From dog-agility contests to Motocross, from gospel jubilees to tensely competitive bake-offs requiring the use of local blueberries, the NC Mountain State Fair has diversified and modernized since it began two decades ago. And though he practices an ancient tradition, Barnardsville native Doc Cudd, a blacksmith at The Biltmore Estate, has built a reputation during his 15-plus years at the fair by playing a most unusual instrument: the anvil.
Bold Life: You say the anvil has a 50-part language. What does that mean?
Doc Cudd: Hundreds of years ago, blacksmith masters set up a language so their apprentices didn’t have to listen for human voices on the job. Each part of the anvil puts off a different sound, so by listening to that sound alone, the apprentices knew where to hammer the metal.
How did you become a “blacksmith musician?”
When I started at ten years old, my grandfather and my great uncle still used that language. It sounded like music because it was. I kept taking little parts of it and putting it together and making music out of it. You know, there’s music in everything that’s ever been created — it’s just a matter of getting it out. Every once in a while, on a cold morning, my grandfather would say, “Let’s make a little music to get warmed up.” So that was how it came about.
What’s your interest in the Mountain State Fair?
I was with the fair long before I was ever at Biltmore. It has a special place in my heart. [Former fair manager] Bill Edmondson was amazed with the music. He always said, “Doc, you can fill a road a tractor can’t even get through just by playing that anvil.”
What surprises people about the fair?
Kids like the rides, but there’s a lot for adults. Everything in Western NC has a booth at the fair: the forest service, log homebuilders, craft makers, everybody. But Western North Carolina agriculture is what the fair is really about. Without the farmers we’d all be in big trouble. One of the grandest parts of the fair is for people to see [that] this stuff doesn’t grow in the back of the Ingles warehouse: It grows out here in the field.
Do you recall any funny incidents at the fair?
Two years ago, one of the groups was late for the mountain-music stage, so they asked me if I would do the first program. All these great musicians are performing there, but I end up on the front page of the Asheville Citizen-Times playing the anvil.
Are you handing your skills down to anyone?
I’ve got three cousins that work for me, but I can’t seem to get them to play music on the anvil. I don’t have any kids myself. Mother keeps telling me there’s no woman on earth that will put up with a man working 19 hours a day. Most women say your mother is probably right.
The NC Mountain State Fair runs September 5-14 at the WNC Agricultural Center. Mountainfair.org