Thousands gather in Cullowhee each year on the last Saturday in September to be a part of the region’s rich history of mountain culture at Mountain Heritage Day, but in many ways this year’s festival will be exceptional as it marks both the 40th anniversary of its founding and the 125th year of existence of the university that hosts it.
The event began as Founders Day on Oct. 26, 1974, at the inauguration ceremony of Chancellor H.F. Robinson. “The festival filled a need and yearning for a local exposition,” said Scott Philyaw ’83, director of the Mountain Heritage Center. “It became known as the annual Mountain Heritage Day the following year.”
This year, multiple Grammy Award-winner David Holt – who performed on numerous occasions during the festival’s early years – will be making a return appearance, sharing the stage with Will McIntyre ’76. Holt has recorded with mentors whose listed names read like a “Who’s Who” of bluegrass, folk, country and blues artists. He and McIntyre, once a student photographer with WCU’s public relations office and now a professional photographer, have performed together in several countries. Local favorites Mountain Faith, Jeff Little Trio, Whitewater Bluegrass Company, the Deitz Family, the Queen Family and many more also will perform bluegrass, country, gospel and mountain music on two stages. A dance floor will be available for clogging teams or audience dancing.
While many festival activities take place on intramural fields adjacent to WCU’s Cordelia Camp Building, two exhibits in the free-admission Mountain Heritage Center, located in the nearby H.F. Robinson Building, celebrate 125 years of university history and 40 years of Mountain Heritage Day.
As always, there will be more than 100 booths offering handmade arts and crafts, also in juried competition; living history and craft demonstrations; Cherokee stickball; shape-note singing; cooking, canning and baking contests; chainsaw and antique auto rivalries; tractor and horse/mule-drawn wagon rides; plus a tent featuring children’s activities all day. Plenty of varieties of festival food and soft drinks – from traditional to historic to ethnic – also will be available for purchase.
Other good traditions that won’t change include free admission and free parking. Visitors are encouraged to bring a blanket or chair, and an umbrella or parasol to shed unwanted sunshine or rain. Though service animals are welcome, guests are asked to leave pets at home. The most current information about the festival can be found at www.mountainheritageday.com.
“This year’s Mountain Heritage Day will be a special celebration as we recognize both the 40th anniversary of the festival and the 125th anniversary of Western Carolina University. Please join us in Cullowhee for the time of your life,” said Philyaw.