Jared Hamilton - Media Artist, Musician and Promoter, Pikeville, Kentucky:
“Growing up in the mountains is pretty amazing. A lot of time you either watch TV, or work on art, or walking around in the woods, whatever you want to do. Or waste your life on drugs. Those are pretty much your options.
It’s a very big problem [drugs], but I don’t really see a lot of that problem area. I’m not really around the bad a lot, the bad side, you know. The bad side of boredom, that’s what I’m going to call that.
I like the word, hillbilly. I don’t see it as derogatory, unless it’s being used in a derogatory way. Hillbilly is a nice term to me. Redneck is different. A hillbilly is someone, to me, who enjoys the hills, and wants to live in the hills. And enjoys being in nature, and wants to have a farm, or at least grow some food, even a small garden, or wants to be further away from the city. It’s someone who really just loves this culture and embraces it. You don’t even have to have roots. I think you can become a hillbilly. I think it’s inside of you. There are hillbillies in Oregon, you know. There are hillbillies that are born in New York City, that have to retreat to the hills to be who they are.
I remember the first time I went to the Breaks Interstate Park, and I climbed over the edge of the bannister, and sat on the edge. That moment kind of just changed my life. I had never really felt so small until then, and then coming up to Wiley’s Last Resort also changed my life a little bit. Just being conscious about taking care of your land. Just the way that people go about things.
[The Appalachian stereotype began with media] trying to come in and help, because there was such great poverty down here. They thought they were doing a good, enlightening thing with their journalism, to show how bad it is, so people would feel bad and want to help. But people down here are proud, and they don’t want that help. And that’s only a part of the population that is even considered poor to us. And it offends people that they are lumped into that. I think the media doesn’t have bad intentions, but it comes off that way to people from here.
Appalachian culture really breeds creative geniuses over and over again, because not a lot of people have a lot of money to go out and do things. And spend a lot of money going on trips, like whatever it is that more wealthy people do with their time. It leaves a lot of free time to be creative, and I think that’s a good thing.
The band’s called Moonshine District. We just started in October, of last year. We just got together and started playing, and it’s been going since then. (I’m not sure about these names.) Maggie Noelle, Katie Didit, Eric Smith, and myself. We have a washtub bass, fiddle, mandolin, and two female vocals. It’s hard to explain the type of music it is. It’s not really Bluegrass, but we’re definitely lumped into Bluegrass, but influences from all over, from funk to soul, to R&B to punk rock, to just like any kind of folk music.
It is mountain music though. Everything definitely draws influence from the old time traditional music. You can’t reproduce that, because we’ve been influenced by so many other things, than what people were that made that original mountain music. I think any music that comes out of here could still be considered mountain music, even if it’s old time or new time. It’s modern mountain music.
I got a guitar when I was twelve, and I never really got that good at it. For one reason, I’m stubborn, and I don’t want to learn other people’s songs. Also, because I was so consumed with having to work, and go to school for so many years. I dropped it for photography, and I did pretty well with that. But once I got my job at Appalshop, which I don’t have that job anymore, I had all this extra time in the evening. I picked up the mandolin, and I’ve been playing mandolin for probably fifteen months. I’ve only really tried to actually understand music, and keys, and scales, in the last year and a half. But it’s all I do.
A lot of my family’s made money from coal, and definitely mountaintop removal is horrible, but it is what it is. People got to make money somehow, so you offer people who don’t really have that much twenty dollars an hour, they’re going to do what you tell them. You can’t really villain-ize the miner, but the coal companies are definitely evil.
How much more coal is there? How long can that last, if they blow up every mountain? It’s got to run out sometime. It’s not exactly a renewable resource. I don’t really care, if people are making money, and feeding their families. That’s one thing. But it’s definitely leaving, and I think we need to find a way to move on.
What we’re doing at Wiley’s (a music festival resort on top of Pine Mountain in Kentucky) is a part of it (moving away from dependence on coal), using music to draw people in for nature tourism. Exposing people to the beautiful Pine Mountain with the trick of flashing lights and music. You come to this music festival up here, or any of the things that Jim’s ever put on; you come for the music, and you stay for Mars Rock, and the pond, and the mountain. It’s a different climate than in the valleys. It’s a rain forest up here. It’s a different climate, than in the valleys. It’s a magical place. You come here, and you never want to leave.
If you want to pursue the kind of career that I want to pursue, and make enough money to have a decent life, you’re going to have to go somewhere else to do it. My career, I consider to be photography, and I’m at least going to have to be closer to Lexington and Louisville to be able to get enough work to feed myself with that business.
I definitely don’t like living in the city. I would much rather be here, but it’s also a double-edged sword, because I’m a social beast. There isn’t that many social opportunities down here. At least, not for the kind of weirdo that I am, who wants [to] go to concerts, and hang out with more artistic types, musical, artsy kind of people. There is a scene for it, but just not as much as I would like. But it’s a double-edged sword, because the fast life of the city wears me out. It makes me grumpy, too.
I went to school at Western Kentucky University, and I got a Bachelor’s in photojournalism. I’ve worked in newspapers in Michigan and Pikeville, Gilbert, West Virginia, and all kinds of different places. I love it, but I’m trying to do magazine work now. It’s what I want to do. I have a bunch of friends that have really good connections, that I’ve never tried to use, because I was teaching, and I really wanted to do that. I just wanted to do something that was more like a non-profit, community servant type thing. I think being an artist is kind of self-serving. I went through a phase where I didn’t want to dedicate my life to doing something that was self-serving, so I wanted to do something that was good for my community. I got a job at AMI, and that program changes kids’ lives, and I loved every second of it, but now that I’ve had a taste of that, I’m going to really push, and see what I can do out in the world.“