For its fifth annual “holiday special,” Western Carolina University looked no farther than its own backyard to find nationally acclaimed musical talent to help share greetings of the season to students, friends, community members, faculty and staff.

Fresh off their appearance as semifinalists on the popular television show “America’s Got Talent,” the members of Mountain Faith, Jackson County’s own award-winning contemporary bluegrass band, eagerly accepted an invitation to perform for WCU’s annual holiday video greeting card.

HolidayVideo5Two of the band’s members ― lead vocalist and fiddle-player Summer McMahan and guitarist/vocalist Luke Dotson ― are WCU alumni. They perform alongside family patriarch Sam McMahan on bass, Brayden McMahan on banjo, Cory Piatt on mandolin, and David Meyer on guitar.

Mountain Faith burst into the national spotlight this summer during the band’s appearances on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” where the group advanced to the semifinals and twice performed live at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Just before hitting the WCU campus in late November to perform an up-tempo bluegrass version of the timeless holiday classic “Carol of the Bells,” the band had performed for U.S troops serving in the Middle East.

Mountain Faith also performed Nov. 5 in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center in a benefit concert to help generate donations of food to the Community Table or Jackson County United Christian Ministries to benefit local residents in need. Mountain Faith was named the 2015 group recipient of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Award in October.

The university holiday video, shot in black and white to evoke an old-time feel, captured a live performance in the recording studios in WCU’s Center for Applied Technology, a state-of-the-art facility where students in broadcasting, communications, and electronic and commercial music gain real-world experience learning with the tools of their future trade.

In fact, several WCU students played important roles in this production. They include
Keith Kuntsmann, best boy, jib arm and camera operator; J.J. Wallace, grip and dolly grip; and Sarina Montgomery, Elizabeth Chappell, Jesse Allard and Jason Miller, who participated in pre-production lighting tests to ensure the proper ambience for the video. Henry Leavitt and Matt Bickford, students in the commercial and electronic music program, were recording engineers for the project.

HolidayVideoFullVideographer Joseph Hader from the Office of Communications and Public Relations, a 2012 WCU graduate, was director, cinematographer, editor and colorist for the video. Dan Gonko, a WCU alumnus who works in the Center for Applied Technology studios, was recording engineer. Andrew Mannion of the School of Stage and Screen was set designer.

Also participating in the project were Jason Ledford of WCU’s Film and Television Production Program, second director of photography, jib operator, camera operator and gaffer; Eric Smith from the Division of Information Technology, camera operator; Mark Haskett, university photographer, production assistant; Dustin Whitehead of the School of Stage and Screen, pre-production assistant; and Denise Drury Homewood, executive director of WCU’s Fine Art Museum, post-production assistant.

Here’s a nostalgic look back at some of WCU’s previous holiday videos.

2014: See the video.

2013: See the video.

2012: See the video.

2011: See the video.