Real Appalachia

Courtesy of Lacy Hale

Scavenger. Trash animal. Chicken killer. Hero. People here in Appalachia have lots of feelings when it comes oppossums — or "possums" as some people call them. A town in Harlan County, Kentucky found this out first-hand when they decided to feature a possum on a mural in their downtown.

It was a clear, sunny day in May and Lacy Hale was putting the finishing touches on a mural destined for a brick wall in downtown Harlan, Kentucky.


Love And Tradition Passed Down Through A Guitar

Sep 27, 2019
John Nakashima/ WVPB

Mill Point is a blink-and-you'll miss it wide spot off the twisty mountain roads of Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  It's also the home of Bill Hefner, a luthier who isn't just making guitars, he's passing his tradition of meticulous craftmanship down to the next generation.


Caitlin Tan / WVPB

Across Appalachia, there are remarkable stories of resilience in the face of adversity. This week on Inside Appalachia, we’ll meet several people who are recovering from drug addiction, and are finding a new path forward by learning to build stringed instruments. And we’ll learn about a rare plant that rebounded after being put on the endangered species list. And why this particular plant, called the buffalo running clover, has a secret weapon; when it’s beaten down, it bounces back even stronger.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It is a hot, late summer night in the small town of Hindman, Kentucky. The sun is setting against the backdrop of the steep Appalachian Mountains. Musicians are warming up for the Knott County Downtown Radio Hour. 

It is essentially a recorded open mic hosted once a month by the Appalachian School of Luthiery, a school that teaches people how to build wooden stringed instruments. Doug Naselroad is the founder and the master luthier of the program.


Captain Marvin Wooten pushes five loads of coal along the Kanawha River. He has worked for Amherst Madison since 1979.
Eric Douglas/ WVPB

In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’re looking at how water shapes us ⁠— and how we’re impacting our waterways. Our rivers are a vital part of our identity as Appalachians. We depend them for survival, recreation and transportation. And we depend on rivers for economic reasons, too. 

 

The handful of riverboat companies that still operate in Appalachia have primarily made the majority of their money towing coal barges. But a downturn in coal production meant many of these companies had to look to other ways to stay afloat.

How Fly Fishing Saved a Veteran's Life

Aug 30, 2019
Kyle Chanitz ties a fly at his home studio in Roanoke, Virginia.
Mason Adams/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Army veteran Kyle Chanitz spent two and a half years deployed in Afghanistan, where he saw intense fighting and suffered concussions that led to seizures. When he returned to the U.S., he started taking college classes, but then dropped out to follow the jam band Phish around the country.

He spent 18 months on the road, got into drugs and spiraled out of control. 

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This summer in Morgantown, elementary school students had access to  a special summer art camp series almost every week.

Last week, students learned a  story telling art form rooted in Appalachian tradition called crankies. Crankies are also sometimes called moving panoramas, as they are a drawing or painting that can be manually moved and is portrayed within a box.

John Hale / WVPB

School is, or soon will be, back in session, so we wanted to take another listen to an episode we originally aired in May, about the devastating effects a school closure can have on a community.

Basketball was a big deal for the small town of Northfork, in McDowell County, West Virginia. The high school team won the state championship eight years in a row.

“Little old ladies who wouldn’t know a football from a basketball became big fans because it brought positive notoriety and attention to the community,” Northfork alumni Gary Dove recalled.

Caitlin Tan / WVPB

For many people in Appalachia, the lakes, rivers and creeks are the first places we swam, played in the water or caught crawdads. For many adults, our waterways are some of the best places to get outdoors and cool off in the summer. We have whitewater rafting, swimming, boating and even scuba diving to choose from (yes, scuba diving, you read that right.)  


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It is a hot, muggy day along the Monongahela river. Zoma Archambault is standing on a small, sandy beach about 10 minutes from Morgantown. It is one of the few along the river, as much of it is covered in thick brush and mud.

The beach used to be an informal camp spot. Zoma found it abandoned, with trash covering the ground in every direction. It is almost all picked up now, aside from some muddy clothes, a couple hypodermic needles and roof shingles.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Just about any search on Google for “best white water rafting” includes West Virginia. Around 150,000 people commercially raft a West Virginia river each year, mostly on the New River and Gauley River, which are near Fayetteville, West Virginia. At one point there were just less than 30 rafting companies in the area. Today, they have consolidated into six adventure businesses. 

Caitlin Tan/ WVPB

On this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’re taking another listen to a show we aired in March. It’s an off-the-beaten-path tour of some of the region’s alternative cultures and economies. We’ll visit a factory where workers are reviving the art of glassmaking. We’ll hear how farmers and chefs are returning to some of our old-fashioned recipes for inspiration and attempting to reshape our region’s economy in the process.

And we’ll go back to the 1970s to hear what it was like to be part of the LGBT community in Roanoke, Virginia.

Jesse Wright / WVPB

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”, a personal memoir by JD Vance, was on the New York Times Bestseller list for 24 weeks. After the 2016 presidential election, some people read the book hoping to gain insights into the region. It sold more than a million copies, and a Ron Howard film is now in the works.

West Virginia University Press recently published a new book called “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy.” The book includes essays, poetry and photos from 40 activists, artists and poets.

Sam Fonda pours a beer at Weathered Ground Brewery in Cool Ridge, West Virginia.
Janet Kunicki / WVPB

Craft breweries are popping up all over the region. In West Virginia alone, there are 27 breweries and three quarters of them opened in the last five years.

Sam Fonda, from Weathered Ground Brewery in Raleigh County, West Virginia, has almost 3,000 gallons of soon-to-be-beer fermenting and another 1,000 gallons aging in oak barrels nearby at any given time. That may sound like a lot, but his typical batch is 220 gallons, and that gives him the chance to experiment.


