Shelbie Gilley

“To cope with things in my life, I write. Then I put the writing together and write songs…There’s one of them I’m going to title ‘Nearly Numb,’ I think. I might change that. (Laughs) It’s about this chick at my school that made me really mad. Oh, gosh. She was my best friend, but then she started telling them things that I didn’t want them to know about me, and so I got mad at her, and I’m writing a song about her.”

Shelbie Gilley, Age 12; Pound, Virginia:

“We live kind of out in the woods at the very end of the holler. It’s always been pretty nice, because we don’t have to deal with much city stuff. We have hills to ride our bikes on [and it’s] pretty fun, especially when it snows. It gets slick. The trees are fun, and the sky especially. We have dry land fish. I think they’re like a mushroom. They look like sponges, and they grow where it’s wet, that’s why they are called dry land fish. I like photography and my iPod. I draw a lot. Mostly like just cartoons. I’m working on a lot of stuff. I’m trying to teach myself to draw actual, realistic things, and other things besides that.

I grew up with [my grandparents] before we got a house of our own. They’ve lived around this area all their lives. They tell me stories about when they grew up, all the time. My Nana said they used to have this big rock where they were at, and their Dad had brought it to them from where he worked. I don’t really remember it that much, but they used to play on it. And my Nana would talk about her chores that she had, which were a lot of chores. She used to have to take care of the farm animals, and she used to have to wash a lot of stuff. There’s plenty of stuff that children don’t have to do these days. 

[Appalachia is special because] you get to see what it’s like to grow up around great people, and you have a great history around you; all the visual stuff and a lot of music. [You learn] where all the instruments came from, who used to play them and where people came from. People used to play music while they worked. They used to play music all together, and when they wrote music they wrote music about what they did around here, and they told stories with it. 

[I’ve played the banjo for] a year and a couple of months. I thought it was cooler than the guitar, and I didn’t think the fiddle would be too easy to pick up, so I wanted to start on banjo. Me and my sister, we play ‘Jimmy Brown.’  Everybody gets us to play that, so it’s pretty fun. I think the full title is ‘Jimmy Brown the Newsboy.’  We play it for her all the time for my Nana and my Poppy. They said they used to sing that all the time when they were little. It reminds them of when they used to sing it, when we play it for them. 

My mom grew up in Haysi, which is forty-five minutes from our house, and my dad grew up with my Nana and Poppy, where we grew up. My mom stays at the house and cooks and cleans with us. Fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits; my mom is the best cook! She learned it from her mom, who learned it from her mom. My dad surveys. 

[My saddest time was] when my dad’s brother committed suicide. This was 2013, so I was ten, I think. Oh, it was horrible. Nobody knew what to do. It took a lot of coping, a lot of us had to start going to therapy. Nobody expected this.. Oh, there were so many people at the funeral, like it was an unbelievable amount. At the funeral home, there were people in the seats, which is quite a lot of seats, and there were people lined up around there, and around this way, and there were people waiting outside, because they couldn’t fit them into the room. And on the way to the burial, oh gosh, there were so many cars. We had to have like three cops.

My happiest time was when I started learning music. When I was little I loved art, and I was like, ‘You know, I think that music’s a type of art.’  When I got a little older, I was like, ‘I want to do, since I can’t really do art that much, I want to do this type of art,’ and I started playing music, and it’s become something that I’m really good at. 

We’re called the ‘Country Cabin Band.’ They pick the most advanced people out of the JAMS Program and they put us here. The JAMS Program is a program for kids who want to learn music, but can’t really afford their own instruments, and the kids that want to learn about their music from this area. We play the music from around here. ‘Mississippi Sawyer’ is fun. That one’s hard though. It’s a good banjo song to play. You have to go all the way up and down the neck of the banjo, and it’s really fast. It’s hard to play a banjo slow.

I want to play music. I’m writing my own music currently. To cope with things in my life, I write. Then I put the writing together and write songs. None of them are finished. There’s one of them I’m going to title ‘Nearly Numb,’ I think. I might change that. (Laughs) It’s about this chick at my school that made me really mad. Oh, gosh. She was my best friend, but then she started telling them things that I didn’t want them to know about me, and so I got mad at her, and I’m writing a song about her. 

