CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On Memorial Day weekend, May 26-28, the Culture Center and State Capitol grounds will set the stage for the 41st annual Vandalia Gathering – the state’s annual celebration of the traditional arts, music, dance, stories, crafts and food of West Virginia. The free festival’s unique blend of ethnic and cultural heritage combines an atmosphere as comfortable as a family reunion with the excitement of a state fair.
The Vandalia Gathering creates new memories each year for the thousands of visitors who flock from across the Mountain State and around the country to celebrate traditions passed from generation to generation. The festival pays tribute to West Virginia’s mountain culture and ethnic heritage by showcasing a variety of craftspeople and performers.
For those who love the sounds of traditional music or would like to be introduced to it, Vandalia Gathering fits the bill. Concerts and contests fill the weekend, and impromptu musical jam sessions spring up all over the grounds. At any moment, a shade tree becomes the site of a lively performance as strolling musicians stop to join in on a favorite tune.
The 2017 Vandalia Gathering kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, May 26, in the State Theater with an awards ceremony for quilt and wall-hanging winners and presentation of the Vandalia Award, the state’s highest folklife honor. A concert will follow the awards ceremony and feature Bill Hairston as emcee with performers Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwarz, Nick Freeman, the Modock Rounders, Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller, Kanawha Tradition, featuring Bobby Taylor and friends, and the Samples Brothers.
A Saturday evening concert at 7 p.m. will feature a memorial tribute to the late David Morris, a singer/songwriter, storyteller and recording artist from Ivydale who passed away last October, his son Jack Morris, the High Ridge Ramblers, storyteller Bil Lepp, Frank George, Robert Shaffer and Johnny Staats, Buck and Company and Roger Bryant.
Activities on Saturday and Sunday include old-time fiddle, old-time banjo, lap dulcimer, mandolin, flat-pick guitar and bluegrass banjo competitions. The fiddle and guitar competitions have a youth category for musicians 15 years of age or younger. Traditional dance offerings range from demonstrations of ethnic and square dancing in the Great Hall of the Culture Center to an outdoor flat-foot dancing stage where spectators are encouraged to jump in and kick up their heels.
The Old-Time for Young ‘Uns area will have craft activities, including cornhusk dolls, watercolor painting, clay crafts, weaving with Jane Gilchrist and storytelling.
In addition, there will be a traditional pound cake and favorite family cookie contest on Saturday followed by a “Cake Walk” later in the afternoon. On Sunday, the popular Liars Contest will take place in the theater, and Angie Richardson will present a Gospel Sing.
During the festival, more than 40 West Virginia craftspeople will be demonstrating and selling their creations. Visitors can shop for wind chimes, pottery, wall hangings, wood products, stained, fused and pressed glass, musical instruments, jewelry, silk scarves, candles, leather goods, baskets and a host of other items in the Craft Circle. Salsa, jellies, salad dressings, gourmet coffee and tea, roasted nuts, chili and dip mixes and a variety of other food products also will be available. In addition, vendors will sell plants native to West Virginia.
Vandalia food booths will feature a unique sampling of traditional and ethnic foods, including such favorites as hot dogs, roasted corn, pepperoni rolls, sausage heros, tacos in a bag, pinto beans and cornbread, ramps, potatoes and eggs, strawberry shortcake, funnel cakes and cobblers. The festival sales tent will offer Vandalia Gathering T-shirts, caps, and other souvenirs, as well as compact discs and cassettes from West Virginia’s finest traditional musicians.
Visitors also can see the annual Quilts and Wall Hangings Exhibition on display in the Great Hall of the Culture Center. The crowd-pleasing annual juried exhibition features exquisite quilts and wall hangings representing the talents of West Virginia quiltmakers. Quilts and Wall Hangings 2017 will be on display from May 26- Sept. 5.
Vandalia Gathering is a program of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. The Culture Center is located at the State Capitol Complex in Charleston.
For more information, contact Caryn Gresham, deputy commissioner of the division, at (304) 558-0220. Visit the division’s website at www.wvculture.org for a complete schedule of Vandalia Gathering events. Vandalia Gathering contests are open to West Virginia residents only.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is an agency within the Office of Secretary of Education and the Arts with Gayle Manchin, cabinet secretary. The division, led by Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, brings together the past, present and future through programs and services focusing on archives and history, arts, historic preservation and museums. For more information about the division’s programs, events and sites, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.