“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.”