This Saturday, Sept. 24, Western Carolina University continues its popular folkways tradition and opens the doors for neighbors from far and near, with the 42nd annual Mountain Heritage Day. The event gets underway at 10 a.m. and concludes at 5 p.m.
“From the very beginning, Mountain Heritage Day has been a celebration of Appalachian culture and traditions, where university and community volunteers come together to create an event that expresses our pride in this region’s diverse heritage,” said Pamela Meister, interim director and curator at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, a year-round resource for regional education and research that assists in content development for the festival. “I think Mountain Heritage Day is special because it invites everyone — whether they’re ‘from around here’ or not — to actively participate in the festival, learn a little and have a lot of fun.”
The intricacies of hosting an annual event that routinely sees crowds estimated at upwards of 20,000 are reflected in the preparation and execution of this free admission, free parking family-oriented festival. Roger Turk, WCU grounds superintendent for facilities management, is once again director of event logistics.
“Each year, as soon as the day ends, we begin looking toward next year,” he said. “Organizers have a debrief right away to see what went well and what we can improve next year. Do that for 41 years and you keep the energy and excitement without losing relevance. When I hear people saying that this is ‘my 21st year in a row’ or that their family has attended 35 Mountain Heritage Days and always marks their calendar for that last Saturday in September, I know we’re doing something right.”
Regional history is revisited throughout the festival. Free wagon rides and hayrides and a classic car and truck show present visitors with a look back at transportation of earlier times. A stroll through the grounds will feature demonstrations of black powder rifle shooting, blacksmithing, stone-carving, banjo-making, corn shuck crafts, Cherokee crafts and pottery, coppersmithing and broom-making.
“Western Carolina University values what it means to be in this region,” Turk said. “That’s not just lip service. This is a university-supported event that keeps younger generations connected to previous generations, and aware of our collective past. Many folks have never seen corn shuck dolls, much less being made or wood-carving, blacksmithing with a forge or shaping shingles out of wood.
“Each year there are the traditional mountain things everyone expects to see, but there is always something new, too.”
Entertainment includes a full schedule of music and dance on three stages. The 2016 headline act is bluegrass gospel and Americana band Mountain Faith, winners of the 2015 Mountain Heritage Award.
The success of Mountain Heritage Day is a result of the efforts of volunteers and the role of leadership,” said Mark Haskett, WCU director of photography and this year’s event co-chair. “We’ll have about 200 volunteers from the neighboring communities and campus ― faculty, staff and students ― assist with parking and traffic, shuttle service, staffing information booths and performance stages, running contests and other tasks,” he said.
Mountain Heritage Day is known for offering a variety of contests centered on authentic mountain folk arts and skills, particularly those involved in providing sustenance, like canned, preserved and baked goods, and woodcutting with chainsaws and crosscut saws. Just-for-fun competitions include judging for best beards and mustaches for men, and long hair styles for women, along with period costumes for adults and children. Visitors can also expect 130 booths of the region’s finest arts and crafts, and vendors offering ethnic, heritage and festival food. For a complete schedule, visitor tips and map, visit www.mountainheritageday.com.
By Geoff Cantrell
8 a.m. – 5K Race Begins
9 a.m. – Registration for Chainsaw Contest and Car Show Begins
10 a.m. – Festival Opens
10 a.m. – Black Powder Demonstration
11 a.m. – Cherokee Stickball Game
2 p.m. – Cherokee Stickball Game
3 p.m. – Black Powder Demonstration
5 p.m. – Festival Closes
10 a.m. – The Deitz Family
10:45 a.m. – Mountain Youth Talent Award Winners
11:15 a.m. – Queen Family
12 p.m. – Buckstankle Boys with Bailey Mountain Cloggers
12:45 p.m. – Food Contest Winners
1 p.m. – Mountain Faith Band
1:45 p.m. – Beard and Moustache Contest and Costume Contest
2 p.m. – The Barefoot Movement
2:45 p.m. – Tsalagi Touring Group
3:15 p.m. – Buncombe Turnpike with Cole Mountain Cloggers
Blue Ridge Stage
10 a.m. – Eddie Rose and Highway 40
10:45 a.m. – The Foxfire Boys with Green Grass Cloggers
11:45 a.m. – Phil and Gaye Johnson
12:30 pm – Mountain Heritage Award and Order of the Longleaf Pine
1 p.m. – Stoney Creek Band
1:45 p.m. – Whitewater Bluegrass Company & Bailey Mountain Cloggers
2:45 p.m. – Arts and Craft Awards
3 p.m. – Unspoken Tradition
4 p.m. – Mountain Faith Band
10 a.m. – Phil and Gaye Johnson
10:30 p.m. – Mountain Faith Band
11 p.m. – Tsalagi Touring Group
11:30 p.m. – Jackson County Junior Appalachian Musicians
12 p.m. – The Barefoot Movement
12:30 p.m. – Green Grass Cloggers
1 p.m. – Possum on a Whale
1:30 p.m. – Cole Mountain Cloggers
2 p.m. – The Dietz Family Band
2:30 p.m. – Tom Godleski
10 a.m. – Jackson County Historical Society
11:30 a.m. – Blue Ridge Mountain Home Circle with Avril Freeman, Eddie Rose, Summer MacMahon, Lawrence Dillingham and Steve Sutton
1 p.m. – Hard Times Circle with Audie McGinnis, Lee Shuford, Dean English, Tom Nixon, Mark Queen and Gaye Johnson
3 p.m. – Wild Game Circle with Will Ritter, The Dietz Family, Wes Clifton, Danielle Bishop, and Uncle Ted White
Shape-Note Singing Tent
10:30 a.m. – “Sacred Harp” Singing
12:15 a.m. – Ballad Circle with Jeanette Schrock, Will Ritter, Denise O’Sullivan and Dee Dee Norton
1:30 p.m. – “Christian Harmony” Singing