by Jordan Roach
Tucked back in Whitesburg, Ky., there is a large unassuming, wood clad, building holding a treasure trove of resources, history and culture. The Appalshop, while it’s been a constant staple of Eastern Kentucky’s culture for nearly 50 years, there is a big chance many people haven’t heard about it.
If you are looking for an expressive hub of mountain Kentucky culture, I’d have to say this is where you’ll find it. They host events, have a radio station with many diverse shows, camps, readings, archives and workshops. You want DIY? This is the spot. The first time I found out about Appalshop was at Pikeville’s Pride. They sent up a booth and I learned about some of their histories and filled out a survey on a safe space they are creating. The next week I was at a reading of “Biscuits and Blisters,” written and read by Misty Skaggs. Afterward, I talked to her mom, who gave me earrings and told me stories about the quilt that covered their table, her artistic inspirations, and traveling to readings with her daughter. On Friday, Nov. 9, I went to see a show put on by the Girls Rock Camp benefit, supporting both the camp and All Access EKY.
Girls Rock Camp is for girls and gender variant youth who want to play music. Having gone to a similar camp in Ohio when I was a preteen, Girls Rock had a special place in my heart. This is the third year of Girls Rock Camp (hosted by Appalshop’s radio station WMMT), and this year they teamed up All Access EKY. All Access EKY is an organization focused on informing and finding birth control resources for anyone who needs either in this region. The bands Slutpill (a local band), Slugpit (a band formed during the camp), and Hedonista (from North Carolina, but with members from the area) performed. During this benefit All Access EKY was providing information on various birth control options, and also had created interlude videos for between sets detailing information on sexual health specifically as it pertained to Kentucky. What was particularly nice is this was an all ages event. There were families supporting their younger family members playing music, and families with kids dancing in the aisles to loud punk music about the necessity of safe access to abortions. There is something very comforting about the normalization of both queer culture and discussions on safe sex in rural Appalachian Kentucky.
I was lucky enough to get to meet and talk to so many wonderful people who have come together to create what feels like to me, a very organic Queer space. This includes the director of WMMT and one of their staff who hosts a radio show. Really, I felt both quite blessed and comfortable in this space, which is one of the first places I’ve discovered out here in Eastern Kentucky that makes me feel that way. I’ve named this Appalshop part 1 because it is my hope to go back and speak with the people who know this place best and learn about the Appalshop’s 50 years of cultural influence in this region.
To me, it feels like this place has always been this way, but I know many people have put in the footwork to create this rural Queer space and it is in my plans to explore further what came into play to make Appalshop what it is today. This won’t be the last y’all hear about Appalshop, and if you have time, definitely check out the work they do.