Jesse Wright

Some of the names of places in Appalachia have a long history, dating back to the 1600s. The history and story behind a name can get lost over time – leading us to question how a place got its name.

One such place is Coopers Rock state forest, located outside of Morgantown. Who was Cooper? Was he a real person? Did he live there?

Caitlin Tan / WVPB

People in Appalachia have made spirits for hundreds of years. Some people even say Appalachians are among the best at making whiskey and moonshine. But this history is sometimes coupled with negative stereotypes. Outsiders have long portrayed Appalachians as dangerous, lawless moonshiners.

Caitlin Tan

Peanut butter stouts, guava sours, hazy double IPAs, pomegranate ales – these are just a few experimental beers to come out of the craft beer craze in recent years.

According to the National Brewer’s Association, this expanding industry started in the 1990s but didn’t gain momentum until 2010, making it relatively new. Today there are more than 7,000 commercial breweries in the country.

WVU Press

The book “Appalachia North” by Matthew Ferrence takes a look at what it means to be from Appalachia and not realize it. He grew up in a part of Pennsylvania that’s part of Appalachia according to the Appalachian Regional Commission, but no one there acknowledged that fact.

Matthew Ferrence describes “Appalachia North” as a geological, cultural and as a personal journey. It’s a memoir.

Photos by StoryCorps, graphic by Jesse Wright/WVPB

StoryCorps producers brought their mobile recording studio to Charleston, West Virginia, in fall 2018, and recorded more than 100 stories. These recording are between friends, co-workers and family members. StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. These recordings will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in the largest collection of oral histories in the world.

We edited and selected a few of those conversations for this episode of Inside Appalachia.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Jeremy Farley is a self-taught expert on Appalachian storytelling.  He grew up in Wythe County, Virginia, and is the founder of Appalachian Magazine. Jeremy is also one of 10 new reporters with the Folkways Reporting Corps. Inside Appalachia host, Jessica Lilly, recently sat down with Jeremy to talk about Appalachian Magazine, and his new position on the team. We hear part of that conversation.

Emily Hilliard / West Virginia Folklife Program

Doris Fields, an R&B, soul, and blues musician and songwriter, also known as Lady D, is the daughter of a coal miner. Her dad moved to West Virginia from Alabama at 10 years old and spent 50 years in the mines. She currently lives in Beckley.

Fields explained that music has been in her blood since she was a young girl, growing up in Cabin Creek, West Virginia.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we explore how our cultural traditions change over time and evolve as they get passed from person to person.

 

How does foklife fit into our already busy, and frankly, quite stressful lives?

“Henry Glassie, another folklorist, says that folklore is the creation of the future out of the past. So in order to know where we're headed, we have to know about these traditions in the past,” explained West Virginia state folklorist Emily Hilliard.


Caitlin Tan

Walking down the streets of Greensboro, Pennsylvania, it feels a bit like a ghost town. There are houses, business signs, a post office, but only two cars drive by in 10 minutes and no one is walking the streets.

The small town in southern Pennsylvania is just across the West Virginia border. It sits on the banks of the Monongahela River, surrounded by small hills and patches of trees. In years past, the town has weathered the boom and bust of a pottery industry, river trade and coal. Lately, it has been more bust than boom.

Jesse Wright

Across the Atlantic Ocean -- 3,586 miles away from West Virginia -- you will find Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom. The western side of Wales is lined by two channels from the Celtic Sea. And inland is quite mountainous. Within those mountain towns, you will find similar folk culture to Appalachia.

“The nature of the people and the landscape is very similar. Plus, many people from West Wales came over here. So we’ve got those really strong connections,” said Peter Stevenson, a Welsh artist, writer and storyteller.

Courtesy of Patricia Boyd

This week on Inside Appalachia, basketball was a big deal for the small town of Northfork, in McDowell County, West Virginia. The high school team won the state championship eight years in a row.

Courtesy / Marshall University

Dan D’Antoni never got far from his roots, even though basketball took him away from his home in Mullens, West Virginia for nearly 50 years. He continued to be a proud son of the Mountain State while teaching the world about the unique style of basketball that he says came from the courts he grew up on.

Jesse Wright

The tall, red brick building that was once home to Rowlesburg High School still stands after surviving the historic 1985 flood.

After the flood it was no longer used as a school, but today it remains the heart of the community of Rowlesburg – it's where people meet, festivities are held, weekly dinners are made, etc.

F. BRIAN FERGUSON / CHARLESTON GAZETTE-MAIL

For many families in parts of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, the absence of clean, reliable drinking water is part of daily life.

Blaine Taylor, a 17-year-old resident of Martin County, Kentucky, struggles to manage basic hygiene when his water comes out with sediment in it.

“I had to use a case of water last night just to get enough water in my bathtub just to get myself cleaned up for today at school,” he said. “It’s rough.”


Ben Hethcoat/Marketplace

Like a slow-motion tsunami, the opioid epidemic continues to claim the lives of our friends and neighbors. Four of the top five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths are here, in Appalachia.

The drug epidemic is changing, but it’s not going away. People are still fighting for their loved ones and communities. This episode of Inside Appalachia looks at traditional and innovative ways law enforcement is tackling the challenge. And we’ll hear from people who end up behind bars anyway, as they struggle with substance use disorder.


Jessica Lilly / WVPB

Across Appalachia, thousands of coal miners have suffered from black lung disease. In the 1960s, miners organized a movement to end the chronic condition. They convinced Congress to pass new laws that were supposed to make black lung a thing of the past. Today, conditions underground have changed, and the disease has come roaring back.

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