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Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper slated as music headliner for 2023 Mountain Heritage Day

michael cleveland

From left to right: Nathan Livers (vocals, mandolin); Chris Douglas (vocals, bass); Michael Cleveland (fiddle, vocals); Josh Richards (vocals, guitar); and Jasiah Shrode (banjo).

By Julia Duvall

Michael Cleveland and his band Flamekeeper will be the headline musical act for this year’s Mountain Heritage Day at Western Carolina University to be held on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cleveland, widely considered the bluegrass fiddler of his generation, began playing the fiddle at age four. In 2006, he formed his band Flamekeeper, seven-time recipients of the IBMAs “Instrumental Group of the Year” award.

Band members include Josh Richards, Nathan Livers, Jasiah Shrode and Chris Douglas. In addition to touring with his band, Cleveland has performed with a legendary list of bluegrass greats including Vince Gill. Cleveland has also been recognized 12 times as the IBMAs Fiddle Player of the Year and in 2018 was inducted into the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame. His recording “Fiddlers Dream” was nominated in 2018 for a GRAMMY for Best Bluegrass Album, and in 2019, he won a GRAMMY for his album “Tall Fiddler.”

Other performers to take the stage include singer, songwriter and mandolinist Darren Nicholson, who has embarked on a solo career after his departure from Balsam Range, the award-winning quintet he helped to found more than 15 years ago. Following the release of three singles, Nicholson released his solo album “Wanderer” in June of this year.

The music of Mountain Heritage Day, which ranges from bluegrass to folk to gospel, is a vital part of the event which celebrates Southern Appalachian history and culture.

Alongside the musical stages will be arts and crafts booths, children's activities, heritage demonstrations, Cherokee stick ball games, a chainsaw competition, wagon rides and a classic car and truck show. Admission is free as is parking and shuttle service.

The festival, which began in 1974, continues its legacy of highlighting traditional folk arts and skills, Cherokee crafts, clogging and storytelling.

More than 120 arts and crafts vendors will be on hand with creations ranging from furniture and jewelry to leather goods and metalwork. Vendors will offer a variety of festival food, with favorites ranging from fry bread, kettle corn and homemade ice cream to funnel cakes and barbecue.

“Western Carolina University is honored to host Mountain Heritage Day once again to the community and beyond,” said WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown. “Celebrating the diverse culture being displayed through insightful presentations will forever be special in this lovely area we live in.”

Mountain Heritage Day goes on rain or shine, and everyone is invited to bring lawn chairs or blankets for comfortable seating. Dogs on leashes are allowed, with water and comfort stations provided. For more information and updates, visit

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