Grandfather Mountain at 5,946 feet. More importantly to me is that a favorite spot on it is just 18 miles from my front door. Indeed, on my last visit last week – as I sat on a rocky perch overlooking the waters below and canyon to the north – a couple of determined kayakers were navigating its boulders and rapids.

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Perhaps it is because of how and where I was raised, but my soul demands nourishment from Mother Earth. Its wonderment and beauty is soothing. Add the challenges of a strenuous hike and the focus it requires, and you can understand the origin of the expression, “Take a hike!” It was probably a wife growing weary of her husband, “White Hair Curmudgeon,” grumbling and mumbling.

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I have been visiting here now more than 40 years. Formerly used by the Cherokee as a hunting ground, it was eventually logged by the first European settlers. It was once one of the most vibrant communities in the county, but two devastating floods – in 1916 and 1940 – made worse by the muddy slopes stripped of timber, stopped industry and settlement in Mortimer, though more than a few hardy souls live here and in nearby Edgemont.

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In the summer, it has its share of tourists. On a winter weekday, though, there’s a good chance you’ll see far more critters than people. Especially while the leaves are off the trees, it is where I go to “listen” for whatever I might need to hear; to interact with nature – hawks, whitewater, giant cliffs, rocks, steep paths and more – that are just not available in suburbia.

To paraphrase Jimmy Buffett, when I place myself in wooded latitudes, it does wonders for my attitude. So, go take a hike!

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Read more about the National Wild and Scenic River Act

The Cost of Reaching the Moon Must Not Be Forgotten

Honoring the memories of astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee

By Michael M. Barrick

Fifty years ago, the USA was shooting for the moon. In fact, exactly 50 years ago today, as I sat in the recliner at my grandmother’s house to spend the night, a news flash came on the TV that I will always remember – some of the men I considered the greatest heroes on earth had died in a fire in the Apollo 1 Command Capsule in a routine shake-down for their upcoming NASA mission.

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The Apollo 1 official crew portrait. L-R: Ed White, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee. Credit: NASA.

The three men who died that night were Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. I was most familiar with Ed White because two years earlier he was the first man to walk in space – a death-defying feat that I watched on TV. Indeed, I watched every launch and splash down, not to mention feeds from space during the mission (a marvel in itself), whether at home or in school.

Astronauts were heroes to me because they were modern-day explorers, risking it all.

In the turbulent 1960s, they were a welcome relief from the weekly body counts out of Vietnam and of those protesting the war (think Kent State); of fire hoses, attack dogs, beatings, false arrests and murders being the daily risks faced by Civil Right activists; and, national leaders being assassinated at an alarming rate.

I was a 10-year-old boy, soon to be 11. My imagination had been captured like never before – or since – by the space program. I grieve that my seven-year-old granddaughter has no such heroism to capture her imagination. These are perilous times, complicated by a momentum of mediocrity in our institutions and a very unpredictable president.

nasa-logoThe space program was an explicit acknowledgment that we could literally shoot for the moon despite all of our domestic and foreign challenges. We could do anything if we were focused enough. We taught our children that. We teach our granddaughter that.

For me, however, it wasn’t history. It was the future! Maybe even my future. What red-blooded American kid didn’t want to be an astronaut? We watched the space program unfold before our eyes on TV. Our granddaughter will see it only at the Smithsonian.

I watched those space launches and splash downs. I got goose bumps to see those astronauts emerge out of a helicopter onto an aircraft carrier to the salutes of those on board.

But on that evening half a century ago, they weren’t on my mind. I was enjoying the “alone” time with my grandmother and her cooking, as well as her unlimited supply of Coca-Cola.

And then the news flash. The heroes were dead, as explained in this news report from the next day.

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L-R: Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom training for their Apollo 1 flight. Credit: NASA.

On that tragic evening 50 years ago today, as the newscaster interrupted the show I was watching, I rushed into the kitchen to tell my grandmother Grannyred – affectionately called so because of for her hair color – in sobs what I had just learned. She took my hand and we went back to watch the news. I think she thought it best I not watch it, but she was also a tough realist who really never shielded us from much of anything. Her favorite phrase (at least to me) might have been “Get over it” or some version of it.

Not this night though. She comforted. Eventually, exhausted, I fell asleep. I woke up in the chair on a very frosty morning, a blanket over me. She said no more. Time to move on I guess.

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NASA

NASA did. Two-and-a-half years later, I watched the first men land on the moon. Had astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee lived, it would have been them. Instead it was others. The men who died did not do so in vain. Lessons learned allowed NASA to accomplish the task assigned to it less than a decade earlier by President John F. Kennedy: to send and safely return a man to the moon by the ends of the 1960s.

Sadly, neither major political party is interested in reviving the space program. However, if you’d like to teach somebody young about it, I recommend the movie “October Sky” based on the book “Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickam. Hickam, a West Virginia native, was a NASA engineer.

rocket-boysIn the movie, Homer has a dramatic exchange with his teacher, Miss Riley. He says in desperation that his options in the isolated, southern West Virginia town of Coalwood are limited to do as his father and neighbors did – work the mines. Miss Riley responds firmly, “As long as you’re alive on this earth, you have a choice!”

It was true then and it is true now. So, if we truly want to honor the memories of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, we need to fund NASA. We need to go where no person has gone before. Let us give our children some hope in the midst of the terror. Maybe even, by turning our attention to the values of space exploration, it will serve as a catalyst for cooperation between nations – and one day, peace. It’s a much better use of resources than building a wall along the US/Mexican border and starting a tariff war in the process.

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© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Drawn to Mother Earth

The essential blessings of nature

By Michael M. Barrick

Growing up in West Virginia, I was blessed with my own private forest to explore. It was not large – less than an acre – but it was plenty for a seven-year-old. Elk Creek ran just below it, and two small tributaries fed it, one of which I damned up to form a small pond.

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Blackwater Falls in Tucker County, W.Va.

At first, it was just my playground. Then, as I grew older and was inundated with a strong dose of social justice teaching from the priests in our parish – not to mention our mom – it was where I meditated. For hours, I would sit on the picnic table under an aged and tall tree canopy that served as an aviary and allowed only slivers of sun through on the brightest of days. It was, as John Denver sang, “Cool, and green and shady.” It put in me the desire to become the “Boy from the Country” he sang about.

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Sandstone Falls on the New River near Hinton, W.Va.

There was no better place than our wooded “sacred spot” to sort through questions and concerns. The songs and chirps of the birds, the rustling leaves in a gentle breeze, the creek tumbling over the rocks, all inspired. This is why nature photos are put on PowerPoint slides in meetings and in hallways in hospitals; we are instinctively drawn to our Mother Earth for comfort, healing and peace.

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A trail along Crooked Run in Lewis County, W.Va.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

Photo credits: Blackwater Falls, Rick Carter; Sandstone Falls, Debbie Smith; Crooked Run, Michael Barrick.

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