I want to travel the world, but home is where all my family and all the people that I love are. The people that I’ve met here, I won’t ever forget, and I’ll always come back to see if they’re still here, and if they are I’m going to stay here for a while, to stay with them. 

I don’t really take the word Hillbilly as a compliment, because of how people use it. It just kind of makes me mad the way people use the terms that we use here. [People think hillbillies are] always intoxicated, with a very roguish accent. 

It makes me so mad when people make fun of Appalachia. They see us as stupid, and that we’re all, like I said earlier, that we’re all intoxicated, and that we’re always drinking! Some people may be like that, but you can’t just assume that everybody’s like that. They need to understand that there’s more to this type of place. We’re good people!  We’re not mean to people. We understand situations, and we’ve had it hard here. 

I think it’s just generally great. I love it. It’s just a happy place. I like being here. (Pauses and listens to band starting up in the background) They’re playing one of my favorite songs right now! It makes me happy.”

Larry Mullins

“The Arts are something that everybody needs, whether it be music, drama, acting, singing, painting, photography; a way to express just the joy in life. It’s not all just about work, and make money, buy a home, buy a car, and eat, and work, and repeating the same cycle. There’s got to be some joy in life to make it worthwhile.”

Larry Mullins, Retired Teacher; Wise, Virginia:

“I grew up in Jenkins, Kentucky. I grew up in the late forties, early fifties, and didn’t have all the ‘thumb exercise’ electronics that kids have today. We were outside just about from daylight till dark, skinning the cat, hanging, doing things now that people [don’t do now]. We rode bicycles without helmets, all kinds of things that way. We had swimming in the summertime, of course, baseball, basketball, and sports. We were active throughout the neighborhood, some of it organized, and a lot of it just on our own. 

My dad worked for Consolidation Coal Company that was bought out by Bethlehem Steel. He worked for the company itself, in supply and the accounting department. He didn’t go in the mines much. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. 

Levi Potter was my granddad. I never did know him; he died about ten years before I was born. I was probably in high school when my dad’s father died, so I did know him some. My dad’s mother also passed away before I was born. I had one grandmother I knew and I spent a lot of time with, and that was my mother’s mother. I can remember she always would play games. On Sundays, we would gather around at her house. My mother had like eleven in her family, so that’s where we would gather. Sometimes, there would be five or six brothers and sisters, [and] all kinds of cousins running around. We’d play baseball out in the pasture field. Family’s what it was. It was all about family.

Now Jenkins actually was, I guess, incorporated or came about in approximately 1911 or 1912. They had their own school. They built their own lake for their own water supply. The coal company built houses not just the miners, but other employees to live in, and it was literally company housing. They might pay ten dollars rent, and that’s just a guess, sometimes less. It was, in a way, subsidized housing by the company, and most the houses looked very much cookie cutter, all the same. Most of the time, they were reasonably close to where the people worked. The [housing sections] were named for where the mines were. You might have Number 1, Number 2 Hollow, Number 3, Number 6, and so forth that way, and that correlated with the mine that was located close by. My Dad actually was manager of the company store after he came back after World War II, and I think some beforehand, too.

Coal camps are a close-knit community, particularly when growing up. If your parents didn’t see you do something, say something wrong, one of your neighbors or good friends would, and it was just like more of a family atmosphere, even though it wasn’t your immediate family. 

High school was wonderful. I probably wasn’t the best student ever was, but I got through it. Of course, I played all the sports, basketball, baseball, and all that, and just had a lot of friends. Just the normal high school experience, I guess.

I went to Pikeville College, that’s where I graduated. I made it to Eastern and Morehead for a little while, but I graduated from Pikeville. Then, I got a job teaching in Wise, in 1969. Got a Master’s Degree from UVA a little bit later. I taught for thirty-three years. 

I played just a little music in college, not very much, and once I started teaching, I pretty much laid it down. But after I retired, I got to listening to claw hammer banjo. I thought, ‘boy, I’d like to do that.’ Grandpa Jones, you know. Of course, lots of people play different styles. Although it may be claw hammer, it’s not all the same. I took a claw hammer banjo class at Mountain Empire, and from that I got back into the guitar some. 

