Forever Bluegrass

20080809_untitled_43448Day 1: Raccoon Mountain

Afternoon shadows stretch across the mountain campgrounds high above the Tennessee River, less than 10 miles west of Chattanooga, when Steve Maxwell emerges from his RV. His graying black hair is still matted down by last night’s ball cap, his mustache uncombed. He squints without his glasses. On the table against the brown and beigeToyota Dolphin, a grimy propane camping stove fires a skillet piled with salted country ham and diced potatoes. Half a dozen biscuits are browning in the toaster oven. Breakfast at 2 p.m. on a Thursday.

If this feast seems like a little much for one 66-year-old man and his girlfriend, Jean, it is. Jean cooks plenty for the campers in the neighboring lots and for any passersby who are feeling peckish after lunch or simply can’t muster the resolve to pass up a warm ham biscuit. And for those who linger for more than a minute beneath the Dolphin’s makeshift tarp awning, Steve will climb inside and return with a Ball jar and a grin that is short one tooth.

“Smoothest you’ll ever taste,” he says.

Maxwell takes a pull to help jump-start the day. He was up until dawn lugging his bass fiddle from camp to camp, joining in to play and sing bluegrass around the fire. He’s known some of the musicians for decades; others he met just last night. But it’s hard to find a stranger at the Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival, where every corner of Raccoon Mountain echoes with the same string-and-descant music and every camper and truck — with license plates from Tennessee to Missouri to California — is plastered with the same white sticker reading Forever Bluegrass beside the silhouette of a man, peacock feather in his hat, leaning on a bass fiddle.

The sticker on the Dolphin’s rear bumper is practically worn into the chrome. Maxwell first met Boxcar playing the dance halls and fiddler conventions in and around Chattanooga in the late 1960s. Twenty-five years Maxwell’s elder, Boxcar was something of a role model, who loved his cold cans of Pabst almost as much as slapping his pawn-shop bass, “Ole Yeller.” To know Boxcar was to know his three daughters — Inez, Ruth and Cindy — who, even as grade-schoolers, tagged along to every show. Maxwell was especially fond of Cindy.

“She had that long curly blond hair and she was always dancing and grinning at us,” says Maxwell. “I’d say she was flirting, but she wasn’t quite old enough to flirt.”

Just about everyone on this mountain has a Cindy Pinion story. Maxwell has several, but his most mythologized is set in the late 1990s, after Boxcar had died: Maxwell was leaving a late-night picking session at Inez’s house in Flintstone, Ga., down in the valley below Lookout Mountain. Maxwell had left his instrument case at home, so he set his 1950 Kay bass in the back of his pickup and headed home. After turning off of gravel onto the main road, he hit a bump, and caught air. He heard a crash like an empty piano crate being dropped from four stories up, and looked in the rearview to see shards of his bass fiddle scatter across the pavement in the red brake-light glow. He got out to find his precious Kay in dozens of pieces. Disgusted, he threw a couple of the larger chunks in the truck bed and drove off, abandoning the rest.

Once Maxwell got home, he was paralyzed with anger. But his girlfriend at the time called the Pinions. Cindy and Inez grabbed flashlights and trudged through clay mud up to their ankles as they scoured the roadside and gathered every splinter of the old bass. They collected the pieces Maxwell had picked up and shipped a box full of kindling to an Atlanta craftsman.

“That’s just bluegrass people,” Maxwell says today. “That kindness is just such a pervasive thing … you don’t think about it it’s so common.”

Maxwell tosses a paper plate of biscuit crumbs into the trash and climbs back into the Dolphin. He returns with the 1950 plywood Kay bass fiddle, intact, standing strong, a good foot taller and a few inches wider than its owner — and with a worn finish and a few chips in the varnish, in just as good a shape.

A cool summer breeze sweeps across the grounds, carrying the cries of a mandolin and the pings of a banjo from a nearby campsite. Maxwell puts on his ratty brown Boxcar Festival ball cap, cradles the old Kay, and sets off to find the source.

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Down & Away: Leo Mazzone might be the best pitching coach in major league history—and no one will hire him.

It’s the top of the first inning, and Leo Mazzone is already rocking.

