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The Epicenter of Me: Memory, loss, and the anatomy of the song Mountain City

The cover of the new EP Mountain City, written and performed by Anne Buckle, known professionally as Wildwood.

By Dan Cullinane
Freelance Writer

Anne Buckle, known professionally as Wildwood, has just released the first single from her forthcoming EP, entitled Mountain City, and from the first notes, it was clear there was a larger story here.It began making the rounds on Wednesday evening, and by Thursday morning, local Facebook and Instagram feeds were streaming a hauntingly beautiful music video set in Mountain City. People did not recognize the name Wildwood, but many recognized the images passing across the screen. Which is true to one of the lyrics in the song, “no one here knows my name.”

Anne Buckle, known professionally as Wildwood, is the writer and singer of the new song, Mountain City.

Anne Buckle, a 33-year-old singer, songwriter in Nashville going by the name Wildwood, and who has toured with the Dixie Chicks, Charlie Daniels, and Augustana, recalled the day five years ago, as she crossed the Cumberland River into downtown Nashville, and knew with absolute clarity that she had to write it. First, she called it This Place, and then she called it Home, but she knew all along that the only title it would ever have was Mountain City.

“You kind of think that all these years later, you’d be over it,” she said. “That you’d forget about them, but it’s quite the opposite. Every year, I think about them more.”

The daughter of Debbie Cornett, a Mountain City native, Buckle grew up in Georgia but spent every holiday, school break, and summer in Mountain City, running down the hill from her grandparents Juanita and Harold’s house to scarf french fries at McDonald’s, browse the shelves at Flick Video, or buying candy at Quick Shop. She learned guitar and fiddle from her uncles Mike and Bugs and hung out at Mike and his wife Libby’s house with her two cousins Paul and Daniel, who were really more like older

“My whole childhood, all my best memories are there,” Buckle said as she reflected on the genesis of the song.

Then, one cold and rainy December night in 1997, Mike Cornett, his two sons Paul and Daniel, and their friend Bobby Lee Hurd died when a storm drove their sailboat, The Morning Dew, into a jetty in the Charleston harbor. 

“I was actually in the Quick Shop with my Mom when she told me ‘God decided to take Paul and Daniel and Mike to heaven,’” Buckle recalled, and just like that, the aching sense of longing in her song comes clear. 

“Oh, how I miss my innocence and my unbroken heart.” The lyrics speak directly to that moment and to how in that moment, everything changed. To Buckle, the song is reaching back to try and connect again.

“I think my whole life has been a longing for them,” she said. “A longing for what was this perfect time. I cling to every memory like they’re worth a million dollars to me.”

But coming back here, where she still has family, is not about touching grief. It is about reconnecting with the core of herself.

“Something about this cold mountain air helps me breathe,” Buckle sings in the first verse. “Something about this little town brings me back to me.”

“Living in Nashville, chasing this music thing, you get so caught up in the things of this world,” she told me. “When I’m back in Mountain City, it kind of strips all that away and reminds me of the epicenter of who I am, loving and cherishing these people who loved and accepted the little person I was. Then I’m just a little girl, rolling down the hill in tires with my cousins and laughing so hard I pee myself.”

This longing to connect to that time, she knows, is impossible. Someone else lives in her grandmother’s house, and she can’t walk through the door of her Uncle Bugs’ cabin and find him strumming his guitar. But her music is a connective thread all the same, and in the final seconds of Mountain City, her Uncle Mike makes an appearance.

“He put out an album as well,” she said. “Right at the very end of the song, I put in the melody that is the main theme to his song The Girl from Laurel Creek. I didn’t know it was in the same key as my song until I did it. It gave me chills. I felt his presence like he knew, like he was proud. I just want them to be proud of me, and I hope they would all like the person I grew up to be.”

Mountain City by Wildwood is streaming on Spotify and other services. The video can be seen on her Facebook page, and the five-song EP entitled Woods will be released on September 10, followed by her full album debut, WILDWOOD, in February.