I started playing with a string band, and started trying to learn how to really play some. I still don’t play all that great, but I play enough to enjoy. I play with a lot of people. I listened to rock and roll. I listened, I liked a lot of it, but when I wanted to play, country music was where it was. I didn’t really know about this old time music. I’d never heard of that, but Merle Haggard and that crew…those are the ones I listened to. Out of high school I dated a girl, her family played. I just got around with them, and picked it up watching them play. They’d show me things, and I’d figure out a thing or two my own, and took it from that. 

I play the guitar mostly, and autoharp. I like the guitar and all, but I love the autoharp. I play banjo a little, and upright bass. The autoharp, from what I understand, probably originated in Germany. I’m not a hundred percent sure about that, but of course, the Carter Family are the ones that really brought the autoharp to the forefront in this area. Mother Maybelle, Sara, A.P., and all that. Where I already played guitar, it wasn’t very hard to transfer it over to the autoharp. It’s not too difficult. I guess Oscar Harris that plays with Dale Jett said it best. He said, ‘It’s really not all that hard to play, but it’s fairly hard to play to play really well.’  If you start to try to play melody on it, you just have to try different things. See what works and keep it, and if it doesn’t work, try not to do that same thing again. 

Now, [I teach with the] JAMS Program, the Junior Appalachian Musician Program. It was started in North Carolina and moved here, I think, in the fall of 2012. I’ve been working with that, teaching the youngsters that’s middle school age, fourth through eighth grades. I also teach music at Mountain Music School at Mountain Empire Community College in the summer. I teach guitar there, and I play with a group or two.

JAMS is where I love to see the kids. They just pick up like a sponge soaking up water. It is an after school program funded by different corporations, donations and grants. The kids are furnished instruments if they need one. They’re welcome to use their own, but if they don’t have an instrument, an instrument is provided. Also, transportation to the site where they get their instruction, that’s provided. There’s a very small fee, not all of them have to pay that even. There are scholarships available, and it’s based on need. They come in, and many of them have never picked up a guitar, or banjo, or fiddle. Those are the three most prevalent instruments. We just literally start from very much the beginning. Maybe show the charts, show them how to play some fingers, learn simple songs, and just develop a process, and each one is allowed to develop at their own rate. We try to keep the classes small, anywhere from five to six. I’ve had as many as ten in class, which that’s getting pretty much in the top that you can do, particularly with beginners, but we try to make it as individual as possible. 

Then after a few began to advance, we began to develop beginners, as well as intermediate guitar classes, so they could move on that way. 

The JAMS Program actually shut down in two of the three locations of the county. So we decided there were several of these kids who needed to be playing wouldn’t have a place to do so. So the Country Cabin here, which is owned by Appalachian Traditions [gave them that place to play]. Appalachian Traditions’ mission statement is to preserve, perpetuate, or promote Appalachian culture. We have music here every Saturday night, put on a Dock Boggs Festival every September, the second week in September, and just promote the music, give people a place to enjoy. 

We said, ‘they need a place to play. There’s no sense to shut it down.’  So we picked the ones, you know, that were more advanced, and they’ve come a long way from here. We call the band the Country Cabin String Band. All of these kids, but one maybe or two, also went to the MECC, the Mountain Music School. But they all were at JAMS, so these are all JAMS kids. We started out with twelve. One was sliding down stairs on a cardboard box, cause she wanted snow, and broke her legs. So she dropped out, and another one, I guess because of the distance dropped out. We have nine regular now, and they’re from all parts of the county. 

They learn from one another. We have songs, you know that we teach them, and they play those, but they also come up with their own songs they want to learn. It’s mostly old-time, but doesn’t necessarily have to be. It just gives me absolute joy to watch them learn. They do songs like ‘Hallelujah.’  They’re working on maybe a Carter family song or two. They’re also working on a Dixie Chicks song. So we’re just doing what they like, but we do keep it acoustic. Now they might want to branch out later, which is wonderful, but for right now we concentrate on the acoustic, and the acoustic sound, and Appalachian music, is really what we keep concentrating on. 

This is actually separate from the JAMS Program. Some of the kids may or may not be even be in the JAMS Program coming up right now, but it still just gives them a place to play. They get to play at the Crooked Road Facility in Abingdon, over at Heartwood, they’ve got to play with Wayne Henderson, opening a show for him over at the Lee Theater. 

