Can music help solve the drug problem? Healing Appalachia is proving it can

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

“Everybody is mad about the guy who breaks in their shed and steals their weed eater,” says Charlie Hatcher, Executive Director of Healing Appalachia, about the substance use problem across Appalachia. 

“You have a right to be mad,” he agrees, “but why are they doing it? Because of the drug problem.” 

Charlie wants to provide an opportunity for people to do something positive to help their neighbors struggling with addiction.

Charlie Hatcher is the Director of Healing Appalachia. The music festival began in 2018. It operates as a non-profit and returns proceeds from the show to substance use recovery services across all 13 states in Appalachia.

“We’ve tried arresting our way out of the problem and legislating our way out of it,” he recalls, “but I don’t buy into any of that.” 

Charlie thinks the best thing we can do in communities struggling with substance use is much closer to home. 

“It’s ok to ask someone, ‘Are you ok?’ Don’t be scared to give somebody a hug. That may be all they need. Someone to know they care about their wellbeing.”

Enter Healing Appalachia, a festival unlike any other. All based on the idea that a little love and a whole lot of good music can help heal Appalachia.

It began on a single stage on a single night in 2018. Charlie and his team sold 2,400 tickets…and were blown away there was that much support. 

This year, they will run shows over four days with the help of 500 volunteers and plan to sell more than 12,000 tickets for shows featuring award-winning artists such as Tyler Childers, Jason Isbell, Trey Anastasio, Charles Wesley Godwin, and more. 

On Wednesday, September 20, there will be a free show featuring West Virginia musicians including Sterephonic, Matt Mullins & the Bringdowns, and Kindred Valley. 

On Thursday, September 21, featured artists include Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Charles Wesley Godwin, and Amythyst Kiah. 

On Friday, September 22, featured artists include Government Mule, Umphrey’s McGee, and Marcus King. 

The team behind the scenes

It takes a team to put the event together. In addition to their Board of Directors (Dave Lavender, Ian Thornton, Charles Gilkerson, Quincy McMichael, Tracy Levine, and Thom Boggs), Charlie organizes the event with Dave Johnson, Ronnie Hardesty, and Katie Patton. Each has a defined role. 

Charlie produces the concert–security, bands, lighting/mixing, hospitality. Dave coordinates volunteers–over 500 people in active recovery who stay on property all week to make the event happen. Ronnie runs the gate–moving thousands of people in and out of the show safely each day. Katie organizes all the substance use service providers–this year, they expect over 40 service providers from 13 states.  

Charlie says while it’s a big operation, “it’s got a homegrown, grassroots type of feel to it. We’re just not a big corporate event.” And that’s how they intend to keep it. 

Local support

Each day, they serve volunteers alone more than 1,500 meals. And that doesn’t happen without local support. 

“Greenbrier Meat Company, Swift Level, Mountain Steer, we couldn’t do it without them,” Charlies says. 

They park thousands of cars, and that doesn’t happen without local support. “We donate to the high school music boosters to help with parking,” Charlie says. 

They also create a big mess, and cleaning that up doesn’t happen without local support. “We donate to the middle school band to help with trash,” Charlie adds. 

“Our EMS and law enforcement folks are great to work with,” Charlie reflects. “Everybody wants to give back and be part of something.” 

Beyond the music

For Charlie, it’s about something bigger. Beyond the music. Beyond the crowds. Beyond even the recovery services. 

“The gratitude in the air is so thick you could reach out and touch it,” he says. “It’s nice to see us come together in such a divided world. It’s really special.” 

Tickets to Healing Appalachia are available now at www.healingappalchia.org. Stay tuned to RealWV for artist profiles in the coming days.

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