By Erika Hoffman
Can you name your state dog? If so, I’m impressed. If you’re from North Carolina and can name this bloodhound, you’ve earned a double “Good for you!” Me, I answered BINGO as in “And B-I-N-G- O was his name.” The winning answer is: PLOTT HOUND. Now, how many of you knew that?
Until this June, I had no idea. That day, I ventured to Maggie Valley, a scenic town surrounded by blue waves of mountains. I was staying with longtime friends atop Eagle’s Nest Mountain, 5,050 feet up in the air. On this particular Saturday, we wound down serpentine, door handle-clutching, panic attack -inducing, one lane roads to the old Cherokee hunting path— now US 19 running through Maggie Valley– to enter the festival fairgrounds, in close proximity to the defunct Ghost Town. For the past five years, a lively local celebration has taken place annually: Sanctioned dog shows of Plott Hound participants occur; top bands from the area like Balsam Ridge perform; crafts featuring metal working knife makers, potters, wood sculpture designers, basket weavers, and my favorite –glass jewelry creators are on display. Artistes, like Kristen Munoz who molds her pieces in front of you with a glass tube and a hot flame (5,000 degrees), scatter the landscape. Of course, multiple food vendors tempt with their wares, as well. A kiddie train pulled by a John Deere tractor, in addition to many blow- up funhouses, entertain the tots.
We watched teams of Plott dogs show off their hunting skills by surrounding a fake boar and baying continuously to alert their masters (hunters) as to the location of the prey; we witnessed hounds treeing a fake raccoon and again barking aggressively at their prize; we also were spectators at the AKC agility champion demonstration, which reminded me of an obstacle course on that reality show, American Ninja Warrior, only this one’s for dogs.
Of course, I got the most kicks out of the misbehaving canines—like the one that stopped to urinate instead of attending to the mechanical boar being pivoted wildly around by a man hidden in the bushes working levers. After that initial “got to go” contender relieved himself, all the others- rather than encircle the phony boar- bolted to that same spot for a sniff, then a pee, and even a noticeable deposit by one. On occasion, the call of nature took precedence over their training and over winning a ribbon for their owners.
Bluegrass and country music blared from the stage and Eddie Rose and his Band Highway 40 pointed out the white mountain goat perched on a bald outcropping high above us that emerged from the balsams to listen to the fiddle, the bass, and the banjo. “Blue Highways’ musicians doubled as comedians with jokes like: “Why don’t you see banjos in Star Trek movies?”
“Because it’s the future.”
Or, “When a banjo player was told by his doctor he had two weeks to live, the musician replied, ‘On what?’”
The Plottfest’s proceeds go to Head Start of Haywood and Jackson Counties. Many local businesses support the two day event. One of the sponsors was Cataloochee Ranch, so after seeing their name on the program, we drove up that winding road for lunch—an al fresco bbq with burgers, beans, franks, potato salad and blackberry cobbler. The view, as we dined, was magnificent; there you’re a mile high in the Blue Ridge!
I’ve never been a huge festival fan, but the enthusiasm, genuineness and mountain spirit of these dog and music lovers made me want to return next year. I also came away knowing a little history about the early settlers of this area, like Johannes Plott who came to this English colony in 1750 from Germany with five Hanoverian Hounds, used for bear and boar hunting and known for their stamina, gameness, and loyalty.
Somehow, those canine traits crossed over to the mountaineers that inhabit these hills. They, like their hunting canines, possess confidence, determination and endurance. Unlike their Plott Hounds that are brindled with no white showing on their coats, these folks are often red-headed, freckled, and on a June day outdoors— crisply sunburned.