ASHEVILLE NC – The theme of “journeys” will be one often repeated this year as Western Carolina University’s 38thannual festival of traditional mountain culture, Mountain Heritage Day, gets under way on campus Saturday, Sept. 29.
Straight from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the exhibit “Journey Stories” will be open for public viewing at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center as the festival begins at 10 a.m. Two other journey-related activities will take place at the festival’s Circle Tent – a musical jam session featuring train songs and a program focusing on local journey stories, presented by the Jackson County Historical Society and WCU public history students.
Those activities just add to the rich variety of arts and crafts, music, clogging, folk arts, contests and other activities that make Mountain Heritage Day an all-encompassing event when it comes to traditional mountain culture, said festival coordinator Trina Royar of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center.
Speaking of journeys, a local band has been traveling across the nation and making a name for itself as one of America’s top bluegrass ensembles. Western North Carolina’s own Balsam Range will present two shows at this year’s Mountain Heritage Day. The group will perform at 10:45 a.m. on the Balsam Stage and 3:15 p.m. on the Blue Ridge Stage.
Mountain Heritage Day activities, including stage performances, will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of the 5-K race, which begins at 8 a.m., and registration for the chain saw contest, which starts at 9 a.m. All festival events are held on fields around the Cordelia Camp Building, in parking lots and grassy areas around the Camp Building, and in the nearby Mountain Heritage Center, which is located on the ground floor of H.F. Robinson Administration Building.
ARTS, CRAFTS AND FOOD
Visitors at this year’s Mountain Heritage Day will find more than100 booths of juried arts and crafts, providing a perfect opportunity for local residents to get in some early holiday shopping, Royar said. Items for sale will include basketry, ceramics, corn-shuck art, fiber arts, furniture, glasswork, gourd art, jewelry, leather work, metalwork, painting and photography.
More than 25 food vendors will be offering temping dishes such as Cherokee fry bread, barbecue, ice cream, homemade fried pies, kettle corn, fried grits balls, turkey legs, pork rinds in multiple flavors and other treats.
STICKBALL AND OTHER CHEROKEE GAMES
The traditional Cherokee game of stickball always draws a big crowd at the festival, and the Snowbird Stickball Team from Graham County will make its third appearance at Mountain Heritage Day to demonstrate that ancient sport at 11 a.m.
Another Native American tradition will be featured at 1 p.m., when team members will join with their female associates in playing the courtship game of “Fish.” The team also will demonstrate the use of Cherokee blowguns at 3 p.m.
TRADITIONAL MUSIC AND THREE CLOGGING GROUPS
For diehard fans of traditional music and clogging, the Balsam and Blue Ridge stages at Mountain Heritage Day present somewhat of a dilemma because both stages present the region’s best traditional music pickers and singers in free performances all day. In addition to the previously mentioned Balsam Range, performers will include the Queen Family, the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, Mountain Faith, Whitewater Bluegrass Company, the Tried Stone Gospel Choir, the Deitz Family, Phil and Gaye Johnson, and the Jeff Little Trio, among others. This will be the first appearance at the festival for the Jeff Little Trio, which will perform two times – at 12:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. – on the Blue Ridge Stage. Little has received widespread acclaim for his distinctive two-hand style of piano playing that has been heavily influenced by the flat-picking guitar tradition of the Southern Appalachians and his work with the late Doc Watson.
Clogging fans will want to check out performances throughout the day by the Bailey Mountain Cloggers, Cole Mountain Cloggers and J Creek Cloggers.
Mountain Heritage Day’s musical lineup won’t be limited to the two stages. Visitors also will have an opportunity to see some rapid-fire picking up close and personal at the Circle Tent, where musicians trade tunes and tales in a more intimate setting. In addition to a jam session featuring train songs, area musicians will be showcased in gatherings focusing on the fiddle and banjo.
Other musical performances that have been a part of every Mountain Heritage Day will take place at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., when singers from around the region will gather to demonstrate the sacred mountain tradition of shaped-note singing. The singing will take place in the gymnasium adjacent to the Cordelia Camp Building, with participants singing from the “Sacred Harp” and “Christian Harmony” hymnals.
