When, in January 2022, the Haywood County Arts Council (HCAC) and regional partners announced the 2021-2022 Artist Support Grant awardees, it meant that the funding would enable Garret K. Woodward, award-winning writer and long-time friend of the late Raymond Fairchild, could make progress with his desire to tell the story about the iconic world-renowned Haywood County, North Carolina banjoist.
We quizzed Woodward, who has written four cover stories about Fairchild for The Smoky Mountain News, where he is the arts and entertainment editor, about this project.
When and how did your friendship with Raymond Fairchild begin, please?
I first met Raymond Fairchild in the summer of 2012. I had just started my new position as the arts and entertainment editor for The Smoky Mountain News, a large publication (print/online) covering the mountains of Western North Carolina. The newspaper is based in Waynesville, which is the next town over from Maggie Valley, where Raymond had his Maggie Valley Opry House, and also the next town over from Canton, where Raymond lived.
As one of my first assignments for the newspaper, I was sent over to the Opry House to interview Raymond about his musical history and so on. Though he was a rough around the edges kind of character, we hit it off immediately. Here was this 70-something bluegrass legend and real deal Appalachian Mountain man. And me, this 27-year-old journalist from Upstate New York. Our friendship lasted all the way until his passing in 2019. I wrote four cover stories for The Smoky Mountain News, most notable of which being in 2015, when I drove all the way up to Bean Blossom, Indiana, to cover Raymond being inducted into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame. Over the years, we sat down and interviewed several times. Raymond Fairchild was, and will forever remain, a bluegrass icon. The legend and lore behind Raymond is something of a lost art these days, where he was a musician, moonshiner, and mountain man. I miss my friend.
What were the circumstances that prompted you to write a book about him?
The seed to write a book on Raymond was planted when I realized how many people, whether bluegrass lovers or simply Western North Carolina folks, didn’t know who he was or what he did, or how much he not only impacted and shifted the culture of bluegrass and mountain music, but also that of the culture of Western North Carolina and greater Southern Appalachia.
The idea to do this book is to ensure that his memory is kept alive and well, to have future generations pick it up and read about a bona fide musical legend. I don’t want Raymond’s achievements and influence to disappear under the sands of time.
What is the current status regarding the book?
I’m at the starting gate right now. I received the grant from the North Carolina Arts Council last month and am now putting together my past interviews, photos, and notes. I’m working on the outline and how I want it to be presented. I already have a ton of material, from past cover stories and countless old photographs to use. But I still have a few key interviews left to include, of which The Crowe Brothers, other Haywood County musicians and banjo greats, and also Raymond’s wife, Shirley. Though, sadly, there aren’t many of Raymond’s old friends and bandmates left walking the earth these days.
And when do you hope to complete it, and have it published?
I hope to have the book completed by this fall, with a winter release planned. The title will be, Lord, I’m Comin’ Home: The Legend & Lore of Raymond Fairchild — Musician, Mountain Man, Moonshiner.
Woodward added, “It’s either going to be put out through the publishing arm of The Smoky Mountain News or through a collegiate/academic publishing entity.”
Woodward has been covering the music of Western North Carolina and greater Southern Appalachia for the better part of the last decade. As well as working for The Smoky Mountain News, he the arts/music editor for Smoky Mountain Living magazine, also based in Waynesville, North Carolina.
Aside from numerous first-place awards from the North Carolina Press Association and a nomination for Print/Media Person of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association (2016), he is the author of the book If You Can’t Play, Get Off the Stage: Bluegrass in Western North Carolina and Beyond (published in 2017) also.
Since 2018, he’s been a contributing writer for Rolling Stone, profiling artists and covering such renowned festivals as Bonnaroo, MerleFest, DelFest, and FloydFest. As well, he is a contributing writer to The Bluegrass Situation and Lake Champlain Weekly.