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Zachary Smith as Curly in "Oklahoma."
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Fourth of July in D.C.
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On the set of Gods and Generals.
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The Smiths at the Barter with Roadside Theater
All the hoopla regarding the death of Whitney Houston, the Grammys and some recent experiences of my own have been rattling around in my brain (think of an empty tin can with a bee bee in it) today as I try for the upteenth time to figure out why making art is such an addiction, blessing and curse. Sadly, the death of Whitney Houston doesn't surprise me. The first thought I had when I heard of her demise was the word "Icarus". You know, the guy who flew too close to the Sun. The girl was blessed with pipes that only God, good genes and training can give. I am sure that her ability to sing with the power, subtlety and interpretive understanding she displayed had to come from all parts of her psyche, and experience. 
The hard part, in my small opinion, was living with the demands that kind of talent placed on her, and the demons. Singing was the easy part. Being Whitney Houston (insert Elvis, Graham Parsons, Keith Whitley, Fredie Prince, and hundreds of others) was the hard part. From my own small perspective, the hard part is all those other hours in the day when art's creation has to give way to the other stuff. And anyone who had flown as close to the Sun as Ms Houston did was living a life of unreality. Most of the details are handled by staff, which leads to isolation and boredom. Isolation leads to life inside a protected bubble that doesn't allow for much true human interaction. Problems are smoothed over, not solved. Individualism often gives way to a perceived character that can become a cartoon of one's self. Dangerous stuff when you add easily obtained drugs, alcohol, misplaced love (I wonder what Bobby Brown is thinking this week) into the mix.  Unfortunately, in Ms. Houston's case it led to an early death in a hotel room far away from her home. Loneliness can be a terminal thing. That is sad under any circumstances. It is also the life of a professional performer on the road. That potential is always there. I can understand the wide range of reactions I see on facebook and in the media. Yes, we make too much of a possibly drug addicted singer's death. No, I do not think that being artistically talented makes anyone more important than anyone whose talents lie in other areas. We all have our talents, demons and ways of dealing with life. Yes there are regular folks who passed away this weekend and certainly the deaths of our military personnel should be remembered with equal sadness. I agree with all of that.
But...
In this screwed up world we live in (has it ever not been that way) art, of any kind, is often the thing that helps many of us make some sense of it all. For some folks it is sports (often theater of a grand scale and drama) for others it is hunting, fishing, sailing, (insert the thing that you love just because you love it) or being in the audience as it happens. 
 
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Big Theater in Green Bay, WI











It really doesn't matter. What ever it is that resonates with a person to a point that it helps them get through their life, to me is art. It is also as flawed at times as the people who make it. That is what makes it special. Whitney Houston, and again insert your name of choice from Walter Payton to Edgar Allen Poe, was, with all her failings, special. As are all of us humans.
RIP
Onward.
OK... so I don't make great art, nor am I a great artist. I wang away at it and what comes out is a lot like sausage. The problem is... I like sausage. 

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Storytelling and music at Lynchburg's Point of Honor
And I just can't seem to get away from making it every chance I get. Whether it is the music I play; the words I write, the lighting designs I used to do or the theater based historical storytelling, something resonates inside of me every time I engage in the process.
Being an artist  (what ever the heck that is) is such a pain in the butt. I look at my facebook pages, which is where I connect with a deep dark past in the arts and the people who I have worked with over the years. I see many of us who are still intimately involved in artistic processes of all types.


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The Dixie Bee Liners
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The Wolfe Brothers at the Barter
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Dr. Ralph Stanley and Porter Wagoner at The Hills of Home shortly before Porter's death.
There are a few of us who have actually made livings at our art, or arts. Most of us have either starved at it or had to work day jobs to support our artistic habits. 
Interestingly enough, most of us who have worked in some form of professional art form during our lives are still doing it. 
Still gigging after all these years.
Lately I have been doing a bit of that at local venues. I have gotten tired of sitting in my chair and pickin' by myself so I am now inflicting that pain on others. I went over to Lays Hardware in Coeburn a couple of weeks ago to the Thursday night jam and had a ball. Last Thursday I went up to Wise and jammed at the open mike at the new Troubadour venue that is connected with The Tavern In Wise.

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Pickin' at The Troubadour
A couple of things were true of that experience. One, I was the oldest cat in the joint.
Two, it was fun. It has been a long time since I have just hung around with other musicians and played. Was it chaos at times, yup. Did I like, or understand, all the music (Thrash, Power Rock and my favorite, Life Sucks Rock) no. But, it was fun to be a part of. If we are ever to have a music scene like this area had in the past, we are going to have to let everyone in on the game. 

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Us old folks are going to have to suck it up and let the kids play. That is how I, and most of my contemporaries learned how to gig. Music joints are few and far between in this age of "No Fun Allowed." Theaters are closing, as are galleries and museums because they can't afford to stay open. We need to support them when we can, share our own work at them and have a good time. And, buy a beer, cup of coffee or a bite to eat at them so that they can keep the place open. There I said it... beer. Yes, music, and a lot of other art, is occasionally alcohol fueled. It is the only way, other than door charges or donations, that a place can get the cash to afford to keep the place open and the lights on, not to mention pay staff and the musicians something. Artists of all types are usually the last to get paid in the deal. There is this interesting notion that an actor, painter, sculptor or musician does their art purely for the love of it and doesn't need to eat, pay bills, etc. When I figure out how to live on love, I will be writing one last blog and going to the happy place. Until then I, and my many artist friends will be working when we can, paying bills when we can, and having fun when we can. 
Just like everybody else. 