MUSEUM EXHIBITS AND “THE LIARS BENCH” SHOW
WCU’s museum of Appalachian culture, the Mountain Heritage Center, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mountain Heritage Day to allow festival visitors to view the Smithsonian’s “Journey Stories” exhibit, another new exhibit focusing on Horace Kephart, and other exhibits and displays.
The museum also will host a free performance of “The Liars Bench” Southern Appalachian variety show at 1:30 p.m. “The Liars Bench” was founded by Sylva writer and storyteller Gary Carden in June 2010. The inspiration for the show came from Carden’s own childhood in Sylva, when he was one of many children who was entertained by listening to the town elders’ tall tales and jokes at the local “liars bench.” The show cast will present “Osley Saunooke: Colorful Chief of the Cherokees,” featuring Cherokee storyteller Lloyd Arneach, singer-songwriter Barbara Duncan, claw-hammer guitarist Paul Iarussi and the Boys from Tuckasegee.
Mountain Heritage Day organizers continue their emphasis on providing activities for children, and the festival Children’s Tent will provide fun and educational sessions throughout the day thanks to the sponsorship of F. Patrick McGuire Dentistry.
Youngsters can learn to make old-fashioned toys and take part in other heritage activities beginning at 10 a.m. Lloyd Arneach will share Cherokee stories at noon. Other activities geared toward children will be held throughout the afternoon featuring Marc Pruett, banjo player for Balsam Range; participants from the Jackson County Junior Appalachian Musicians Program; and the Cole Mountain Cloggers. More heritage activities will be offered at 3 p.m.
FOLK ARTS DEMONSTRATIONS
Throughout its history, Mountain Heritage Day always has been a showcase for the authentic folk arts and skills of the mountain region. This year will be no exception, with demonstrations such as Cherokee basket-making, coppersmithing, broom-making, chair-making, corn-shuck crafts and wood carving from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
As part of festival activities, Peter Koch, educational associate at the Mountain Heritage Center, will demonstrate the loading and firing of a black powder flintlock rifle at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Living history demonstrations at the festival, all sponsored by Frontier Communications, will include the presentation of an 18th-century hunter’s camp with hide-tanning, 18th-century knives, powder horn carving, a gunsmith, Windsor chair-making, and a demonstration of draft horses and mules at work with free wagon rides for kids.
AUTO SHOW, FUN CONTESTS AND AWARDS
Area residents who own vintage automobiles will be driving them to Mountain Heritage Day to show them off in the festival auto show, which will begin at 10 a.m. Top winners will receive a plaque and a free oil change and tire rotation package from Andy Shaw Ford.
Some festival attendees will arrive on the WCU campus dressed in their best traditional mountain outfits with plans to enter traditional attire contests held for both children and adults, while some of the male visitors who have been dodging the razor for a while will want to enter the beard and moustache competition. Those contests will begin about 12:15 p.m. on the Balsam Stage.
Always a spectator favorite at Mountain Heritage Day, the woodcutting contest, with chain saws and crosscut saws, will begin at 10 a.m. in a grassy area at the corner of Centennial Drive and University Way. Entries from the festival traditional foods contest will be on display all day, with the winners recognized about 12:15 p.m. on the Balsam Stage, and several hundred runners are expected to gather for the 5-K, which will begin and end at WCU’s McKee Building.
Also, as is the custom at every Mountain Heritage Day, WCU will present its Mountain Heritage Awards for 2012 to one individual and one organization in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the preservation or interpretation of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia. That presentation will take place at 1 p.m. on the Blue Ridge Stage, along with recognition of arts and crafts award winners and the recipient of the Eva Adcock Award.
FREE ADMISSION AND PARKING
Mountain Heritage Day goes on, rain or shine, and admission and parking are free. Pets are not allowed on festival grounds, but service animals are welcome. Festival attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets for comfortable seating during stage presentations. Shuttles operate throughout the day, with stops at designated locations.
For more information about Mountain Heritage Day, go to MountainHeritageDay.com on the Web or call 828-227-7129.