Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Day, an annual regional cultural celebration and the university’s “gift back to the community,” took place Saturday, Sept. 24, on campus under bright skies with thousands of visitors.
WCU staff member Mark Haskett, a festival co-chair who has been involved with planning and photographing the event for more than 20 years, said the 42nd edition of the festival went well. “This was the largest attendance we’ve seen in the past five years, largely due to great weather and the end of the short-lived gas shortage. And from informal surveys and discussions, it was a very happy and satisfied crowd,” he said.
The success was largely a credit to the work of volunteers, Haskett said. Throughout festival day, about 200 volunteers from the community and campus – faculty, staff and students – assisted with parking and traffic, transported the disabled as well as performers and their equipment, manned information booths, helped conduct contests and took care of dozens of assorted tasks for the thousands who attended.
The daylong event is known for continuous mountain music, gospel and bluegrass, shape-note singing, clogging and storytelling on numerous stages. Living-history demonstrations included muzzle-loading rifles, blacksmithing, salt-making, stone-carving, banjo-making, corn shuck crafts and broom-making. Children participated in free wagon rides and hayrides, while Cherokee cultural activities featured popular stickball games, pottery and other Native American handcrafts.
Mountain Heritage Awards, presented 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 in, or interpretation of, Southern Appalachian issues, went to George Frizzell, recently retired as director of WCU’s Special Collections at Hunter Library, and Dogwood Crafters, an arts and crafts collective established in Jackson County in 1976. An induction into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the governor of North Carolina to citizens, was awarded to Bob Plott in recognition of his contributions to recording Western North Carolina history and dedication to the Plott hound, the state’s official dog breed.
Stacy MacGregor, WCU director of special events and festival co-chair, said the success also could be attributed to the efforts of event committee members and subcommittees: Peter Koch and Pam Meister with WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, executive committee/oversight; Jerry Adams and Fred Bauknecht, transportation and safety; Carroll Brown and Jennifer Cooper, volunteers; Carol Burton, antique car show; Geoff Cantrell, marketing and publicity; Thomas Hooks, Steve Lillard, Shane Stovall and Ernie Hudson, emergency management and safety; Pam Millard, administration; Mike Nichols, shape-note singing; Cindy Nicholson, finance; Chet Parker, transportation; Norman Parris, chainsaw competition; Charlie Parrish, 5K run; Lane Perry, student volunteers; Will Putnam, Peter Koch and Ashley Evans, programming; Ian Stephens, parking; Roger Turk, Kevin Cope and Gabriel Williams, facilities and logistics; and Steve Sciara, construction management. Stage managers, moderators and emcees were Rodney Sutton at the Balsam Stage, Bill Nichols and Will Putnam at the Blue Ridge Stage, Barry Clinton at the Children’s Tent and Phil Jamison at the Circle Tent.
During the event, University Police joined WCU Emergency Services and Jackson County Emergency Services in responding to a report that a Mountain Heritage Day attendee collapsed while leaving the festival grounds. The victim subsequently passed away.
A gallery of 2016 Mountain Heritage Day photographs can be seen at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/41852987@N06/sets/72157673199386982/
Video of the day’s many events, awards presentations and activities can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oefVF2O0PjE