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A good night was had by all.
By the way, these pictures at The Troubadour were taken by Lisa Milanese from Big Stone Gap. She, like the rest of us was doing her art... and doing it well. Check her work out on facebook. She's good!
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Sloth
What A Concept

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My instructor in the study of sloth, Buster the Wonder Dog and friend.
During the last six months or so I have focused my energies... or lack thereof, on the study of a comparatively new subject. The study has been detailed and ongoing. Study methods have been varied and thorough. I have been dedicated to the subject but am not sure if my examination is complete or ongoing. I am, however, ready to make my report.
Sloth is good... 
to a point. 
Last August I went from 95 mph to zip rather quickly. My schedule went from full to open and my social calendar suddenly cleared. Let's just say that things in my employment world changed rapidly in that all of the sudden I was free - or at least very inexpensive. 
Now, free is a wonderful thing. Think of what the slaves thought when Mr. Lincoln said they were free. Think of being 13 years old and school just got out for the summer. Think of signing divorce papers. OK that last one was a bad example but you get the point. The only question is... Now What?
That is always the rub with freedom. Once you've got it, what are you going to do with it. My first inclination was to grab a trusty 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and head to the boat to begin my study. About 11:30 pm that evening I found myself turning circles out in the middle of Watauga Lake, helm over and watching the stars spin around the mast, thinking... "What in the hell do I do now?"
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Study Time
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Continued Study
Freedom was a lot easier when I was 20, I was 10 foot tall and bulletproof. It was the early 70s, I had just moved from Wisconsin to California by way of Colorado; Montreal, Canada; Fargo, ND; and no, I do not remember much. At 30 I was still strong, fighting forest fires out of helicopters in Montana and was one of the local bull goose loonies (thank you Ken Kesey). Even at 42 I was still brave enough to to fall in love again, leave Montana (not an easy thing) and start over, yet again, in Virginia. 
At 50 I began to notice that freedom was a bit scarier and now at 60 it has become down right interesting. Somehow I do not think I am alone in this one.
So... I have created this thing called Crooked Road Enterprises, a still mostly fictitious company that reflects my interests and experience. Friends have been asking, "So, what are you going to do with it?" The short answer is "Damned if I know." 
But, here is what I have been thinking:
  • Making money is more fun than not making money. But, for the time I have left in the making money category, I would like to do so in ways that please me and that I have some control over. If not, then I aspire to becoming a Wal-Mart Greeter.
  • I believe that a dialog between Appalachian people, natives and non-natives who love these mountains, the culture, history and music, is needed. I also believe that out of that discussion can come ideas that can help us promote ourselves in ways that resonate with the people who want experiences that are more connected to what is really happening in "Appalachia."
  • While I support, and have worked for, a number of government-funded projects aimed at developing the creative economy, I believe that our ultimate success depends on us.
  • It is time that the direction of our development be dictated by the people of the region, many of whom do not have the connections that get them invited to meetings run by the government folks. While government funded projects such as Heartwood, The Crooked Road, Round the Mountain and the many others in the states surrounding Virginia are excellent and have born fruit. I sometimes think that they are becoming Richmond's (insert state capital of choice) view of who and what we are. They have also consumed millions of dollars that might have been better used out in the communities those projects are supposed to serve. When the money stops, and it always does eventually, what will we do to sustain forward momentum? I must stop this thread before I start to rant.
  • My goals are pretty simple at this point of my working career. I would like to ease into retirement instead of crashing into it in flames. Hopefully there are some ways to make some money using the pseudo-wisdom I have acquired. As I said earlier, I am not sure how yet, but I'm thinkin' real hard on it... while sitting at the helm Changes In Attitudes at the lake. 
  • Please contact me if you need my sage advice or BS for your spring planting projects. Let me know if there is anyone else out there who thinks we are capable of determining our own economic destiny and is a bit frustrated by the current "Get the next grant, spend it out and start over," approach. 
  • I think that we can do better than that.
  • If not, than I will continue to research Sloth and being a general pain in the butt. I am becoming quite good at both.
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A face that can still stop dog fights. Continued research on Jan. 31. Maybe sloth ain't so bad after all. Just gotta get someone to pay me to do it. Please note the antenna sticking out of my head (that's what Nancy thinks it looks like). It is to pick up all those vibes of creativity beaming into what is left of my brain. Actually it is the back stay on the boat.
Before concluding this little opus (wasn't he a flightless bird?) I also would like to show off the work of a great friend and graphic artist, Pam Randolph. Pam has been kind enough to design cards and a logo for C.R.E. She is damn good at what she does, is a fine musician and is also someone who has put up with my crazy ideas and has a few of her own. 
Let me know if you would like to contact Pam. Please do not hold her association with me against her.

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Here are the two sides of the business card Pam designed. She works for Print Distribution, an excellent company that does all kinds of promotion work from business cards to extensive displays. They also distribute brochures all over the region. Good outfit.
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This is the general logo Pam designed.
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Here is a secondary version that I will be using in some applications.
Who knows what I will write about next time. We shall see...
 
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    Life 
    On 
    A Twisted Trail,
    A Blog
    By H W. "Bill" Smith

    Writing is something that I have always loved doing and anyone  who knows me knows that I have more than my share of opinions on a variety of subjects. 
    My goal is to write about the history, music, culture, life and events that shape the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains where I live... and anything else that tickles my fancy. Join me on this ride down "A Twisted Trail."

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