Each croak of the springs in Mazzone’s brown leather recliner is punctuated by a knock in the wooden frame, like an old screen door blowing open and shut.

Creeeak-clack. Creeeak-clack.

Watching the Braves play the Marlins on the 60-inch flat-screen in the den of his home on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, Mazzone isn’t conscious of the nervous back-and-forth tick that became his accidental trademark during four decades in the dugout. He is focused instead on the mound and Miami right-hander Tom Koehler, who leans in against Atlanta leadoff man Jace Peterson.

First pitch: Fastball down and away. Called strike one.

“Perfect pitch,” says Mazzone. “Aimed for the catcher’s crotch, and he got it there.”

Creeeak-clack. Creeeak-clack.

Fastball at the knees. Strike two.

Creeeak-clack. Creeeak-clack.

Curveball inside. Ball one.

The pace of the rocking quickens. Creak-clack-creak-clack-creak-clack. The old pitching coach has spotted something. “Changed his arm slot,” he says. “Tried to overpower him.”

If there is one thing about the game today that will wear out Mazzone’s lounger, it’s the increased emphasis on power in pitching. He’s worked with 12-year-olds, who compete against the radar gun as much as the batter, and tried to get through to high school and college hurlers who’ve been taught that a scholarship or professional contract depends more on M-P-H than E-R-A. In the pros, speed is fetishized by teams and fans alike, the reading on each pitch displayed right alongside the score in the corner of the TV, a CG flame occasionally flaring up when a fastball reaches the high-90s or low-100s.

It makes for great entertainment, sure, but Mazzone says it also leads to pitchers becoming erratic and missing location. More importantly, their release is not as smooth, increasing the risk of arm injury. Mazzone believes the modern game’s infatuation with velocity is one of, if not the primary reason for the recent plague of Tommy John elbow-ligament replacement surgeries. “Now everybody seems to be getting a pass on all the sore arms,” he says. “I don’t get it. If we’d have had all the breakdowns that are happening now, there would have been a lot of pitching coaches fired.”

Mazzone held that job for more than 27 years, including almost 18 in the big leagues. He attributes his longevity to the success of the pitchers who were indoctrinated with his unorthodox philosophy of actually throwing more often between starts but with decreased intensity, concentrating, instead, on the feel and location of their pitches, controlling the lower outside part of the strike zone — down and away, down and away. The results are well known: In Mazzone’s 15-plus seasons with Atlanta, his staffs led the Braves to 14 straight division championships, combining for four individual ERA titles, nine individual 20-win seasons, six Cy Young Awards, and eventually, three plaques in Cooperstown. Less heralded is the number of careers that were salvaged under Mazzone’s watch and his reputation for taking care of his players — especially the starters, who rarely missed a turn. “Sure he had great pitchers,” says Steve Phillips, who was an executive for the rival New York Mets in the 1990s and early-2000s. “But he kept them on the field. He kept them healthy.” In almost two decades as major league pitching coach, Mazzone only had two starters, John Smoltz and Mike Hampton, play a full season under him and succumb to Tommy John, and they were both approaching their mid-30s.

These days, news of season-ending elbow surgeries is almost a weekly rite (through April there had already been 11 such announcements), and it’s not uncommon for a kid to go under the knife twice before he leaves his 20s. Today’s answer to this scourge is strict innings limits and pitch counts, even shutting down a perfectly healthy starter midseason — things Mazzone believes actually hurt more than help. “It’s pathetic,” he says. “An insult to my intelligence. A pitcher’s greatest teacher is innings pitched.”

This isn’t idle sniping from the rocking chair. Mazzone has made it clear to anyone who’ll listen that he’d love to be back on the bench or advising or even just visit spring camp and help straighten these organizations out. In 2010, he was on Sirius XM lobbying for pitching coach openings with both the Yankees and Mets. After the 2013 season, when Philadelphia’s Rich Dubee was fired, Mazzone took to Twitter: @Phillies I would be very interested in being your pitching coach. #championshipball.

The phone hasn’t rung. This is the eighth season since Baltimore fired Mazzone in 2007 that he watched Opening Day from his den. And here he is today, a 66-year-old man creak-clacking himself into a frenzy, imagining what advice he’d give Tom Kohler once he retired the side and got back to the bench.

