WCU’s Mountain Heritage Awards presented to musical duo, clogging team

Western Carolina University presented its Mountain Heritage Awards for 2008 on Saturday (Sept. 27) to a fiddle and guitar duo that performs “Appalachian swing” and to a clogging troupe that has been kicking up its heels in its own unique style for 37 years.

The Mountain Heritage Award for an individual was presented to fiddler Gar Mosteller and guitarist Doyle Barker, and the award for organizations was given to the Green Grass Cloggers during festivities at the university’s 34th annual Mountain Heritage Day.

The presentations were made by Scott Philyaw, director of the Mountain Heritage Center and chairman of Mountain Heritage Day.

Mosteller and Barker were both raised in rural Cherokee County. The musicians got together often to perform as a duo in the 1950s, and then the two were reunited in a performance at the 1990 edition of Mountain Heritage Day. They have been regulars at the festival since then, presenting their version of “Appalachian swing,” a combination of mountain hoe-downs, pop standards, sentimental parlor songs and Western swing.

Born in Andrews, Mosteller is the son of a fiddler, and his family included many other gifted musicians. Following World War II, he began playing for dances at the Andrews Town Hall, sometimes performing “twin fiddles” along with his brother. By the time he was 17, Mosteller was being heard on a program called “The Georgia Jubilee” on Atlanta radio station WGST. He also was performing for radio station WQAM in Miami, and eventually earned a place in the house band for the “Louisiana Hayride,” which was broadcast on KWKH in Shreveport, La., where he backed up country music stars such as Lefty Frizzel, Slim Whitman, Ray Price, Faron Young, Minnie Pearl and Webb Pierce.

Born in the Sweetwater community, Barker mastered the finger-style guitar playing technique made famous by Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. After performing with Mosteller for several years, Barker began playing with a local country band, the Fontana Ramblers, and he also was a member of the house band for the Georgia Mountain Fair, along with Howard Cunningham and Don Fox.

The Green Grass Cloggers burst onto the national folk festival scene in the early 1970s, combining the dance traditions of the Appalachian region with their own youthful innovations to create a new and distinctive style of team and performance clogging.

The Green Grass Cloggers were organized by students of East Carolina University in 1971. Rather than using the “big-set” mountain square dance figures of traditional freestyle clogging teams, the group used choreography based on four-couple Western square dance figures, performing short energetic routines designed for audience appeal. The cloggers’ footwork was synchronized, as in precision clogging, but its performances included high kicks and other unconventional steps.

The troupe won the World Clogging Championships in 1971 and 1973. The Philadelphia Folk Festival is noted as being the team’s first “big break” in the national festival scene, inspiring group members to dance on a more regular touring schedule. Part of the group that was interested in becoming a full-time touring dance company formed the “Road Team” in 1977, and that group relocated to Asheville in 1980. The Road Team continued touring nationally and internationally until 1988, while the “Home Team” continued to perform in eastern North Carolina.

Both the Road Team and Home Team now perform regularly around the country, often joining forces to create 16-couple sets as in the early years of the organization. At last count, thee have been more than 150 members of the Green Grass Cloggers through the years, and more than 100 clogging teams, overseas and in the United States, have been inspired during Green Grass Clogger workshops and performances to create their own groups to dance in the unique Green Grass Clogger style.

WCU’s Mountain Heritage Awards are presented each year in recognition of outstanding contributions to the preservation or interpretation of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia; or in recognition of outstanding contributions to research on, or interpretation of, Southern Appalachian issues.

Beginning with the award’s inception in 1976 and through 2006, WCU gave out one Mountain Heritage Award each year. Because the contributions of individuals often are different from those of groups and organizations, making direct comparisons difficult, the university’s Mountain Heritage Award Committee decided last year to begin giving out two awards – one to an individual and one to a group or organization, Philyaw said.