13: Black mountain metal and folk, w/ Paul Ravenwood (Twilight Fauna, Green Elder)


Paul Ravenwood lives in eastern Tennessee, where he writes, plays and records black metal and folk music, among other pursuits. Mason and Paul discuss Southern rock, what it’s like to hear Darkthrone while camping, folk music as a vital art, and more.
Check out Twilight Fauna at twilightfauna.bandcamp.com, or Green Elder at greenelder.bandcamp.com.

A statement of purpose

At Patreon, I’ll be posting short, personal podcasts talking about the what, how and why of my independent mountain journalism.

This short podcast serves as an introduction to my work. Recorded before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, I stopped during a trail run to talk about what I do, how I got into it, and what keeps me going.

I’ll be recording and posting newer podcasts at Patreon every couple of weeks. You’ll still be able to hear interviews and new episodes of Blue Ridge Free State here, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Evening in the holler (w/ spring peepers and pond frogs)

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I last posted an episode. In fact, it’s been just over a year.

This new episode features no human voices, but consists entirely of the night sounds outside my house in Floyd County, Virginia. That said, it’s pretty loud, as it’s filled with the sounds of spring peepers and pond frogs. This is what spring sounds like in our mountain hollow.


Check out some of my audio projects from since we last released an episode, both of which aired on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia.

First, a story about fly-fishing, and how it changed the course of an Army veteran’s life. Then, a story on a Roanoke family that’s been tinkering with cars for three generations. Both stories were made as part of the Folklife Reporting Project, a partnership with West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia and the Folklife Program of the West Virginia Humanities Council. I’m honored to say that I’ll be producing more stories as part of the Folkways Reporting Corps’ second year as well.

As for our peepers and pond frogs, here’s a short video showing one of the threats to our friendly frog friends: a water snake.

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.

Snuffy returns to KnoxNews: http://knoxblogs.com/editor/2011/03/25/snuffy_smith_now_news_sentinel/

You can find Bob Hutton on Twitter at @HerecomesDrBob. He’s a great follow, especially if you’re interested in the kinds of topics we cover on Blue Ridge Free State. Make sure to check out his 2013 book, “Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South,” which is also available as an audiobook at Audible. Hutton also contributed to the recent “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy.” For a taste, go read Dr. Bob’s “Hillbilly Elitism” essay at Jacobin.

As always, find us on BlueRidgeFreeState.com or @RidgeFree on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Read “Barney Google and and Snuffy Smith” and find out more about the strip at SnuffySmithComics.com.

Our music includes 1923’s “Barney Google (with the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)” by Ernest Hare and Billy Jones, as well as a version by the Andrews Sisters.

10: #TruthIsNotHate (w/ Poe Mack)

Our guest today is Byron Mack, 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. BlueRidgeFreeState.com


Check out Poe Mack online. You can find Case Jones’ Rawsole Records on Bandcamp.

In the episode, Mason mentions a story he wrote about Poe Mack for the Roanoke Times, titled “The rap on Roanoke hip-hop” that’s somehow still available to read on the Roanoke Times website. Mason also mentions “How the Rebel Flag Rose Again—and Is Helping Trump,” a story he wrapped up in a hospital bed.

Also, check out the website of Jared Soares, a photographer mentioned in this episode. Jared and Mason used to work together at the Roanoke Times. Jared’s photographs of Poe Mack have been published at the New York Times and Spin, and featured in a show at the Taubman Museum of Art.

Music this episode was provided by Stations and Poe Mack, specifically the “Stoneworth” and “#TruthIsNotHate” albums.

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.

Mason’s interview with Brittany Patterson was first aired on Inside Appalachia, and later on West Virginia Morning.

For background, read Mason’s 2015 Roanoke Business story on the various pipeline proposals and his 2014 Grist story about how craft brewers were lining up against them.

The tree sits first went up on Peters Mountain, beside the Appalachian Trail near the Virginia/West Virginia line, in late February. In early April, a mother and daughter stationed themselves in trees on their land in Bent Mountain, and later that month, tree-sitters went up in Franklin County, to the east.

Mason’s first story on the tree sits appeared in Blue Ridge Outdoors in late April and covered what had happened up to that point. In early May, however, Red and Minor Terry, the mother-daughter pair on Bent Mountain, were forced down by a court order. Mason live-tweeted their descent and collected those tweets at Medium. Another story also was published by Blue Ridge Outdoors.

When Mason was writing that first story for Blue Ridge Outdoors, a guy said to me, “Those people are way too late. They should have been fighting it years ago.” Thing is, the pipeline opponents HAVE been fighting for years, and they’ve more or less done everything right along the way: Packing open houses, filing public comments that right time, activating opposition around assets such as the Appalachian Trail, collecting scientific data to refute the pipeline’s filings, etc.

So he wrote a story for Belt Magazine specifically for the Rust Belt, Appalachian & Midwestern communities that stand in the paths of more than 100 pipelines planned for the near future, many of them moving fracked natural gas from the Marcellus & Utica shale formations. What can they learn from the tree sits & the broader fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline? Read that story here.

You can also read his story about the Mountain Valley Watch at Southeast Energy News.

If you want to hear more about the resistance to pipelines, listen to the End of the Line podcast.

And for more about Dihydrogen Monoxide, check out DHMO.org.

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

The NRV reunion pack, about the take the track during Virginia All-Stars versus the World. Photo by Mason Adams.

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.

Make sure to check out Twin Valleys Roller Derby on Facebook and Twitter.

In the episode, Mason mentions a story about change on Salem Avenue in Roanoke that touches on punk and roller derby. Check that story out at Between Coasts. And if you’re into that, make sure to go back and check out our interview with Deanna Marcin in episode 4, which gets way into Roanoke’s LGBTQ history and the former Backstreet Cafe.

Music this episode was provided by Twilight Fauna, Poe Mack, and Stations.

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.

Stories referenced on the podcast:
Poverty, justice, and education in Roanoke, Virginia,” from Scalawag Magazine.

In Appalachia, shifting political winds have forced Republican lawmakers to expand Medicaid. Could this be the start of a trend?” from Belt Magazine.

Find us on BlueRidgeFreeState.com or @RidgeFree on Facebook and Twitter.