The Hillbilly Highway

Revisiting the Hillbilly Highway 20 Years Later

Time to travel — and write, ‘The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams’

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C.  – Twenty years ago I wrote and published by first book, “The Hillbilly Highway.” From the copy of the back cover (below), you can read what motivated me to write the book. Nothing has changed. As I said then, as a native of West Virginia and lifelong Appalachian, I consider “the word hillbilly to be a term of endearment.”

Hillbilly Highway back cover

Many of the stories were first written as feature articles for the local newspapers and radio stations I worked for at the time. Many others came about from simply getting in my car and traveling the “old” Hillbilly Highway.

Hillbilly Highway cover

Volume 1 of The Hillbilly Highway

Well, it’s time to hit the back roads of the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies again. I’m writing “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams” and publishing installments on the Appalachian Chronicle and The Lenoir Voice. These online offerings will be primarily short photo essays from southern to central Appalachia designed to showcase our delightful people and the mysterious, majestic, misty mountains that fold and roll into distant skies. This article, published earlier this year on both sites about Lenoir musician Andrew Massey, is an example of what you can expect.

The book’s subtitle expresses what I believe best captures the essence of Appalachia. I have, indeed, planted my share of seeds in the soil. Many of my best friends still farm or at least garden. But then there is the other kind of seed planting – the wisdom passed onto to us by our elders. We fail to cultivate these seeds at our own peril.

Ben Townsend at conference

Ben Townsend, a West Virginia native and traditional Appalachian musician, teaches at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia gathering in Charleston, W.Va. in April 2015.  Photo by Keely Kernan

Songs have just always been central to Appalachia. On front porches all along the Hillbilly Highway, people have gathered for generations to jam. People like Patrick and Kay Crouch here in Lenoir and Ben Townsend in West Virginia have dedicated their lives to preserving and passing along Appalachian musical traditions. And, of course, music is the key that unlocks the universal language – the smile on a person’s face.

Streams are not only literally essential to life, our region’s river systems have sustained my essence and always fascinated me. In college, with geology as a minor, I looked for every opportunity to track watersheds and find headwaters. I grew up playing in and alongside Elk Creek in Clarksburg, W.Va. Ponds and brooks in our lower back yard were the draw for all the wildlife I enjoyed watching as a youngster. It didn’t take long to figure out that where there is water, there is wildlife. In short, water is life. It is also beautiful and powerful, much like the very mountains it has helped carve into gently sloping hillsides.

Of course, there are other characters and characteristics that makes Appalachia’s back roads – The Hillbilly Highway – endearing and enchanting. These mountains, to me, are sacred. So, are the people. I am proud to be called a hillbilly. And anybody that has a problem with that is itching for a fight. Either way, please read the offerings. I hope you’ll enjoy the stories even if you don’t learn anything.

Sandstone Falls 1_DS

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

Whatever awaits, heading out on The Hillbilly Highway is past due. I still believe in the art of conversation, planting our own gardens, singing songs on our front porches and telling tall tales around campfires. We must also champion the thrill of enjoying the natural environment while we acknowledge our responsibility to be good stewards of these ancient, sacred hills that sustain our very lives.

I appreciate you reading these installments from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Feel free to contact me at with your comments. And, if you’d be interested in hearing some of these stories in the form of podcasts, let me know!

© Michael M. Barrick, 1997 – 2018


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