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Southern Strings And Stories With WNCW's Joe Kendrick

Joe Kendrick of WNCW, Spindale, NC.
Joe Kendrick of WNCW, Spindale, NC.

Radio is more than a signal and a service. It can act as a metaphor for the energy, sound and reach of a music scene. Healthy synergies of radio station and music community are harder to find in the 21st century than they were in the 70s and 80s, but they’re around. We certainly try to capture the Nashville zeitgeist on WMOT, and there’s no doubt that in the potent scene of western North Carolina, WNCW is a hub of an extensive network of creatives and fans. Running operations and programming at the NPR affiliate is veteran broadcaster Joe Kendrick. And I thought it would be revealing and interesting to get together with him for a conversation.

Joe started in radio as an undergraduate at UNC Chapel Hill, where he was a DJ for a college rock station that years before had influenced me as a high schooler in the area. He’s been with WNCW as a part-timer or full-timer almost continuously since graduation in the 1990s. Now he’s host of the radio show and podcast Southern Songs And Stories, “a documentary series about the music of the South and the artists who make it.” We’ve conversed with a good number of guests in common in the roots music space, but Joe also pursues location-based reports and conceptual shows, such as his recent discourse on the power of live music.

In early September, Joe and I made our way to the inaugural Earl Scruggs Music Festival at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Springs, NC. It seemed like the perfect environment to kick on some microphones and talk about our respective markets and music scenes. Asheville and Nashville have been influencing each other for a century, and that feeling was strong at Scruggs Fest, where Nashville’s Molly Tuttle and Bela Fleck shared the bill with NC artists Fireside Collective and Balsam Range.

“It is special, and being ground zero for bluegrass is going to help no matter what,” says Kendrick about the Blue Ridge Mountain region. “You've got just all of these legends that come from here, these traditions of playing and passing down from generation to generation, playing music as entertainment, a family level thing that’s just ingrained in the culture. And so when you have those factors, you know, good things happen.”

I couldn’t agree more. Nashville’s draw is a critical mass of professional level artists, musicians and enablers all bumping into one another in a dense scrum of creativity and ambition. While Asheville and its surroundings have the business on simmer while most of the music is made for the oldest of reasons - personal and community joy and sustenance.

That’s why for this week, Joe and I have merged our shows into a special edition that we’re calling Southern Strings And Stories. He’s edited and contextualized our conversation in his own way, and I can’t wait to hear it. But we spotlight some of our favorite acts who we both think deserve more attention, including the Chatham Rabbits, Cristina Vane, River Whyless, Fireside Collective and Aaron Burdett.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org</i>