After the Braves set down the Marlins in the bottom of the first, the rocking suddenly stops. “I’m pretty much done with this game,” Mazzone says, as he clicks the channel to cable news. These days he rarely sits through an entire game, unless it’s Opening Day, the playoffs, or maybe a marquee pitching matchup. “When you’ve watched from the dugout for 42 years,” he says, “TV is just not the same.”

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The magic and motivation of top receiver recruit Kyle Davis from No. 10 Archer

Kyle Davis (Photo: 247 Sports)

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — With more than 6,000 rabid Georgia football fans in attendance on Saturday night, with the eyes of the nation tuned in through ESPN2, you would have thought the No. 10 Archer Tigers (2-0) would have been able to find a uniform to fit its star wide receiver.

And yet, with the spotlight as bright as it gets on sleepy Lawrenceville, 30 miles outside of Atlanta, there was 6-foot-1, 218-pound senior Kyle Davis’s red-and-white No. 11 stretching only halfway down his midsection, revealing a strikingly sculpted stomach.

Archer athletic director Tim Watkins offered this defense of his school and its student-athlete: “If I had abs like that, I wouldn’t even wear a shirt.”

Between his exhibitionist tendencies and his recent commitment to and de-commitment from South Carolina, Davis might come off as a stereotypical look-at-me receiver. But, believe it or not, that’s where the flash of the country’s top-ranked wideout recruit seems to end.

Sure, Davis obliged the national television audience with a pair of SportsCenter grabs for 40-plus yards apiece in the Tigers’ 26-10 drubbing of fellow regional power Peachtree Ridge in the GEICO ESPN High School Kickoff. Despite facing off against Peachtree Ridge’s three-star tandem of defensive backs, Ray Buchanan Jr. (committed to Arkansas) and Chad Clay (University of Georgia), Davis caught seven passes for gaudy 104 total yards. He also returned kickoffs and punts, and even lined up at tailback for a couple of carries.

But his coach, Andy Dyer, insists that it’s what Davis does away from the cameras that makes him a special player. It’s the work in the weight room (not just those chiseled abs); on the practice field, focusing on blocking and footwork as well as highlight-reel hands; and in the film room, absorbing routes and opposing coverages.

“As a player, you can never stop learning,” says Dyer. “He’s got a real hunger to learn.”

There is also a selflessness that’s on full display for anyone who cares to look away from the ball. During the game against Peachtree Ridge, Davis never took a play off, running his routes at full speed and hitting his blocks. And when a teammate scored or made a play, be it a game-breaker or just a solid routine tackle, Davis sprinted to be the first there to congratulate him. When asked where this work ethic and maturity comes from, Davis pointed to his parents. His father is a former college track star and current middle-school principal in Chattanooga who sees him every weekend. Davis lives near Archer High School with his mother, who has inflammation of the spine and has been confined to a wheelchair since Davis was 3 years old. With the community’s help, she still manages to make it to almost every game to watch her son play.

“She’s my inspiration,” said Davis. “She’s the strongest person I know.”

Perhaps it was his youthful dreams of making it to the NFL to take care of his family that led to his hasty commitment to South Carolina before his junior year in 2014, a decision he said he made without considering the bigger college picture, particularly academics. He said he wants to major in sports medicine — not because of personal experience with the trainer on the sideline, but because of growing up accompanying his mother to weekly physical therapy sessions.

“I always thought the way they were helping her was really cool,” he said. “Now I really want to help people.”

The Gamecocks are still on the table, Davis said — along with just about every other college with a football program. As a sophomore, his first year as a full-time receiver, the former quarterback and running back caught 11 touchdowns. Last year, he pulled in nine TDs and tallied 1,184 yards receiving while helping Archer to an 11-win, Class AAAAAA state runner-up finish. ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said that while there are players who can run a straight line faster than Davis — ranked No. 31 in the latest ESPN 300 — few possess his size, strength, and assortment of tools. “Davis is a difference maker,” said Luginbill. “The complete package.”

The schools Davis has been most frequently associated with are SEC rivals Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee. But, mindful of jumping to decision again, he says he has not made up his mind, and probably will not do so until shortly before he announces on Oct. 23, Archer’s homecoming.

