Monday, January 26, 2009

We're Not Hillbillies, We're Appalachian Americans

I love living in East Tennessee. Anything you want to see, you can. Some days, I love the modern city that I live in with all it's modern conveniences and way of thinking. Other days, I think I might really be in Mayberry, expecting Ernest T. Bass to throw a rock through the window at any minute.

I love the traditional ways of our mountains. It really is one of my favorite things about living here. The old way of life is getting harder and harder to find but it's still there if you know where to look and how to ask nicely. These are proud people who live the way they do by choice. They are resourceful and resilient and most of them are characters.

Meet Popcorn Sutton. He is the most famous moonshiner in the Smoky Mountains and it is said that he makes the best moonshine in the country. There are people that know. There are festivals. He is famous. And now he is in jail.

You have to understand . . . Popcorn works hard and makes very safe, very good illegal alcohol. He doesn't have any patience for those shiners that try to do it cheaply or for the quick money. They can kill themselves taking shortcuts with their equipment or they can kill the customer with careless preparation of their product. He will have none of it. He only sells quality. He makes custom made stills for others and they are exceptional. Who knew there was a market for custom made moonshine stills? And as stated by many . . . he makes excellent moonshine.

Popcorn lives in Tennessee but spends most of his time in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, just across the mountain from where he lives. Most people just say he is from Maggie Valley since that's where he operates. He rides the streets in a Model T Ford with a still on the back. He asks for cash to have his picture made. He will sell you a copy of his book "Me and My Likker". Oh yeah, and he will sell you some moonshine. He brings a lot of tourism into Maggie Valley. Stores and restaurants advertise they are "The Home of Popcorn Sutton". The law is . . . ummmm . . . understanding.

Popcorn was arrested again last year. You see, every now and then, the ATF comes calling. He has been arrested before. There is just something about selling your book and making an instructional video on making moonshine that just ticks off the ATF. But this time, it looks like it's going to stick. He is supposed to be sentenced today for possibly 15 years and fined half a million dollars. He is not a young man.

There is a Free Popcorn movement afoot. People point out that rapists and pedophiles serve less time in prison. Those convicted of making crystal meth serve far less time. Some suggest the government should set him free, set him up in a lab, and let him work on fuel additives. I have to say that things are a little messed up.

Popcorn is a part of the history of these mountains and a way of life that is slowly disappearing. Some say that's good. I will miss it. It's a little discussed fact in my mother's family that her father served a short time in prison for moonshining before she was born. He was a good man, a poor man trying to feed his family as a farmer and coming up short. Popcorn is a business man. A pretty good one. I hope he gets to do business again one day.


Andie, aka Andemonium said...

That's so fucked up! Has he gone to trail yet? I can't imagine a judge wouldn't understand the novelty behind his actions and be lenient. Do you (or North Carolina) have mandatory sentencing laws? I hope not. Too bad Josh isn't licensed to practice there! He and his boss would be ALL over this. I'm rooting for Popcorn. He sounds badass.

Wanda said...

Yes, I hope Popcorn gets to do business again.... What a wonderful photo...what a great face...would make a nice watercolor...

candlemamma said...

Popcorn rules! I love this stuff. Thanks for writing about him. I am glad to read about popcorn and his way of life. An Amazing Man.

Anonymous said...

R.I.P. Popcorn.....sniffsniff....(at least his kids are carrying on his traditions)! ~ Andie