By Julia Duvall
The musical duo Jean Dowell and Mike Oberst will be the opening act at Mountain Heritage Day in the Jackson County Tourism Balsam Circle Tent at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30.
Originally from Union Grove, Dowell is a proud WCU alumna who is known just as much for her talented athleticism as her music. She played on the university’s first women’s basketball team in 1965 and was inducted into the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992.
Most of Dowell’s college career was completed before women's basketball teams and players were ranked and honored on a national level. She averaged 30 points a game for the first nationally affiliated women's team at WCU in 1965-66, the best season scoring average in the program's history.
“We are incredibly proud to have someone with such history with Western Carolina University come home to Cullowhee and are excited to have Jean share her talents with the community on one of the biggest events on our campus,” said Stacey Miller, director of alumni engagement.
Dowell went on to have a distinguished career as softball player in graduate school at the University of Georgia and then as athletic director and head basketball coach at Mount St. Joseph's College of Ohio.
Dowell’s music was highly influenced by growing up in rural North Carolina. During their performance at Mountain Heritage Day, Dowell and Oberst will combine traditions of folk and punk music to create a unique style that harkens back to depression-era American folk music. Oberst, with his band, the Tillers, is a staple of folk festivals across the country.
Other alumni in this year’s lineup include members of Whitewater Bluegrass Inc., William Ritter, members of Bluegrass Allstars, Emma Dingle of Jubilee Mountain Cloggers, and Marc Pruett class of 1974 and later awarded an honorary doctoral degree by WCU in 2010.
“We are so pleased to welcome home these talented WCU alumni,” said Peter Koch, chair of the festival’s programming subcommittee and educational associate for the Mountain Heritage Center. “Having them return to Cullowhee adds another layer of community to Mountain Heritage Day.”
Mountain Heritage Day, the annual celebration of Southern Appalachian culture presented by Western Carolina University, will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on WCU’s campus. Admission is free.
The festival goes on, rain or shine. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets for comfortable seating. For more information and the full festival schedule, go to www.mountainheritageday.com.