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Away in Brevard

Thus outfitted, they went on ahead of their things, traveling first to the little town of Brevard, where there was no hotel, only a boardinghouse. They left from there in the blue light of the hour before dawn. It was a fine spring morning, and as they passed through the town Monroe had said, I am told we should be to Cold Mountain by suppertime.
--Charles Frazier,
Cold Mountain
* * * 
When I read the above passage from Charles Frazier's National Book Award winning novel, Cold Mountain, an immense feeling of nostalgia overtook me. I only read the novel a couple years ago, which happened to be when I was getting into old-time music. The book found me at the perfect time.

Frazier's 1997 novel about western North Carolinians during the Civil War is set primarily in the Appalachian Mountains and features a fiddler and banjo player as important supporting characters. References to old-time music are dappled throughout the storyline. But the reference to Brevard, N.C., struck a more personal chord.

When I read the book, the last time I had been to the small town a half-hour outside of Asheville, N.C., was after my maternal grandfather, Robert McDermand, died on New Year's Day 2005. He and my grandmother moved to Brevard when I very young.

My family would drive south from Kent, Ohio, every winter to spend Christmas at my grandparents' mountainside house in the Sequoyah Woods. Often my mother's siblings and their families would join us.

We would pick wild blackberries from the bushes on the side of the one-lane road, and my grandmother would serve our pickings for breakfast.

The first time I ever heard of moonshine was when my uncle pointed out the remnants of an old stone still during a hike in the surrounding woods.

Once a bat came through the chimney while my cousins, siblings and I slept in the great room.

My grandmother's collection of outside cats would keep us awake at night clawing their way up the screen door.

There is not enough room on the Internet for the memories.

Aside from enjoying the music, old-time has renewed my connection to those times in Brevard. Even though I was never exposed to traditional music while visiting my grandparents, my interest in the repertoire still takes me back to that house in Sequoyah Woods, whether from tune names or lyrics that reference the area, hearing about music festivals nearby, or by happy accident.

When I started to entertain the idea of upgrading my banjo from my first instrument, one of the first builders who caught my eye was Lo Gordon of Cedar Mountain Banjos. By happenstance, Gordon is based in Brevard, and his wife runs the Celestial Mountain Music store downtown. The address for Cedar Mountain Banjos is less than two miles from Sequoyah Woods. There's something perfect about that.

My grandfather is buried in a hidden away cemetery in Transylvania County, a site befitting his interest in genealogy and researching our family's Scots-Irish heritage by visiting similar burial grounds. My grandmother lives in Gahanna, Ohio, near my uncle and his family. She speaks wistfully of Brevard, and always brings up the time I came to visit them during one spring break when I was eight years old. I'd flown to the airport in Asheville by myself. I drew her pictures of Dennis the Menace, and I didn't know then that old-time music would make me think of those times so many years later.

Two years ago, in the fall of 2009, my fiancee and I drove to the Carolinas for my oldest friend's wedding in Charleston, S.C. During the trip, we stopped by Brevard. We visited my grandparents' old house on the mountain. We ate at an Irish pub I'd always wanted to visit. We went to Celestial Mountain Music and I tested some Cedar Mountain banjos. During the drive home from North Carolina, I received a call about a monthly jam in my old hometown. A few months later, I would attend my first Kent Shindig and at last join my local old-time community.

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