If the weight of that decision is wearing on the 17-year-old, it doesn’t show on the field even as rumors swirled in the last month that he was a silent commitment to Georgia. For those grasping for hints, he was wearing Georgia gloves Saturday night, although Georgia and Archer do have the same colors.

During warmups on Saturday, Davis was shouting and dancing, setting a loose tempo for is teammates before the TV cameras descended. During the game, he practically skipped to his position, bobbing his head to the pep-band brass-and-thump even as he stood in formation.

He said it hasn’t yet kicked in that this is his last year of high school, his last season on this turf, in those locker rooms, and in this ill-fitting red-and-white uniform.

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Focusing on his game, Thon Maker is bulking up and looking forward to his strong future

SUWANEE Ga.—Over the past year, five-star phenom Thon Maker has bulked up. He started lifting weights five days a week, began eating seven meals a day, and gradually bumped the scale beneath his already imposing 7-foot-1 frame from a wiry 191 pounds to solid 218.

And yet, over the past month and a half, Maker has been playing as though a huge weight has been taken off his suddenly broad shoulders.

Last week, Maker averaged a double-double (16.5 points, 11.8 rebounds) while powering his Canada Elite team into the championship game of the Under Armour Association 17U Finals in Suwanee, Ga.  A week prior, he led all players at the Under Armour All-American Camp in Charlotte by pulling down 12.5 boards and blocking 2.2 shots per game.

This reign of domination started back in June, when Maker garnered MVP honors at the NBPA 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va. It was also at this event that the native of South Sudan announced that he had scrapped his plan to reclassify and try to graduate high school in December so as to be eligible for college in the second semester of next season. Has the decision to play out his senior year at Ontario’s Orangeville Prep affected the big man’s game?

“Definitely,” says Maker. “Now I really get to focus on the game itself.”

So why the sudden 180? Why risk injury, jeopardizing almost certain rewards in college and the pros? Was there concern over the waning interest from scouts after a lackluster junior year at Orangeville? Or perhaps Maker preferred to be the centerpiece of a recruiting class as opposed to a late addition coming in midway through the season.

Maker’s guardian, Ed Smith, says that his ward’s decision to stay in the Class of 2016 was three-fold. First, it relieves the senior of the burden of crashing out a year’s worth of schoolwork in one semester. “I think he was saddled with a lot of academic pressure,” says Smith. “He could’ve finished over the summer or he could’ve finished in the fall and went to college. He got his core work done. Now there’s just a few things he needs to do and he can stretch that out into his senior year.”

Canadian superstar recruit (by way of Sudan) Thon Maker may be on the verge of shaking up the 2015 rankings as he considers reclassification — Louisville Courier-Journal

Second, the postponement of graduation gives Maker time to get used to playing in his new body. Despite pressure from scouts and coaches to quickly add mass to reinforce a gangly body, Maker and Smith chose a more deliberate path.

“We did it the way we wanted,” says Maker. “People wanted us to bulk up straight away and get to playing. That would’ve resulted in injuries and bad plays. We took our time. We didn’t worry about others critiquing that I’m too skinny.”

Packing on 27 pounds of lean muscle to his bones has taken Maker from Manute Bol to more of a Kevin Garnett-style power forward that is now much more of a force closer to the basket, bullying his way to rebounds and blocked shots. Add that to Maker’s already formidable defense and perimeter skills—including ball-handling ability and an outside jump shot that is practically unheard of for a big man—and it’s easy to see why Maker is a Top 10 prospect (No. 8 by, No. 9 by, with offers from the NCAA elite, including Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisville.

The third, and perhaps most important consequence of Maker’s decision is that it will enable him to play his entire senior season at Orangeville with his younger brother, 6-foot-11 junior Matur. The two boys fled civil war in South Sudan together and were taken in as refugees in Australia when Maker was 5. There they grew up playing soccer and basketball until Smith discovered the elder Maker and brought him to the U.S. to play basketball five years ago. Smith eventually brought Matur halfway through Maker’s freshman year.

“When Matur joined him, it changed everything,” says Smith. “All of a sudden there was laughter coming from downstairs. They were cutting up and carrying on. It’s just fun. They love each other a lot.”

