October, 18, 2016. Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina. A lone man stands at a microphone, wailing his lungs out. This is the last cry of a dying Carolina tradition:
Fifty years ago, in rural N.C., before cell phones, before sirens, there was hollerin’. Farmers would call their children and their cows with melodic, whooping
cries that resounded across pastures, around barns and through the woods.
Each person’s holler was as individual as the people themselves, with calls that are impossible to capture in words. And these unique calls were showcased for
47 years at the National Hollerin’ Contest in Spivey’s Corner, the undisputed hollerin’ capital of the nation.
As Ermon Godwin Jr., founder of the contest, wrote in his novel, there are
four main types of hollerin’: distress, functional, expressive and communicative. In its heyday, the hollerin’ contest showcased each of these calls to thousands of fans.
The contest spanned days and featured attractions like antique farm equipment showings, history demonstrations and performances from stars like Dolly Parton. And of course, the hollerin’ itself. People came from all over the South, standing in sweltering heat to keep a precious part of their history alive.
But after 47 years, time slowly ebbed away at what had made the contest all it
was. Spivey’s Corner itself changed. The town’s single stoplight was replaced with a three-color model. Generations grew old and passed away. Gradually, cell phones appeared in pockets and hollerin’ fell out
“Hollerin’ is part of our heritage and I hope we can keep the contest going for many years to come,” wrote Godwin Jr. in his 1993 book “Hollerin’ Revived at Spivey’s Corner.” “But rather than string it out after it loses its appeal, I’d say we should just forget it and go out gracefully.”
Thus, 2016 was the last year the festival was held. The contest was no longer bringing in revenue to be donated to the town’s volunteer fire department, as it had once done. But more importantly, there were fears of the event becoming a joke, something to be laughed at by people who didn’t understand the culture behind the tradition.
Back in 2016, the Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department teased a possible
final revival of the tradition in 2018 for the 50th anniversary–the now-renamed “Hollerin Heritage Festival.”
It’s possible this even could happen in the next two months, but regardless of a contest, it can be assured that somewhere a little south of Chapel Hill, people are still hollerin’ their hearts out.
By Eva Buckner, Copy Editor.