The music is about so much more than just the music; the confidence that builds in them to get up in front of people. We’ve had one or two kids here that were very, very shy, and to see them now, just in a year’s time or less get up and play and sing in front of people, you’d never know that they ever had a shy bone in their body. 

I love music, and I love seeing the kids develop and do what they like to do, and finding out. They might go from, ‘I can’t do that,’ to, ‘Boy, I did that well, didn’t I?’  (Laughs)  Seeing that light turn on. Just knowing that this culture and this music is going to carry on, and we need to learn from the past. Things get lost. If you don’t learn from the past, you go one and make some mistakes that you might not make if you do learn from the past, what went on before. 

I’m sure that they will be able to play lifelong in some way or another. A lot of them also do sports, and they do other things. But they realize, too, that this is one thing that if they live to be ninety years old, they can still be doing this and they’re not going to be playing basketball or football at ninety years old, and they just love it. Three of the girls were in ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, in the drama last year, played music and were actually on the stage some. I’m sure that some will go on to audition for roles, and they will be able to carry it off very well. 

The Arts are something that everybody needs, whether it be music, drama, acting, singing, painting, photography; a way to express just the joy in life. It’s not all just about work, and make money, buy a home, buy a car, and eat, and work, and repeating the same cycle. There’s got to be some joy in life to make it worthwhile.

(How can other communities start a program like this?) Find people that actually believe in passing along the tradition, and set it up. I’m sure that the people who started this JAMS Program, and from North Carolina would be glad to maybe give them some advice and hints, and tell them how to get started. How to maybe get a grant, how to maybe get some corporate sponsorship. We have corporate sponsorship to help buy the guitars, the capos, the tuners, the picks, the cases, and everything for the kids to learn. They can take their instruments home with them and practice. It’s not something they have to leave. True, we may lose an instrument now and then, but in the long run it’s worth it. There’s a lot more gained than lost. 

Volunteers [are key]. People who are enthusiastic, and who just love the music and want to pass it on. Playing music is a whole lot better than some of the alternatives that kids or grown-ups either one can be involved in. The idle hands type of thing, if you’ve got something to stay busy, it’s a whole lot better than going out looking for something to do. 

The other places I’ve visited, actually I tend to like it around here. There’s times, particularly when we have sixteen inches of snow on, that I’d like to be in Hawaii, but most of the time I like it right here. I love to go to the mountains. I love to hike. I have fished. I’ve hunted. I don’t do that much anymore, but I love to just get out and hike and take pictures in the woods. 

I’m definitely a hillbilly. I love it. That’s I guess, in a way as much of an expression as anything, but I just enjoy the hills, and my talk often reflects it. Just because I know proper English doesn’t mean I always use that. I’ll say ain’t just as often as not. (Laughs)  I grew up in Appalachia, not like some newsmen mispronounced it. The whole world decided we had to go with a different pronunciation. Yeah, we know how it’s said here.

Stereotyping, you see it on TV all the time. Some of these talk shows, if they want to portray somebody as maybe being not very smart or not knowing very much, use the term hillbilly. Well, it’s a complete, complete misnomer and the ones that do that are truly ignorant. They show their own ignorance by doing that, and I’ve heard one particular retired talk show host now, used to constantly berate people from the south or from Kentucky. You hear this quite often, from the ones that have never been here to even know. 

The only way that minds can be changed is if people actually visited and saw, for longer than twenty-four hours, and didn’t believe everything that they read in the Life magazine article that was published about fifty or sixty years ago. A lot of times, the media wants to sensationalize something, so they’ll take the worst and get the attention, and there are some bad places in bad, undesirable situations in every city in the world. I think these undesirable locations are show to be the norm, which they’re not. 

Appalachians are close-knit, but also a little bit skeptical, because of the way that we have been presented before in the past. Sure, we’ve had a lot of moonshine made here in the past in different places. My own dad’s brother was killed in sort of a moonshine, not a war, but disagreement I guess you’d say. But anymore, the world is diversified and there’s really not that much difference. But when you’re presented in a bad light, you tend to become skeptical of people from the outside. A lot of times outsiders come in and see what they think they’re going to see, instead of what’s really there, and that’s a problem.