The bond is obvious. Matur, who plays on the 16U Canada Elite, is front and center at each of his brother’s AAU games, and vice versa. Next year at Orangeville will be their first chance to play on the same team. It may also be their last—while Matur is a four-star prospect in his own right, drawing early interest from some of the same schools as his brother, there is no guarantee that they will attend the same school.

Maker says the benefit of playing with his brother is more than just sentimental.

“I can’t wait for the season to kick off and play with my brother,” says Maker. “Just competing with him in practice—watching us both get better. We’re both physically bigger and mentally stronger, more knowledgeable of the game. It makes it that much better for us to come at each other.”

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Motivated as an underdog, Markelle Fultz embraces being overlooked

SUWANEE, Ga.—Spectators at this past weekend’s Under Armor Association AAU Circuit Finals might have had a little trouble locating five-star prospect Markelle Fultz. He was listed on the roster as No. 15 for the DC Blue Devils 17-and-under team. That number was nowhere to be found on the court. “They lost my jersey,” said Fultz nonchalantly warming up in an ill-fitting No. 11.

With dozens of college coaches and scouts sitting in the bleachers and standing along the sidelines eyeballing prospective recruits, any other incoming high-school senior would have been alarmed by the sudden blurring of identity.

Fultz, however, seemed unfazed. He is used to being overlooked.

A little more than a year ago, Fultz was a sophomore playing for powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School (Hyattsville, Md.) on the junior-varsity team. And his AAU Blue Devils weren’t yet affiliated with a major shoe company.

“I think I was always a very talented player,” Fultz said through a mouthful of braces. “I wasn’t always on the best teams, but I always pushed myself to be a better player. What happened to me was I finally got the right opportunity.”

That opportunity was a guest shot on the DC Premiere squad for the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament last July. Playing a year up in age, Fultz powered the team to the championship. That led to an invitation to John Lucas’s Midwest showcase for underclassmen in Louisville, where Fultz continued to impress. Last year, he averaged 16.8 points and 7.9 boards per game as a junior on DeMatha’s varsity team.

Rather than try to slip that underdog tag in light of his newfound success, Fultz wears it proudly. “When I got my chance, I was filled up with anger for everybody overlooking me,” said Fultz. “I just took advantage—played very well, did very well against nationally ranked players.”

Fultz is now fielding offers from more than 20 colleges, including Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, and Louisville. And he has kept close tabs on his own rankings among the national class of 2016, which currently sits at 21st on and 23rd

“On the court I try not to think about the rankings,” said Fultz. “But off the court, I look at it a lot, just trying to see my position and see what I have to do to get better. And to see who is in front of me.”

That sort of frankness with the press—Fultz recently told The Sporting News that Kentucky was no longer his dream school because he “didn’t know (he) was going to be this good,” and The Washington Post that he’d like to be a college one-and-done—may come off as simultaneously naïve and a little bit cocky. But Fultz’s play on the hardwood displays the humbleness more befitting his backstory.

Before tip-off, he goes out of his way to bump the fists of each opponent, and he’s always there to pick a fouled teammate off the floor. A lanky 6-foot-4, he doesn’t show the explosive athleticism of some of his peers, instead sort of gliding up and down the court. He’s a quiet stalwart on defense, and his jump shot is a living sculpture.

Fultz’s height enables him to play all five positions in high school, and he says his body still hasn’t grown into his size-16 feet. But even as someone else’s No. 11 jersey hung loosely from his shoulders, the role of overachiever seemed to fit Fultz perfectly.

“My mindset is to always play like I’m not known,” he said. “I just act like there’s nobody in the stands, nobody watching me.”

That isn’t a hard scenario for Fultz to imagine.

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Seventh Woods keeps showing his game has more than just a mixtape

SUWANEE, Ga. — It’s 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, the first exhibition game of the four-day Under Armour Association Finals, and a modest crowd has gathered at Court No. 5.

Almost every player who isn’t scheduled to play in one of the six other early games is standing along the west baseline, thumbs gripping backpack straps; on the opposite side, metal bleachers and folding chairs bear an equally interested cluster of college coaches. Assistants from Indiana, Virginia, and Connecticut. South Carolina’s Frank Martin. North Carolina’s Roy Williams.

