Let the Mountains Ring Forever: Celebrating Jim Webb

It is so hard to describe what Jim Webb meant to Appalshop. Words are inadequate to measure his impact on generations of filmmakers, photographers, writers, radio listeners and programmers young and old alike. They cannot convey the wild joy, at once playful and determined, which Jim brought to every musical program, board meeting, or community gathering he led or attended here over the decades; nor can they capture the vivid, bone-deep connection to a culture and place which his poems instilled in the hearts of so many Appalachian people throughout his career.

If words did exist for such a time, Jim would have had them. Without his brilliant wordplay around us, we struggle to say how deeply Jim’s loss is felt in the hallways and offices of Appalshop. From our senior founders to the youngest staff and core of community DJs, the past month has brought an outpouring of memories, photographs, film clips, songs, stories, and – above all – shared tears and silences.

Jim, especially his alter ego Wiley Quixote, would want us to recall his spirit in celebration. We will try to celebrate all the beauty Jim brought to the lives of countless people. He connected to all of us from his deepest creative self. He brought out the best in those around him. We all hope to stay connected to our deepest creative selves in this time. As the holiday season and New Year’s approaches, we offer some sounds, sights, and art to help us celebrate Jim.  

In Jim’s own words from his last video interview, “let the mountains ring forever” is a great five-word description of the community’s outpouring to date. From a summary of Jim’s life by a fellow writer to the memorial artworks displayed at Heritage Kitchen since his Celebration of Life ceremony, friends near and far have shared so many tributes to Jim’s influence on their lives.

Nor is the celebration finished. From November 27 to early January 2019, the Appalshop Gallery will house a photo exhibit of Jim and the culmination of his life’s work, Wiley’s Last Resort. The free public exhibit and reception (December 7 at 6 p.m.), curated by Malcolm Wilson and entitled “Wiley’s Whirled…,” will let our gallery ring with Jim’s spirit. The following Wednesday, December 12, WMMT 88.7 FM’s airwaves – Jim’s home away from home – will ring in his honor as a Dedication Day to Wiley Quixote. Please tune in and celebrate with us around the “whirled.”

The New Year will bring a myriad of tributes to Jim Webb, from the studios at Appalshop to the peaks and hollows of Pine Mountain and beyond. As previously-unseen footage of Jim is compiled and the family plans a Spring event, the best we can do to honor Jim’s incredible life is to live as he did: “trying to make the world a little bit better, every day.”