We [have to] diversify our economy in some way, hopefully through tourism, through music, through other industries that might be suitable to locate here. You’ve got to have a basic economy. People are leaving Appalachia right now, leaving this region. The towns here are just mere shells of what they used to be. People have to leave here to find jobs. There’s probably as many people here on some type of government assistance than there are really working, and it’s not a good situation.

I’d like to be remembered fondly as one who passed on the tradition of music to young kids and helped them develop. And there’s one in particular, she was in my beginning guitar class, and now she’s got her own group. She plays with a group called ‘The Buttermilk Girls,’ and one’s fifteen and she’s seventeen, and absolutely wonderful, wonderful musicians. Beth Miller and Maggie Gattly are ‘The Buttermilk Girls,’ and they play quite a bit. They got to go to the IBMA awards and play this year, only a storm hit and they didn’t get to play, but at least they were selected and got to go. You helped them learn their first chord, and now I can go to her, ‘Beth, how do you do that? Show me.’  She can teach what was once the teacher. She can go a long, long way just because of ‘want to’ as much as anything else. Sure, you’ve got to have a certain amount of talent, but talent without work or the willingness, or the ‘want to’ to go ahead and do it…[you have to have that] Appalachian determination.”

Allison Broyles

“It’s simple, yes, but there are amazing things here, like ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.’  It’s not just small town off in the middle of nowhere, you know. There are some great opportunities here.” 

Allison Broyles, Age 13; Big Stone Gap, Virginia:

“I live in Big Stone Gap. I used to live in Knoxville, Tennessee. . My dad’s family lived here, and we just needed a change. [We’ve lived here] about six or seven years. Well, it’s a lot simpler. It’s a nice town. There are a lot of good people here and I’ve made a lot of new friends. I haven’t really done any sport. I draw sometimes, and that’s about it. I like to play four instruments. I’ve been playing fiddle for four years, and I play piano, ‘doghouse bass,’ and guitar. My dad sings, and my grandmother plays piano.

My dad has always been the one working. He works as a mechanic at Carter Machinery, and he works on really big machines. My dad is a hardworking man. He is loving, and I’m glad he’s my dad, and not someone else’s. (Laughs)  He encourages sports, and he also encourages music. He wants you to do what you want to do.

My mom used to work at a police department, but she had to quit whenever she had my little brother and my little sister. My mom, she works hard, too, at home. She’s, hmm, I think she’s mean at times. (Laughs)  But you know, she gets everything done, and she makes sure we’ve got everything that we need. I have one sister and two brothers. My little brother is learning to play guitar. My older brother, he used to play guitar, but he quit. 

[My grandparents] are old-fashioned, you know. They have cornbread and beans for dinner a lot. They have a simpler lifestyle than some people. It’s good. My grandmother taught me to cook, and she helps me with piano sometimes. 

My teacher really encouraged [my music] whenever Wise Jams came about. When I told my parents about it, they really pushed me to do it because they thought I would really like it, and I really do. Jams is a good program. That’s where I started out. There’s a lot of great opportunities, a lot of great people you meet. It’s after school. You ride a bus from your school to wherever you practice. They start out with teaching you the strings and how to hold everything. Then, they start out with simple chords and teach you songs, and you advance from there. I thought guitar was just too simple, and banjo seemed really hard, so fiddle was the last option, and I really enjoyed it. 

I prefer alternative [music] whenever I listen to it. For playing, it doesn’t matter, as long as I’m playing something that I like. There’s a lot of things that make mountain music different from other types of music; the voices, and how it’s played. You can actually hear individual instruments and there are instrumental breaks. It’s just not what you would normally hear on the radio. I don’t really have a favorite. It’s just whatever comes up at the time. 

This band is full of great people. I think we have a lot of variety of songs, but they’re all good songs, and I mean, it’s just a great band to be in. We play at festivals, home craft days, we go recruiting for schools, stuff like that. I like the schools because it’s people of our age, but festivals there are a lot of different people at the festivals, and different bands playing. 

(Are you a hillbilly?)  Yes, and no. My dad will take me hunting, and he’ll teach me how to grow food. You know, just stuff like that, that hillbillies usually do. But then I don’t have that sense of style, I guess, and I don’t act that way, but whenever I’m around my family, I am. 

