Americana Highways brings you this video premiere of Anya Hinkle’s song “Hills of Swannanoa,” produced by Jon Weisberger and recorded by Van Atkins at Crossroads Studios. “Hills of Swannanoa” is Anya Hinkle on vocals and acoustic guitar; Jullian Pinelli on fiddle; Billy Cardine on dobro; Thomas Cassell on mandolin; and Johnny Calamari on bass. This video is by Gen Kogure of Tobuconqueso Studio, Asheville NC.
The video is a vignette into a tragedy of a century ago. The song is perfect bluegrass storytelling set to instantly classic music.
‘Hills of Swannanoa’ is the story of the Great Flood of 1916. The unusually heavy mid-summer rains that year, in addition to the logging of the Carolina mountains, caused severe flooding of Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers and extensive damage in the Asheville area. The idea of writing about this event came about because of my friend Akira Satake, a ceramic artist, banjo player and composer originally from Osaka, Japan. He wrote an instrumental tune called “Swannanoa” after moving to nearby Black Mountain, NC almost 20 years ago to start a ceramics studio. He asked me if I might want to write some lyrics, and so I created a melody that knits together seamlessly with Akira’s instrumental. I let my mind wander to the beautiful Swannanoa Valley where I spent a lot of time with my daughter when she was small. There is a mystical feeling there: vibrations from the ancient Cherokee, heavy mists that shroud the hills, generous green that carpets the valleys. It feels sacred, sad and beautiful.
The song features performances by Billy Cardine (dobro), Julian Pinelli (fiddle), Thomas Cassell (mandolin) and Johnny Calamari (bass). The modal scale of the tune, somewhere in between a major and minor key, naturally gives the listener a feeling of both beauty and tragedy. The story is fictional but based on true events: prisoners really did drown in their cells, all of Asheville’s bridges were washed away, hundreds of houses were destroyed, dozens of people were killed.
During the quarantine summer of 2020, Gen Kogure (Tobuconqueso Studio) and I filmed all over the Asheville area, from the Swannanoa Valley to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway in all kinds of weather, on drones, time-lapse cameras, out of car windows, under umbrellas, laying belly-down on bridges. I decided to use an actor for the video, fiddler and cyclist Grayson Wickel, to play the main character, a young man who settles in Swannanoa to start his life. I was the narrator of the story and my daughter Sachi is the little girl that is swept away in the river (a role she is a bit dubious about). The lyrics create a series of vivid but abstract pictures that encourage the imagination; the video helps give a backdrop to enhance the visuals. — Anya Hinkle