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Healing Appalachia Festival Supports Recovery

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Emma Delavante
/
Courtesy
Tyler Childers performs at Healing Appalachia in 2019.

This weekend sees the return of ‘Healing Appalachia’ in Greenbrier County. The music festival features performances by eastern Kentucky music sensation Tyler Childers, singer/songwriter Margot Price, jam band Galactic, Arlo McKinley, Lucero and others.

But the festival has a larger mission than just a good time. Inside Appalachia Producer Bill Lynch spoke with festival organizer Charlie Hatcher about the roots of the festival and what it hopes to accomplish.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Lynch: Charlie, first off, tell me what is Healing Appalachia?

Hatcher: Healing Appalachia is an event that is organized and put on by Hope in the Hills. Hope in the Hills is a 501c3 nonprofit that's behind Healing Appalachia. Healing Appalachia is the event.

Lynch: So, Hope in the Hills, tell me about that. 

Hatcher: Well, Hope the Hills was created back in 2016. In 2016, we started this thing.

Basically, I have a friend of mine — her son had passed away. I dealt with a lot of deaths, I felt, that year from friends of mine that had passed away due to overdose, drug abuse.

And when my friend called, that was kind of the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. At that point, I just sat there and thought to myself, I want to be a part of the solution to this and not sit on the sidelines. I wanted to start helping my neighbors and start helping my friends, start helping my family.

If you live in Appalachia, everybody knows somebody. I always say whether it was your brother, your preacher, your teacher, your mother, your cousin, if you live here, you've been affected by it in one capacity or another [by drug use].

It's hard to sit back and watch it go down like this.

We're proud people. We’re hard workers. Whenever there's a disaster, such as, you know, flooding that's going on, you always see communities come together and lift one another up, you know?

I guess one of my personal goals with Hope in the Hills was to capture that feeling and keep it going year-round.

Lynch: The first concert, the first festival, what year was that?

Hatcher: 2018. It took us about a year-and-a-half to get the whole thing together and go through the process to become a nonprofit, assembling a board and figuring it out, you know? Because we are a true definition of a nonprofit. We're all-volunteer.

I had to leave the board because it became way too much. And I'm the only paid employee of the board. I'm just an independent contractor. And that's mainly because [Healing Appalachia] is here in Lewisburg, where I live.

We're a granting organization. We're not doctors. We're not a recovery center. We grant out money to those that are working in fields of recovery.

Lynch: With doing this stuff, with doing this festival, have you gotten any pushback? 

Hatcher: Nobody ever tried heroin or meth for the first time and said, “Hey, I want to be an addict.” You don't go into it thinking that's the case. And back up to these needle exchange clinics — it's a public health thing more than anything.

The rise of hepatitis, the rise in AIDS, diseases that are spread through intravenous drug use, are all a public health crisis. And if we can do anything to curb that, then we should.

And it's hard for folks to understand that. I have to say I was guilty of it, too. I did not understand until I actually sat down and listened and looked at the statistical data behind it. And if you look and you see where the highest rates of AIDS transmission, hepatitis transmission are, they're all in areas where there are not these needle exchanges.

Folks that want to do drugs are going to find a way to do it. They are, but if we can get them into these clinics, where we're giving them clean supplies, and getting a moment to talk, it was all worth it because if that one moment stuck, and they said, “You know what, man? I'm ready. I'm ready to make the change. I don't want to be like this anymore.”

Then it was all worth it.

If you look at these areas where these clinics are available to folks. The hepatitis and AIDS numbers are down.

A big problem with drug abuse is, you know, people break into your tool shed and steal your weed eater and things of that nature. People get angry, and they should be but be a part of the solution. Sitting back on the sidelines and throwing stones at folks is not going to get us anywhere.

Lynch: Getting folks to be part of the festival — has it been hard? 

Hatcher: Well, fortunately, I worked for a company called Whizbang, which is the management company that does Tyler's career. And Tyler is a friend of mine. I know Tyler. I think we first met in 2016. And I spoke with Ian Thornton. He’s Tyler's manager and he said, “Well, let's talk to Tyler and see if this is something that he would be willing to be a part of.”

And he's been a great partner. He grew up in Appalachia. He knows what it's like. And he's always, anytime we've ever been there in need, he was always there to help us. And he's been a great partner in this.

Also you look into the music community. You know, the unfortunate thing is substance use disorders are very prominent in the music industry. I mean, look at all the greats that we've lost due to drug abuse, alcohol abuse over the years.

So for folks, it becomes easier when they understand who we are and what we do.

Lynch: It's not just about music though. You've got some of the things happening during the festival, right?

Hatcher: Oh, yeah, it's definitely not just about. We have over 30 service providers from eastern Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, southeastern Ohio, Pennsylvania.

There are people that come in — we don't advocate for one type of recovery, because each person is different. We advocate for what works best for you. So, that's why we have different service providers coming in from all over the place. In hopes, someone might say, “yeah.”

And another thing, too, we have over 20 … I think it's 31 states represented in ticket sales this year.

So, maybe someone comes in and says, “Oh, man, you guys are in our neighborhood. My cousin he's not doing so good. Maybe we can get him down to talk.”

You know, that's the hook behind it all. It's a hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And my hope is that everyone can see that. It is a hard path, and it's a hard road, but people do recover, man. I've got friends and they're, you know, they’ve got 10, 11 years of sobriety and recovery, and it's a struggle for them every day, but they stay strong and they're prominent people.

I mean, they're out here. Folks that you never thought would ever hold down a job. They’re out there having two or three jobs, you know, taking care of their kids, getting married, taking care of their neighbors, looking after people.

So, it is possible to recover, and the hope is that someone will find one of these recovery booths or places of recovery at our event and maybe be able to help a friend.

The Healing Appalachia Music Festival runs Friday through Saturday. Limited tickets are still available. For more information about the festival or Hope in the Hills, visit HealingAppalachia.org.

Inside Appalachia Producer, blynch@wvpublic.org, @LostHwys

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