Heart Of Appalachia

Growing up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia has molded me into the person I am today. Country and bluegrass music have always been close to my heart. Living in a small town, there isn’t much to do for entertainment. Music was always my go to activity. I never imagined that one day I would write and record the official theme song for the area!

When I wasn’t playing music with my family, I was wading in a stream or a lake while dad was catching some fish. My childhood home was once a strip mine on the side of a mountain, and later a junk yard. My dad saw a vision of this property becoming beautiful again, so he bought it and the whole family went to work. Many days after school, I helped clean the yard that would eventually become our front yard. We found tires, broken glass, bottles—even fossils (which later we added to the rock wall around our home).

Once we got it all cleaned up, Dad built the house. He spent many sleepless nights drawing up the blue print and making other plans. My papaw was also a big part in building our new home that would later bring so many memories. 

A few years ago, the coal industry began to suffer. Thousands of people lost their jobs and had to leave the area, which resulted in many businesses closing. It was heartbreaking to see and I wanted to find a way to help. 

One day, I shared a newspaper article on Facebook about all the beautiful places and things to do in Southwest Virginia, with a comment about how proud I was to be from there. That led to a local tourism official responding with a message thanking me for sharing the article. That simple exchange of messages led to a series of conversations about creating a possible theme song for the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority, the nonprofit organization that promotes tourism in the region.

I took my love for music, love for the Appalachia Mountains, and started to create a song with my longtime friend, Scott Arnold. Although Scott is from East Tennessee, he has known me since I was a small girl and he truly understands me and my love for my home. As we wrote the song, we knew the focus had to be on “home.” Even though our ultimate goal was to attract tourists, this region is not glitzy. What makes Southwest Virginia special are the people and the natural beauty.

After the Heart of Appalachia board members approved the lyrics and melody, I jumped into the studio and started working with the legendary bluegrass musician, singer, songwriter and producer Larry Cordle. I have been a fan of Larry’s for many years and now I can call him a great friend. He produced the song and sang background vocals on the project, along with Val Storey, with help from engineer Chris Latham.

Once we finished in the studio, we started working on the video. It was the most amazing experience, getting to film in many familiar places, as well as places I had never visited in Southwest Virginia-- Breaks Interstate Park, High Knob, Stony Falls, the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine, Back of the Dragon and much more. Our videographer, Brian Volland, was incredible. He had spent years on an outdoor TV show called “Kentucky Afield,” so he was used to wading through streams and hiking up and down steep hills to get some of the shots we needed. He worked tirelessly, and never complained!

I am honored that the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority chose my song to be the official theme song. I love my home, my mountains and, most importantly, the people. I could not feel more blessed. Southwest Virginia will always have a place in my heart.

To learn more about the area, visit HeartOfAppalachia.com.

Brittany Hodak