Is There A KY Bourbon Bubble? A New Album by a Folk Music Legend Alice Gerrard, and More

Oct 31, 2014

Steven Middleton visits the world's only ventriloquist museum, located in Kentucky
Credit Steven Middleton

This week's episode features Elizabeth Wells McIlvain helps employ 1,000 people in West Virginia, making Fiesta ware.And we learn that the number of jobs created by the Kentucky Bourbon Distillery industry has doubled in the last two years. We'll also explore some eccentric roadside attractions, including a Ventriloquist museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky.

Alice Gerrard, Folk Music Icon, is Following the Music:

More than 60 years into her career, trailblazing old-time musician Alice Gerrard is still exploring the darker corners of the folk music tradition. Gerrard recorded some of the most influential folk albums of the 1960’s with her collaborator the late Hazel Dickens. Gerrard just celebrated her 80th birthday, and she’s made an album with a new collaborator-M.C. Taylor. Their new album, called Follow the Music, came out last month. NPR’s Joel Rose has the story. This story first aired on NPR’s Morning Edition on October 3rd.

Robert Bailey recently learned that he's been approved for a lung transplant
Credit Jessica Lilly

Retired Miner Waiting on New Lungs in West Virginia: After waiting months for his medical claim to be approved, a retired coal miner got word late September that his black lung benefits will cover the cost of a double lung transplant. We spoke with Robert Bailey in June when he was waiting to hear if Patriot Coal’s insurance company would approve his appointment for a medical evaluation.  He was approved for that appointment the day his  story aired on West Virginia Public Radio.  Then shortly after that story was broadcast and posted to our website, Bailey was asked to testify about black lung in a congressional hearing. Host Jessica Lilly met up once again with Mr. Bailey to get his reaction to the news that he doesn’t have to worry about the financial part of his medical needs.

Young Miners Still Face Black Lung Risk of Disease: After regulations went into effect more than 40 years ago, the most severe kind of black lung almost disappeared from Appalachia. However, numbers started creeping up again in the 1990s, due to weak enforcement and mining companies exploiting loopholes. Autopsies revealed that some miners that died in the Upper Big Branch explosion in 2010 had black lung … some with just a few years experience.  The disease is back at 1970s levels and affects not only the miners who go underground, but surface miners as well, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black lung disease is caused by inhaling dust which scars lung tissue. New Regulations went into effect this past summer that would reduce the amount of exposure miners have to dust and close previous loopholes. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Dr. Robert Cohen, a black lung disease expert and Gary Hairston, a retired miner from Beckley, W.Va., who was diagnosed with black lung disease.

What’s in  a Name? Where does the town of Wheeling, West Virginia get its name? Is there a limestone landmark shaped like a wheel, or was there a carpenter who repaired wheels who helped settle the town? Or was it named after a Native American word for Skull? Listen to the podcast to find out, or click here to hear the full interview with historian Alan Fitzpatrick.

New Website Launches to Help Bring New Life to Wheeling, W.Va.: People in Wheeling are using the word Weelunk, that’s part of the town’s history, as part of a larger effort to help revive the town. That website, Weelunk.com, goes live this weekend. 

the Clinch River
Credit photo from CRVI

Using Technology to Tour the Clinch River in Virginia: Folks down in Southwestern Virginia are also using technology to try to revive their local economy through heritage tourism. A growing coalition of individuals and organizations believes that the Clinch River—one of the most biodiverse river systems in North America—could itself be the backbone of a brand-new economy in Southwest Virginia. Rich Kirby of WMMT reports that the Clinch River Valley Initiative has just created a new smartphone app.

Is Kentucky Headed for a Bourbon Bubble?: Job growth in the Bourbon industry has doubled in the last two years. Alan Lytle, from WUKY in Lexington, has more on this story.

Documentary Explores Unique, Eccentric Attractions in Kentucky:

Commonwealth Curiosities; An Ode to Kentucky's Unique Attractions Trailer from State Run Media on Vimeo.

Steven Middleton has spent the past six years working on a series of documentaries dealing with the vanishing traditions about Appalachia, Kentucky and the American South, including a documentary about Appalachian stereotypes. Now, he’s working on a new documentary called Commonwealth curiosities, which explores the weird old roadside attractions and unique curiosities in the state of Kentucky. Morehead State Public Radio’s Jordan Simonson talked with Middleton about his film, which debuts November 18th at CoffeeTree Books in Morehead, KY.

Fiesta ware is still made in W.Va. after 141 Years:  While most American ceramics factories closed long ago- unable to compete with made in Japan or Mexico - Homer Laughlin is still going strong. The factory opened more than 141 years ago. The plant employs about 1,000 people. You might be familiar with the company’s most famous product. It’s that brightly colored pottery called Fiesta. NPR's Linda Werthheimer has more.This story first aired on NPR’s Morning Edition on Oct. 16 as part a series called American Made; NPR’s look at the face of American manufacturing.

Credit Ross Mantle / NPR