After nearly 50 years local contest to end, according to organizers
Every June for nearly 50 years, the tiny Sampson County town of Spivey’s Corner has probably been the loudest place in North Carolina or maybe the Southeast or, heck, the entire United States.
The signal was the heat. When springtime begins to feels like summer — that is hollerin’ weather.
The Hollerin’ Contest was an event that inspired a lot of chuckles, a lot fun, tons of curious questions and a certain reverence — for a simpler time when folks didn’t have cell phones or computers and resorted to inventive ways of relaying messages to their neighbors.
However, according to a letter sent out by the Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department this week, the longtime organizers of the event, the contest has probably hollered its last holler.
“Over the past four decades, most of the original practitioners of the art of hollerin’ have passed on. These were the men and women that were born and raised in the rural farming communities of southeastern North Carolina, long before telephone service made it easy to communicate over long distances,” the letter reads.
The note continues, citing a successive lack of interest in the annual contest — which was moved from the sweltering heat of June to September in 2013 and renamed the Hollerin’ Heritage Festival.
“As the times have changed, members of the Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department and community at large have made changes to the event. These efforts had the ultimate goal of making the art of hollerin’ more appealing to a younger generation that shares very little in common with their ancestors who practiced this method of long-distance communication,” it explains.
“Ultimately it all boils down to this question — what would Ermon Godwin want for his contest?” the letter inquires, referring to the famed Hollerin’ Contest promoter. “Thankfully, he answered that question in the book he co-wrote with Oscar Bizzell in 1993, ‘Hollerin’ Revived at Spivey’s Corner.’”
In that book, Mr. Godwin stated, “I’ve had lots of fun with the contest over the years, but I don’t want people making a joke of it. Hollerin’ is part of our heritage and I hope we can keep the contest going for many years to come. But rather than string it out after it loses its appeal, I’d say we should just forget it and go out gracefully.”
In keeping with Mr. Godwin’s recorded wishes, the members of the Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department have made the decision “to suspend the National Hollerin’ Contest/Hollerin’ Heritage Festival.”
Another book, packaged in 1975 with a vinyl record of hollers released through The Rounder Collective, explained the story of just how the tradition was born in the Sampson County area.
“Its roots can be traced back to the men working on rafts in the 1700’s, when logs were transported from Sampson County via its many rivers and streams to Wilmington. The loggers operating the rafts hollered back and forth to one another about their rafts so that they wouldn’t run into each other, or so that if stuck, others would come to their aid. The tradition has survived since its colonial origins,” it reads.
From its beginnings, the holler morphed into something of a greeting, a sign of jubilation, trouble, fun and even sadness. The Rounder Collective booklet goes on to describe the relative characteristics of a Sampson County holler and its uniqueness to the area. Apparently, it can also be heard up to three miles away.
The holler was just something of a local eccentricity before Mr. Godwin entered the picture in 1969. Due to Mr. Godwin’s efforts the contest garnered national (and global) attention, often times seeing interest from numerous media outlets and documentary filmmakers.
In 2012, the last year of the traditional “Hollerin’ Contest” format, National Public Radio was in Spivey’s Corner recording the event and gathering interviews for a feature spot on the program “All Things Considered.”
A documentary crew made up of members from across the country were also on hand — they even had their host, a New Yorker, enter the contest himself.
“It’s such an oddity. It’s a unique way for people to get up and express themselves. Not only that, but it takes years to cultivate. I don’t holler myself, but the art — it takes practice. I’ve seen a lot of people try and they just can’t do it,” then event organizer Wayne Edwards told The Daily Record in 2012.
50th Anniversary Sendoff?
Despite the suspension of the festival, the letter from the Spivey’s Corner Fire Department did mention the possibility of sending off the event with one last celebration.
“We have reserved the option to hold one final National Hollerin’ Contest on the 50th anniversary in 2018. The discussion on whether or not to hold this final event is ongoing and the decision will be publicized as soon as it has been reached,” it reads.
The Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department and the community of Spivey’s Corner would like to thank all of the contestants, businesses and attendees who have supported this event (our yearly fundraiser) for the past 47 years. We greatly appreciate your help in making our community a safer place to live, work, and travel through,” the letter concludes , signed — The Members of the Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department, The SCVFD Board of Directors and The SCVFD Fundraiser Committee. Courtesy The Daily Record