National Geographic : 2004 May
WHITESBURG, KENTUCKY Tonight's square dance was organized by Appalshop, a local arts organization working to rebuild the community. It's the first for young music students who are taught by traditional musicians in the group's after school program, Passing the Pick and Bow. Charlie Whitaker, an unflappable man with an Abe Lincoln beard and an ambling bear like gait, calls the dance, guiding three gen erations of Whitesburgers. The musicians are joined by two boys on fiddle and banjo. The fiddler, Elmer Boggs, saws his way through "Shortnin' Bread" and can't wait to play more. "I know so many tunes I can't keep up with myself," he says with a grin. Sexton shows the boys the way, his fingers falling into place as easily as knitting, playing as if he could play forever. Two nights later, in the next hollow over, a different kind of musical revival takes place. Lee Sexton's granddaughter Stacie is hanging out with half a dozen friends and the band If I Die Tonight, a punk-metal group that is playing a tender song about first love with enough force to shake the building, an old coal-truck garage with a concrete floor and plastic tarps hung over the barnboard walls as soundproofing. Eric Gibson, the singer, crams the mike virtually inside his mouth and releases the primal scream of adolescence. Over the summer Whitesburg becomes a punk hub, with concerts draw ing hordes of fans from hundreds of miles away. The attraction began in 2000, when a local band, Leery, tired of having nothing to do and nowhere to play, helped form an organization called Youth Bored and began to stage punk shows. Soon the town was invaded by musicians and concertgoers with dyed hair, body piercings, pale faces, and black clothing, setting up in the garage or in a defunct chair factory downtown. Stacie, solid, dark, vivacious, is a DJ at WMMT, a local radio station, with a punk show known as "Ska, Punk, and Other Junk," aka SPOJ. She saw her first Youth Bored show when she was in high school in Hazard, 30 miles north. "I saw kids with blue hair, kids with a lot of piercings, and I thought, This is something I'm not going to like," she says. "But pretty Pickin' It up, 14-year-old Donald Ratliff plays some old-time mountain music for his parents on his grandfather's banjo. Puttin' it down, Eric Gibson (below) and the band if I Die Tonight blast punk salvos In a coal-truck garage turned performance space. Their next gig? A concert run by a local arts group called Youth Bored.