By Sarah Mansheim
Appalachian Outlaws, the decidedly masculine reality show set in the Greenbrier Valley, is showing its feminine side this season with the introduction of a new character played by one of our own.
Willow Kelly, of Lewisburg, will appear on the show’s second season as a “damsel in distress” dealing with poachers on her property. Kelly, an area farmer and jewelry maker, is set to appear in three episodes in March.
Kelly says the role came to her through word of mouth. Show producers in Lewisburg put the word out that they were looking for a “strong mountain woman type of person,” and several people told them that she would be a good fit for the part. After several recommendations, the show contacted her.
Viewing her photographs, it’s easy to see why. Kelly is a natural beauty, tall and lean, with beautiful blue eyes and long brown hair. She says her “costume” is pretty close to what she wears on the farm in real life, although she does admit to adding a little jewelry and undoing a button or two in order to enhance her on-screen allure. Most importantly, she says she had a great time filming, and would love to do it again.
“The experience was just like ‘playing’ and having fun. I’m really embracing this character,” Kelly says about her role on the reality show’s second season. “It’s so much fun and also very educational,” she says, noting how much she’s learned about filming a television show. Kelly filmed her parts last October and November, and says the cast and crew are fantastic.
“I’d absolutely do it again,” she says.
Kelly acknowledges the backlash the show has gotten in terms of perpetuating Appalachian stereotypes about backwoods outlaws. The show follows ginseng harvesters and poachers as they try to get hold of the cash crop by hook or crook across the Greenbrier Valley and other parts of Appalachia. The show follows casts across the mountains in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia, but Kelly thinks that some of the folks who protest against the show may not quite know what they’re talking about.
“I think a lot of the backlash comes from people who don’t watch the show,” she says, calling the show’s depiction of ginseng hunting as “tongue-in-cheek and humorous.” Also, she says, “the main characters are all so different. Mike Ross, the show’s ‘star’ is a good-looking guy. He’s the hero. Then there’s the family guy, the vigilante and the business guy. In reality, the ginseng industry is a deep and real part of Appalachian culture, and every episode talks about conservation.” Kelly says that the show’s “good guys,” such as Ross, are always talking about replenishing the ginseng seeds and not overharvesting, while the “bad guys” are the ones depicted as harvesting an entire ginseng patch and not leaving anything behind to grow next season.
Another thing Kelly says she likes about the show is that it is filmed so beautifully. “It’s cinematic,” she says, “It really captures the beauty of West Virginia.”
Kelly is also sure to note the positive economic impact the show has had on Greenbrier County. In addition to the characters being paid for their work on the show, she says that four production crews and the show’s producers stayed in Lewisburg for the months the show was being shot. That translates to those out-of-towners renting hotel rooms and cars, eating in restaurants and drinking in bars, and even paying fees to landowners when they filmed on their property.
Kelly appears on episodes six, nine and 10 in March and April on this season’s Appalachian Outlaws. The show is currently airing on the History Channel on Monday nights at 10 p.m. The Irish Pub hosts a viewing party every week. Kelly’s fans can find her on her official Facebook page, Appalachian Outlaws-Willow Kelly.