A free family-oriented festival, the event is in its 42nd year, having started as Founders’ Day on Oct. 26, 1974, at the inauguration ceremony of Chancellor H.F. Robinson, and became known as Mountain Heritage Day the following year. The festival has become renowned as a showcase of mountain music, family activities, the region’s finest arts and crafts, and vendors offering ethnic, heritage and festival food.
Rain or shine, the festival brings history to life and fun to thousands. Shuttles will operate throughout the day, with stops at designated free parking and attraction locations. An added feature held in conjunction with Mountain Heritage Day this year will be a quilting exhibit by the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild at the nearby Ramsey Regional Activity Center.
• Family Fun: Mountain Heritage Day organizers continue their emphasis on providing activities for children, and the Children’s Tent will provide fun and educational sessions throughout the day. Children can participate in sack races, free wagon rides and hayrides, as well as try their hand at arts and crafts.
• Music, Storytelling and Clogging: From shape-note singing to the best in professional bluegrass, music dominates Mountain Heritage Day from a number of stages throughout the day. There are 22 acts scheduled, including headliners Mountain Faith and Eddie Rose & Highway 40, perennial dance favorites Bailey Mountain Cloggers and high-energy bluegrass and Americana trio The Barefoot Movement. New this year will be a ballad-singing circle, where anyone and everyone can join in.
• Mountain Skills Demonstrations: Living-history demonstrations include the firing of muzzle-loading rifles and blacksmithing, furniture-making, banjo-making and corn shuck crafts such as dolls, rugs and brooms, will be shown. Experts with draft animals will demonstrate traditional skills of harnessing and driving horse- and mule-drawn wagons of bygone days. Hard work and detailed knowledge will be featured in a logging skills demonstration, including cross-cut saw sharpening, while attendees can become participants by riding a wagon pulled by an old-fashioned tractor.
• Canning, Cooking Contests: 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. “A Gathering In” food competition items will be accepted at WCU’s Cordelia Camp Building, with category deadlines available in a booklet; call 828.227.7129 to request a copy. Corn will be the featured food for the “Best in the West” food recipe competition and these entries must be dropped off at by 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, with judging taking place that afternoon. All items will be displayed at Mountain Heritage Day.
• Cherokee Heritage Demonstrations: The traditional Cherokee game of stickball has been a favorite attraction for festival visitors in recent years, with adult and youth teams taking the field to demonstrate the ancient sport. The object of the game is to move an animal-skin ball, about the size of a half-dollar coin, from the center of the field to the other team’s goal line. Also at the festival, the skilled, time-honored creation of Cherokee pottery, beadwork, coppersmithing, basketry and finger-weaving, as well as arrowheads, knife blades and spear points, will be authentically demonstrated. Legends and stories will come to life through stone and woodcarvings that create figures representing Cherokee myths and tales.
• Food and Vendors: A large and varied selection of arts and crafts will be available from vendors. Among the items on sale will be baskets, including hand-woven and wood and vine construction, and ceramics such as pottery, stoneware and earthenware. Corn shuck art and toys, quilts, cotton rag rugs and other fiber handwork, weaving and wearables such as scarves will be on hand along with knitted and crocheted pieces. Handcrafted furniture and housewares, several types of glassworks, jewelry, leather goods (including belts) and metal work will be sold.
• Other Competitions: 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 chainsaw and timber sports event is nationally recognized, with chainsaw and crosscut saw competition. The audience helps determine the winners of an old-fashioned costume contest for adults and youth wearing clothing circa 1900, while a panel of judges chooses category winners in the beard and moustache contest and the long hair competition for women. A vintage, classic and antique automobile show is also a viewers’ choice contest, with attendees able to walk among the colorful cars and cast votes, with plaques presented to their picks.
Mountain Heritage Day is part of the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina, with www.blueridgemusicnc.com a convenient way to find festivals, concerts, jam sessions and plenty of singing and dancing to the traditional music of Western North Carolina. To learn more about WCU’s premier festival, visit www.mountainheritageday.com or call 828.227.3039.