Roller derby, pipelines, hip-hop & hillbilly comics

If you’re looking at that headline trying to figure out a connection, those are all topics featured on Blue Ridge Free State in recent months.

The podcast was included in a Poynter story about independent journalism projects in under-covered parts of America. It’s a thrill to be included alongside Southerly and Postindustrial, among others.

Check out our recent episodes:

8: One team, one goal (w/ Twin Valleys Roller Derby)

This episode is all about roller derby in Appalachia, through the lens of Twin Valleys Roller Derby in Roanoke. We visited their home finale double-header, with Twin Valleys Roller Derby versus Rail City Rollers and then Virginia All-Stars versus the World. Interviews with team skaters Black Bolt, Tar Hellion, Wedneslay Addams & Speed Junkie. We also talk to Arrak-kiss of Houston Roller Derby, Bettie Lockdown of the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes, and Slingin Gritz of  Carolina Wreckingballs Mens Roller Derby—all past NRV Rollergirls. Plus, Mason spiels about his own past as a derby ref.

9: Inside the fight to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline

On this episode, we talk about the 2018 battles we saw in court and on the ground to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile interstate natural gas line connecting the Marcellus Shale formation in northern Appalachia with lines in the Southeast U.S. We hear a segment from West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia involving Mason’s reporting on tree sits to block the line in April. We hear more reporting from over the summer with the Mountain Valley Watch, a group of citizen scientists monitoring pipeline construction. And we wrap up with a look at where the movement goes from here, via a visit by a former Virginia State Water Control Board member to the Bent Mountain community on Jan. 2, 2019.

10: #TruthIsNotHate (w/ Poe Mack)

Byron Mack is a rapper, promoter, and beat maker from Salem, Virginia, who performs as Poe Mack. We talk about what it takes to rise up from the grassroots in a scene that doesn’t want to take chances on hip-hop, and what it takes to keep going strong 20 years into the game. We talk about how a new daughter and broken leg shaped the production of Poe Mack’s new album “#TruthIsNotHate.” Also: How the hip-hop scene in Appalachian mountain towns differs from that on the coast, how to build a home recording studio in the ’90s, and how to sell your CDs in the Walmart electronic section.

11: A century of Barney Google and 85 years of Snuffy Smith (w/ John Rose)

This episode features an interview with John Rose, the cartoonist who creates “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith,” the syndicated comic strip that turned 100 this year. Rose talks about how he goes about writing and drawing a century-old legacy strip, from his daily routine to the changes he’s brought to the characters since taking over in 2001. He also addresses Barney Google’s origins as a sporting strip all about horse races and boxing; Snuffy’s moonshining origins; why he brought back Barney after a 15-year absence; and how he responds to criticisms of the broad hillbilly stereotype that gave rise to Snuffy and which he still exemplifies.

12: Snuffy Smith through the eyes of an Appalachian historian (w/ Bob Hutton)

Like Mason, Bob Hutton grew up reading Snuffy Smith in the pages of his local newspaper. Unlike Mason, Dr. Bob is a history professor at the University of Tennessee who specializes in the American South and Appalachia, which gives him a great perspective on Snuffy’s place in pop culture and how it fits into the broader history of the hillbilly stereotype. This is a fun interview that goes in some unexpected directions.

A podcast about politics, culture, history & life in Appalachia

In late September, I soft-launched Blue Ridge Free State, a podcast about politics, culture, history & life in Appalachia. If you remember There’s Nothing to Do Here!, my regional zine 2003-05, it’s like that but with all the politics I’ve covered since then.

Since the launch, we’ve released six episodes, with more coming soon.

Subscribe on iTunes or on Stitcher.

Here’s a brief rundown on the first seven:

 

1: Our Nerds in Washington (w/ Amy Friedenberger)

In our first episode, we talk about why Donald Trump is campaigning in West Virginia. We also interview Amy Friedenberger, politics reporter for the Roanoke Times, about the 2018 midterm races in Appalachian Virginia.

 

2: Mountain State Melee (w/ Jake Zuckerman)

On this episode, we talk about Donald Trump’s recent swing through Appalachia for Republican candidates for US Senate, and why he’s trying to make it all about himself. We also interview Jake Zuckerman, politics reporter for the Charleston Gazette-Mail about the West Virginia teacher’s strike, Gov. Jim Justice’s recent PEIA presser, the Manchin/Morrisey race for US Senate, the Miller/Ojeda race in southern West Virginia, and how healthcare is playing as an issue.

 

3: Can Democrats win in a post-Trump Appalachia? (w/ Kyle Kondik)

On this episode, we talk with elections analyst Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, about a variety of House, Senate, and gubernatorial races in the Appalachian region. We consider how opposition parties have fared in midterms since the 1990s, with a focus on Appalachia.

We also hear an excerpt with Mason and Madelyn Beck of Harvest Public Media from Us & Them, a West Virginia Public Broadcasting podcast about political and cultural divisions in America.