I would prefer to move, New York, probably. I just like the faster life. I would like to move to a city, but this would be a nice town to stay in, if I really needed to. 

I want to be a singer. I mean, it’s just my dream job. I like playing the guitar alongside of me singing because it just relaxes me a lot. My favorite song to sing is Hallelujah, by Jeff Buckley. I don’t know, I’ve just always loved that song. It’s so much fun to play.  

I think that [outsiders] don’t really understand what this area is about. They just haven’t been here and they haven’t experienced everything. They haven’t met the people that live here. They don’t really understand everything about it, people get the wrong idea sometimes. 

It’s simple, yes, but there are amazing things here, like ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.’  It’s not just small town off in the middle of nowhere, you know. There are some great opportunities here. I would tell them that it is a safer place. There are a lot of great people. Everybody knows everybody, and it’s just a good place to live, whether it looks like it would be boring or not.”

Owen Hayes

“When my grandfather flies, you see all the mountains around us, and then it starts to get smaller and smaller and you can see a big barrier of mountains surrounding this part of southwest Virginia. It’s pretty neat because you think Wise is small, but when you see the whole layout of it, it’s pretty big.” 

Owen Hayes, Age 12; Wise, Virginia:

“Well, [Wise is] a small town. We’re always wishing to be in a big city because there’s more opportunities and stuff, but you know, it’s just good here because everyone’s practically family.

My mom’s a nurse. She’s actually going to college right now to get her Nurse Practitioner [degree]. It’s kind of difficult for her, and she just had surgery for her stomach, but we just have to help as much as we can. She’s raising four boys on her own. 

I’ve got all brothers and mom is always like, ‘I just want to have a tea party!’ It’s not ever going to happen. I have a twin; his name is Will. I have an older brother that’s two years older than me named Joey, and then I have a four-year-old brother named Ben. And then I have a half brother that is turning 20. Whenever you watch movies and stuff, twins are best friends, but I don’t know if that’s true or not most of the time. Him, and me we get in fights a lot but we’re not hating each other. He started playing guitar, but he kind of pushed back away from it. He plays this game on the computer and he wants to be a firefighter when he gets older, so he plays firefighter games that teach him stuff. 

My dad’s a police officer. So mom’s a nurse and dad’s a police officer, so you get all the stuff that you need. He’s amazing too. He can teach us everything and he shows us all the stuff in his car. He lives in Pulaski County, which is near Roanoke. 

All the music really makes the mountains special to me. I like the music. In cities, it’s upbeat and it feels weird when you go. Whenever you play music here, it’s like a family because there’s the banjos, the fiddles, the guitars and things like that and you’re all in together and playing together. I like traditional [music]. 

I started doing mountain music school when I was nine. That’s where I got my fiddle career. My great-grandfather and my great-great grandfather, they both played violin and that gave me some inspiration. [The difference between a fiddle and violin] Depends on what the music is. If we’re playing here, it’s considered a fiddle from the music. But if I wanted to play classical music, it would be considered violin. It doesn’t [get tuned differently], but you can tell it’s different. It would be hard for me to go to classical because I wouldn’t be used to it. I’ve been playing for four years. I just always liked [it]. 

My grandmother was a music teacher at Norton Elementary. I get most of my musical influence from her. She plays the piano and she played the flute in the marching band. I’d always watch her in class. I just loved hearing about the violin and stuff like that so I was like, ‘when I get older I want to play this.’ She said, ‘well there’s a music program that you can join when you’re this age.’ I said, ‘alright, let’s join it,’ and my first year was just amazing. [The program was called] Jams.

They don’t have many things like this here. This is just amazing because [there are] a lot of kids, and you get to know everybody and you play music together. First you’re a Beginner. They teach you a lot about the instrument and chords and stuff like that. Then, there’s Advanced for guitars and if you’ve played before you get to play some and they teach you more songs and more things like that. Once you get better and better, you come here, which is the Country Cabin String Band, and it’s like the advanced kids. I would guess there are around 12 kids. We’re all like a family so we all know each other. 

I have a teacher named Tommy and Larry and Katie, and they’re all the best. Just because they man a guitar, man a banjo, they can still help you with whatever you need, and they’re the best. I like the song Tennessee Waltz. I don’t know the lyrics to it, but I have my own solo whenever we do concerts. 

