Mountain Heritage Day, the annual celebration of Southern Appalachian culture presented by Western Carolina University, takes place on campus Saturday, Sept. 29, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Musical performances and singalongs are a big part of the festival. Balsam Range, the multiple International Bluegrass Music Association award-winning bluegrass band, returns this year, as does the popular Summer Brooke and Mountain Faith Band. Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper visit for the first time, bringing a dynamic stage presence and an excellent fiddle-led bluegrass sound. Whitewater Bluegrass Company, Ol’ Dirty Bathtub, the Dietz Family, Frogtown and the Queen Family are among the more than a dozen artists scheduled to appear.
More than 140 vendors will be on hand. Mountain Heritage Day is known for a varied selection of high-quality arts and crafts on sale. Examples of handiwork includes baskets, stoneware pottery, corn shuck toys, quilts, furniture, glassworks, jewelry, leather goods and metal work. The festival awards cash prizes and recognition to the artists and crafts-makers in four categories: Best in Show, First Place, Second Place and Best Booth Display. A wide selection of food vendors will offer a variety of festival food, with favorites ranging from kettle corn and homemade ice cream to funnel cakes and barbecue, to name a few.
Activities include shuttle service and student docent-led tours of a Smithsonian Institution exhibit, “The Way We Worked,” at the Mountain Heritage Center. National Archives photographs depict many aspects of work, from the clothing worn, the locations and conditions, and workplace conflict. The photos also document a workforce shaped by many factors ― immigration and ethnicity, slavery and racial segregation, wage labor and technology, gender roles and class ― as well as by the American ideals of freedom and equality.
Other highlights will be presentation of the Mountain Heritage Awards, given to one individual and one organization annually in honor of achievements in historic preservation and outstanding cultural contributions. Ann Miller Woodford of Andrews is the individual winner for her work in documenting and rediscovering regional African-American history, culture and traditions. Penland Contracting of Franklin, the organizational winner, is a business known for its work in stream restoration, enhancement of water quality and wildlife habitat preservation. This year marks the first time WCU’s Mountain Heritage Award has been presented to a business. Recipients are chosen by a committee comprised of regional and campus representatives.
The festival always has included Cherokee folkways, arts and crafts, with the traditional Cherokee game of stickball a favorite attraction. With adult and youth teams taking the field, guests can witness an ancient sport that resembles a rough and tumble version of lacrosse.
Living-history demonstrations include the firing of muzzle-loading rifles, the fire and forge of blacksmithing, furniture making, banjo making and corn shuck crafts such as dolls, rugs and brooms. Experts with draft animals will demonstrate traditional skills of harnessing and driving horse- and mule-drawn wagons of bygone days. Hard work and ingenuity will be featured in logging skills, coppersmithing, wood carving, basketry and flint knapping. Attendees can become participants by riding a wagon pulled by an old-fashioned tractor.
Mountain Heritage Day hosts a variety of fun and serious competitions reflecting history and traditions of the mountains that draw contestants from near and far. A 5K race begins at 8 a.m. and winds its way through the campus. A nationally recognized chainsaw and timber sports event draws numerous competitors. A vintage, classic and antique car and truck show is a viewers’ choice contest, with attendees able to walk among the vehicles and cast votes, with plaques presented to the winning picks.
Traditional food competition includes categories for canned goods, baked goods and heritage foods conservation. Competition is divided into adult and youth (16 and younger) divisions. Ribbons will be awarded to the top three entrants in each age category, plus a grand champion will be selected in each division. Entries should be dropped off by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25, at Room 134 in WCU’s Cordelia Camp Building. Nuts will be the featured ingredient for the “Best in the West” food recipe competition, with entries dropped off by noon Friday, Sept. 28, at the same location, with judging taking place that afternoon. All items will be on display during Mountain Heritage Day.
The festival goes on, rain or shine. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets for comfortable seating. Dogs on leashes are allowed on the grounds. For more information and updates, go to www.mountainheritageday.com.