 

4: MDC—Marcin Dishes Candidly (w/ Deanna Marcin)

On this episode of Blue Ridge Free State, we talk about punk and LBGT history in Roanoke, Virginia, and how those two came together at the Backstreet Cafe.

We interview Deanna Marcin about the recent controversy of MDC’s show, how it was cancelled, and how it was rescheduled. She also talks about her journey as a transsexual woman, how she landed in Roanoke, how she came to work at the Backstreet Cafe, the atmosphere there in the years that followed a fatal shooting rampage, how she started booking punk and metal, and what’s happened since then.

 

5: Under Construction—Trauma, Urban Renewal, & 25 Years of Activism in Roanoke (w/ Brenda Hale)

On this episode, host Mason Adams interviews Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke Branch NAACP. Topics include childhood trauma, urban renewal, politics, activism, the Confederate invasion of the 2015 Roanoke Christmas parade, and much more.

 

6: 2018 Midterm Election Wrap-Up

On this episode, Mason looks back on the 2018 midterms and how they played out in Appalachia. And he looks ahead to the podcast’s near-term future.

 

7: Mountain healthcare, from VW Beetle to Drone Delivery (w/ Teresa Gardner Tyson of SWVA’s Health Wagon)

On this episode, we interview Teresa Tyson Gardner of the Health Wagon, a free clinic serving a vulnerable population in Southwest Virginia’s coal counties.

Teresa talks about the past, present, and future of the Health Wagon, the challenges to addressing healthcare in the mountains—but also how that need drives innovation and creative approaches.

Also, Mason talk about why a Roanoke city school superintendent gave copies of JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” to all of her principals ahead of the 2017-2018 school year.

How Appalachian black metal is defining a new era of mountain music (Noisey)

The music of the rising Appalachian black metal scene is awesome, & the musicians behind it are extraordinarily thoughtful individuals, so I always jump at the chance to talk to them.

This story features Slaves BC, Ulfrinn, Twilight Fauna, Nechochwen, and Vials of Wrath.

I recommended more artists here:

 

Read my story at Noisey.

From moshpits to condos and back: Salem Avenue’s transformation (Between Coasts)

At Between Coasts I wrote about how a stretch of Roanoke’s Salem Ave went from moshpits to townhouses and back again.

This story features a little more autobiography than most of my writing, as well as skaters from Twin Valleys Roller Derby + derby photos by Stephen Lowery/Kluster Flux + vintage punk pics by Kent Moore Photography.

Read it at Between Coasts.

How death metal helped me get past the need for understandable lyrics (Noisey)

In 1993, I borrowed a copy of Cannibal Corpse’s “Tomb of the Mutilated” from Joe Markley and dubbed it onto a blank cassette.

At first the vocals seemed like a joke, all snarly growls with no discernable words. After a while, though, they started to make a kind of internal sense.

They also opened a door. Any time a new vocal style intimidates with seeming impenetrability, the Cannibal Corpse formula can be applied. And that’s what led me to Young Thug.

Read my story at Noisey.

The life, death and life lessons of Ralph Stanley (Noisey)

Like many others, I felt compelled to write about Dr. Ralph Stanley after his death on Thursday.

I’m especially struck by 2 things about Ralph Stanley:

1) That moment when in 1966 when his older brother Carter died, and Ralph, as the quiter half of the Stanley Brothers, had to figure out how to move forward in an uncertain environment. He went back to his roots for “Old Time Music” less than a year after his brother’s death, and it shaped his future for the next 50 years.

2) The sheer accumulation of moments over his career. He’s performed since the ’40s—think about how much music has changed over that time.

Reporters don’t often write headlines, but I wrote this one (“How Ralph Stanley overcame tragedy and the persistance of time to change country music”) for those two story points (& only partly for the Dali/Anthrax reference).

Read my story on Ralph Stanley at Noisey.

Rediscovering Spazz, 20 years later (Noisey)

During a short stint on the West Coast, I discovered the musical subgenre of power violence, defined by mostly short metallic hardcore songs that pushed the boundaries of crossover’s conventions.

I heard Spazz a few times during that period, but it wasn’t until recently that I dug more deeply into their catalogue. Fortunately, Slap a Ham Records (run by a band member) and, more recently, Tankcrimes, released collections of the band’s numerous EPs and comp tracks.

With the rerelease of 1997’s “Sweatin’ To The Oldies,” collecting 1993-1996, and 2001’s “Sweatin’ 3: Skatin’, Satan & Katon,” collecting 1995-1998, I interviewed two of the band’s three members to figure out why this music resonates so many years later.

Read the story and interview at Noisey.

Or read it at Vice Japan.

The shape of music to come, based on who wins the presidency (Noisey)

Presidents can shift the direction of art and culture by providing an inspiration, sometimes as a hostile response to whoever inhabits in the White House.

At the dawn of the Iowa Caucuses—and thus the start of the 2016 camapign in earnest—I charted the future of music under 15 different potential presidents.

Yes, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is there.

Read my story at Noisey.