Warming up, 17-year-old Seventh Woods wears a black tee shirt over his No. 3, almost as if he’s trying to hide from the attention. But even the 6-foot-2 guard’s casual layup drills display that flash-bulb first step, the sort of freakish athleticism that draws eyes. Besides, after winning gold as the youngest member of USA Basketball’s national team, an ESPNSportsCenter Top Play dunk that bested a LeBron James jam, and a YouTube mixtape that boasts 13 million views and counting, people know his face.

All that was back in 2013. Since then, a broken wrist hampered his sophomore season at the Hammond School (Columbia, S.C.) and scrubbed most of his 2014 AAU summer. He remains a five-star prospect, but his ranking slipped from No. 12 overall in the class of 2016 to No. 25. And a fickle public began to move on. Strangers are no longer asking him to take photos with their newborns at away games.

“It’s kind of died down,” says Woods, the sixth child in the Woods family (he’s named after the seventh day of creation from the Book of Genesis). “When I came back from my injury, I was sort of out of sight, out of mind. And I wasn’t trying to make highlights. I was just trying to play great basketball.”

He says he still feels pressure from fans expecting to see gravity defied, the acrobatics, reverse dunks and two-handed put-backs from the 14-year-old kid in the mixtape. Woods already has offers from North Carolina, South Carolina, Clemson and Wichita State and says Florida and Georgetown have come after him hard.

In reality, scoring probably isn’t even the best part of his game — it certainly doesn’t seem to be the most natural to him. From the point, Woods displays an almost panoramic vision of the court. When he opens this game with a laser no-look bounce pass from the point to a teammate who drains a jumper from the wing, the gallery’s disappointment is almost palpable. He obliges on the second possession, dribbling straight through two defenders for a seemingly easy lay-in.

“Sometimes we have to tell him not to be so selfless,” says Woods’s AAU coach Daryl Jarvis. “We have to remind him: You have the ability to take over. But sometimes we get caught standing around watching. Sometimes we ask him to do more than he really needs to do.”

The precariousness of that balance — between Woods’s instinct to assist and his obligation to take command — becomes apparent as a close game draws down to the wire. He stumbles trying to dribble through a double team as the shot clock expires. Drives the hoop only to loose the ball in an out-of-control spin move. Then at the other end, he soars in to block a go-ahead layup from behind. Woods has also said that his perimeter defense is among the qualities in his game that often gets overlooked.

Woods’s Carolina Wolves are down 62-60 with 22.2 seconds remaining. The on-looking players are now packed three deep beyond the baseline, tip-toeing and leaning left and right to get a better view. More coaches have taken note as well.

Woods inbounds the ball, dribbles hard against the press to the top of the key, where he tries to post up against a double team. He trips and loses the ball. The ref whistles a foul. There are 2.3 seconds on the clock. Woods will get three free throws. A chance to win the game.

His first shot clanks off the front of the rim. Woods shakes his head.

The second shot rims in and out. He slaps his hands in disgust.

The third shot bounces off the rim and hits the backboard, but one of Woods’s teammates darts into the lane and leaps over his blocker to tip the ball and bank it in for the buzzer-beating basket. Carolina’s bench rushes the court, the entire team swarming the unlikely hero who tied the game at 62.

Except for Woods. He stands alone at the free-throw line and stares down at the paint. His coach tells him to shake it off — big-time players like him are going to make big-time plays, and there will be plenty more to make in this tournament.

“I know I’m a better player than I show sometimes,” Woods will say later. “As long as I keep putting the work in, I don’t think the attention will ever go away. I’m already a great player, and I can only get better.”

But as the refs tip the ball to begin overtime, the crowd around Court. No. 5 has thinned noticeably. The players and coaches have moved on to other courts, where other big-time prospects are making big-time plays.

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Prescription Drug Addiction In America

1207-drugstoreRYAN DONNELLY HAD IT DOWN COLD. THREE years ago he was a 25-year-old Navy vet who had been booted from the service for a failed drug test, cycled through cocaine to alcohol, and finally landed on a 560-milligram-a-day oxycodone addiction. To maintain his habit, Donnelly stole prescription pads. When those ran out, he dipped legitimate scrips in nail polish remover to strip away the physicians’ scribblings. He then took his forgeries to more than 20 pharmacies in and around his hometown of Toms River, New Jersey.