My grandmother doesn’t want us to be all ‘country’ and stuff like that. She wants us to be proper, so she’ll be like, ‘it’s not pop, it’s soda.’  Her family was proper and that just makes her special because she likes music. My mom is by herself, so my mom and my grandmother both take care of me—half at her house, half at my mom’s house, so I get to learn a lot from her.

My grandfather, he’s a pilot. He works at the Lonesome Pine Airport. He teaches me a lot of that stuff and he’s into wars and stuff, so he’s got knives and things. I’d like to be a pilot one day. I have an older brother, and he’s 16 right now. For his birthday, he got a pilot’s book so they’re learning how to fly right now. I’ve been in the plane with him once, and I’m kind of nervous, but I know I’m safe with him. We flew just around Wise, and it’s unique because you can see the things you’ve seen in a car, but from up above. 

With the music, every day my grandmother could teach me something new and she’ll be like, ‘you can do it, you learn with your ears and that’s a special thing that you can do, so you just need to be practicing that.’ My grandparents teach me a lot of what the right things to do are. [My grandmother] takes me here most every night. She’ll be like, ‘you’ll do great, just pack your fiddle up, make sure it’s tuned, get everything done right.’  

She is a good cook. She has a magnet on her fridge that shows a woman with a spoon and it says, ‘I wonder who cooks around here?’ She can cook almost anything. I guess my favorite is spaghetti, but my grandfather is half Italian and I’m quarter [Italian. There’s a place called Roma’s in Wise County and we always go there and it’s our favorite place to go. It’s an Italian restaurant. 

We like cornbread a lot, we’ll make a ton of it. I like getting all the family and eating together and we all talk about our day and stuff like that. I don’t like biscuits and gravy, but my family does, so they’ll be like, ‘you’re really weird if you don’t like biscuits and gravy.’  I like biscuits; I’m fine with a chicken biscuit, but not gravy.

I was really young; I was like two when my parents divorced. But the saddest time in my life… I don’t know if I really have one yet. (On happiest time) Well, all my family, as a surprise, we went to Disney World when I was in the 4th grade. Now I’m in the 6th grade. That was a big surprise, and my whole family came which was even better. My uncle, he’s just the best, he’s the rollercoaster king. So we would go ride roller coasters with him. 

I don’t go hunting because my mom’s like, ‘I would kill an animal for us to eat if something happened wrong, but I hate it when people kill an animal and just leave it there and don’t do anything about it.’  We don’t really hunt, but I think it’d be neat. I like to fish, personally. I haven’t cooked fish much, but I think hand caught fish is way better than fish from Captain D’s and stuff. I’ve only caught one kind of fish, which is kind of weird. It’s a bluegill, which is a teeny tiny fish. But I don’t go fishing much. 

I like video games. Most people play video games, but my brothers and me will all play together and we’ll just have a great time doing it.

To me, being Appalachian means living in the mountains and knowing all about music and stuff. You can go to one single person and ask, ‘have you ever heard of this type of music, like country music, have you ever heard this song?’ They’re never going to say no. Once you hear one song, you hear most everything. 

Outsiders probably call us rednecks and hillbillies. A lot of us are, but there are people that aren’t. You can’t go to somebody and call them a redneck, because not everybody’s a redneck. You can go to certain people and tell that they’re true hillbillies, or you can go to certain people and tell they’re kind of and kind of not. [Hillbillies] speak all “country” and they love Southern pride and stuff like that. [They] have the Confederate flag flying from their car. 

I don’t think I’ll get a career in music. My brother, he’s the drum major in the school band, I’m fine with doing that, but I just don’t want to make my career music. I love music, I could do it all my life, but I’d rather be something else. My uncle is a doctor, and he’s really inspired me to be in the medical field, and that’s what I want to do. He lives in Roanoke, so he gets to work a lot. He gets all the neat calls that he [tells] us about. 

When my grandfather flies, you see all the mountains around us, and then it starts to get smaller and smaller and you can see a big barrier of mountains surrounding this part of southwest Virginia. It’s pretty neat because you think Wise is small, but when you see the whole layout of it, it’s pretty big.”