Today when the clean and sober Donnelly looks back on those years, he knows there were obvious signs of his addiction that anyone, especially an experienced pharmacist, could have picked up on.

“When you’re withdrawing, your upper lip and your forehead sweat; you look like you have the flu,” says Donnelly, who now runs, a social support website for recovering addicts. He says sometimes he’d even put on a suit in an effort to look normal. “You try to pull it together, but you end up looking like a hoodlum.”

If the red flags were there for all behind the counter to see, why didn’t anyone turn Donnelly away—or better yet, turn him in? Fortunately, a family intervention finally pushed the pillhead to rehab before he could hurt himself or anyone else.

Things ended more tragically in the case of David Laffer. In June 2011, Laffer walked into a Long Island pharmacy and shot the pharmacist, a 17-year-old employee, and two customers while stealing hydrocodone, a semisynthetic opioid derived from codeine. In the 12 days before the killings, he had filled six prescriptions from five different doctors for a total of more than 400 pills, according to one Long Island newspaper.

“We sometimes lose sight of the fact that pharmacists are trained to spot drug-seeking behavior,” says Luis Bauza, director of investigations at RxPatrol, an alliance formed between local law enforcement and the drug company Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, to track pharmacy fraud and thefts across the country. “I see pharmacists as our last line of defense.”

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Giving Nashville The Boot

Last year, three of the top six moneymakers in country music were Georgia boys: Macon’s Jason Aldean, Leesburg’s Luke Bryan, and Dahlonega’s Zac Brown Band. Scroll farther down the country charts and the Peach State continues to represent: Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard (Monroe), Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood (both from Augusta), and Kip Moore (Tifton). Of course, Georgia has a long tradition of producing musical talent across all genres, from Otis Redding to the Indigo Girls to R.E.M. to Ludacris to India.Arie to 2 Chainz. Even the lyrics to “Moon River” were written by a Georgian. Rappers still come to Atlanta to be part of the city’s hip-hop scene. But country artists? They leave for Nashville. Or do they? Here in Georgia, a few country musicians are taking a pass on Music City, choosing not just to live here but to write, record, and perform here. The decision comes at a cost.

Levi Lowrey
Levi Lowrey on the road.


In a cluttered storage room above a friend’s garage in Dacula, 31-year-old Levi Lowrey hunches over a MacBook, playing back some vocal tracks he recorded. He hides a young face behind a bushy black beard, and if you didn’t know him, you might think he was just a computer geek sitting amid dusty exercise equipment and old boxes.

Those who do know Lowrey might think something different: that this is a dismal place to be at this point in his music career. He’s released two albums with Zac Brown as a producer; has recorded with Nashville legends like Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas and banjo master Darrell Scott; played Ryman Auditorium and Madison Square Garden as an opening act; and written two of Zac Brown Band’s biggest hits, including “Colder Weather,” which garnered Lowrey a Country Music Association Award nomination for song of the year.

But the songs coming out of his laptop are unlike anything you’d hear at the CMAs; they’re frenetic, bouncing among Southern rock, pop, bluegrass, alternative, and folk. There’s even a sea chantey. The lyrics are deeply personal: about his wife’s cancer and his own neglect of family in pursuit of professional success. Lowrey’s new album, “My Crazy Head,” which he recorded entirely himself in this room and his basement, is a liberation from more than five years of Nashville restraint. “The title song is my country anthem,” he says. “Now I can do whatever I want.”

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These Sisters Are The Real-Life Action Heroes

IMG_0681Aby Martin is used to being the guinea pig. As the youngest of the three Martin sisters, she is always the first in line to be punched, shot at, thrown from a roof, or dropped from the ceiling. Her father, Anderson Martin, jokingly refers to her as “dead weight” because she is so often the crash-test dummy (sometimes literally in the driver’s seat of a soon-to-be-crumpled car) when he’s trying to teach his girls about the family trade — movie stunt performance. Yet even the adventuresome 24-year-old is timid about today’s lesson: How To Get Kicked In The Crotch.

“I don’t want to do it,” she says, pouting in a long blond ponytail, yoga pants and tank top.

“You’re doing it,” says her father, on his knees before her, sweat rolling off his nose as he jury-rigs ankle cuffs to a pelvic harness he’s just strapped to his baby. “A stunt person is called in to be ready for anything.”

Late-morning sun pours in through the open bay door of Anderson’s dusty, 4,500-square-foot warehouse along the main drag of Carrollton, Georgia, a bedroom community about an hour outside of Atlanta. Ropes and harnesses are strung from the rafters. Air mats, pads and sheets of cardboard are spread across the concrete floor. Aby’s older sisters, Ashley Rae Trisler and Alex Duke, look on from the sidelines, giggling as their father rises — fairly confident that the makeshift device he’s concocted is in place.

He’s run a black strap from one ankle cuff up the inside of Aby’s leg, through a loop in the pelvic harness and down to the opposite ankle cuff, forming an inverted “V” between her legs. The entire apparatus is snug enough to slip seamlessly beneath a pair of pants or a long skirt. The idea is that when an actor or fellow stunt artist steps up to punt Aby’s privates, the point of the “V” will catch the leg inches short of her body and distribute the impact down to her legs and ankles. And in this instance, the kicker will be played by her father.

“Ready?” he says. ”

No,” says Aby. “I don’t like this.”

Heedless, Anderson lurches forward and starts to lift his leg in a deliberate slo-mo. Aby cringes and he stops.

Of course, the whole point of this exercise is that once the behind-the-scenes precautions are taken, it’s time for the stunt artist to become an actor.

“You’re scared,” he says. “It’s not like you have balls.”

“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt,” she says.

“Well,” he says, “that’s why we use this device.”


Perhaps Aby is skittish because her neck is still sore from having been body-slammed for multiple takes last week on a super-secretive drama series. (Her father scolded her for making the rookie mistake of letting her head flop — “But that’s what the director wanted!”). Or maybe it’s her broken and dislocated nose from a softball mishap last month (“I never get that seriously hurt while I work”). Or, it could be the fact that last fall, she had to be punched in the crotch by actor Skyler Gisondo in a Wally World melee for the blockbuster Vacation reboot (for a punch there is no fail-safe apparatus, just a little padding and a lot of praying).

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Bible Belter

Bible-Belter-500x500The midday sun has finally emerged from behind the top tier of the Circle Tower in downtown Indianapolis, and gradually, it starts to lift the building’s broad shadow. Sunshine slowly pours into Monument Circle. The old cowboy grins.

Bending forward over the guitar strapped to his torso, the cowboy drags his guitar case onto a newly illuminated patch of brick sidewalk. “I follow the sun,” he says, gruff through a mouth of mangled yellow and brown teeth. “It’s nice in the sun.”

Today the sun, a steaming cup of black coffee and the Doral Ultra Light he’s pulled from his coat pocket are his only sources of warmth. It’s March 22, the second day of spring on the calendar, but a bitter breeze reminds the red-faced man that winter still holds sway. With one callused, wind-burnt hand, he flicks the flint of a lighter while shielding its flame with the other. The temperature flashing on the Emmis Building marquee across the way says 43 degrees, but damned if it doesn’t feel colder to the cowboy. He’s hungry. Hasn’t eaten since early this morning, and he’s fighting a cold. But “as long as the sun’s out,” he says, “I’ll be okay.”

After a couple drags, the cowboy checks his watch. Break’s over. He swipes off the lit end of the cigarette and sticks the remainder back in his pocket. He clears his throat, hocks phlegm from the back of his esophagus and spits the wad onto the sidewalk, smearing and spreading it out with his boot so as not to offend the passersby. He caresses his guitar, checking the tuning of its strings to make sure the cold hasn’t warped them, then looks up at the sky, the sun gleaming on his smudged sunglasses. Pulling a pick out of his hatband, he strums a slightly sour D chord. Then, in a deep, soulful vibrato that should belong to a much bigger man, the cowboy sings. He is Lord, He is Lord, He is risen from the dead …

At that instant, as his distinctive baritone moan sounds strong and true, bouncing off the buildings and filling the Circle, he becomes what he is to most people: an element of the downtown environment almost as familiar as the Monument itself. As the words of the old spiritual spill from his chapped lips and rise into the air, he becomes visible to the people of the city street as the “Christian Cowboy.”

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