CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On Memorial Day weekend, May 22-24, the Culture Center and State Capitol grounds will host the 39th 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, named for the proposed 14th colony, 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 2015 Vandalia Gathering kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, May 22, with an awards ceremony for quilt and wall-hanging winners and presentation of the Vandalia Award, the state’s highest folklife honor. A concert with some of the state’s favorite performers will follow, including storyteller Bil Lepp, Poet Laureate Marc Harshman, the West Virginia All-Star Bluegrass Band, Bill Hairston, David O’Dell, Jesse Milnes and Tessa Dillon with father and son duo Bob and Karl Smakula rounding out the evening’s program.
The Old-Time for Young ‘Uns area will have kids’ art and craft activities centered around traditional weaving techniques with a variety of looms and supplies available for the young and young at heart from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Participants can try their hand at making small rugs, cloth and everyday household items, as well as heritage candles. Budding archaeologists are invited to participate in a mock “dig” by sifting through soil and using a screen to look for pottery fragments, much like professionals actually do in their fieldwork. Storytelling will take place from noon to 1 p.m. and 3 to 4 p.m. both days. The Three Rivers Avian Center also will present its “Birds of Prey” program from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Ethnic and traditional Appalachian heritage dancing will take place in the Great Hall from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The outdoor flat-foot and clogging dance stage will have bands and callers on hand from noon to 5 p.m. both days. Spectators are encouraged to jump in and kick up their heels.
Contests on Saturday include old-time fiddle (under 60), senior old-time fiddle (60 & over), youth old-time fiddle (15 & under) bluegrass banjo and mandolin. Registration is from 11 a.m. to noon. In addition, there will be a maple cookie and pound cake contest on Saturday followed by a “Cake Walk” at 3:45 p.m. Registration for the cookie and pound cake contests is from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Culture Center’s theater.
The Saturday evening concert in the theater starts at 6:30 p.m. and includes a memorial tribute to the late Lester McCumbers, the renowned fiddle player from Nicut in Lincoln County, who passed away this January at age 93, having played fiddle for about 80 years, Dwight Diller, Elmer Rich, John and Marvine Loving, Frank George, Charlie Myers, Teddy Vaughn and the Samples Brothers.
The Sunday contests include old-time banjo (under 60), senior old-time banjo (60 & over), lap dulcimer, and flat-pick guitar. Registration for banjo and lap dulcimer is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from noon to 1 p.m. for flat-pick guitar and youth flat-pick guitar (15 & under). The popular Liars Contest will take place in the theater Sunday beginning at 2:30 p.m. Registration is from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. Prior to the Liars Contest, storytellers Adam Booth, Bil Lepp and Cat Pleska will weave their tales for the audience.
During the festival, more than 40 West Virginia craftspeople will be demonstrating and selling their creations from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Visitors can shop for pottery, books, wood products, photography, purses and bags, brooms, bath products, watercolors, stained and fused glass, musical instruments, jewelry, leather goods, and a host of other items in the Craft Circle on the north side of the Capitol. Salsa, jellies, salad dressings, chili and dip mixes and a variety of other food products also will be available. In addition, there will be vendors selling plants native to West Virginia.
The Festival Sales Booth will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, selling Vandalia T-shirts and caps as well as CDs, cassettes, videos, books and more from West Virginia’s finest traditional musicians and writers.
Vandalia food booths, open from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, will feature a unique sampling of traditional and ethnic foods, including such favorites as hot dogs, hamburgers, ramps, eggs and potatoes, taco in a bag, roasted corn, hot bologna sandwiches, funnel cakes, pulled pork sandwiches, strawberry shortcake, cobblers, Italian specialties and more.
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 2015 will be on display from May 22 – Sept. 12. West Virginians Answering the Call, located in the Lobby Gallery,features military artifacts from the West Virginia State Museum’s collection and from the West Virginia National Guard, dating from the American Revolution to Afghanistan.
The Governor’s Award exhibit showcases 18 award-winning contemporary pieces of art purchased from the West Virginia Juried Exhibition over the years; the West Virginia’s First Ladies doll exhibit; and Treasures of West Virginia’s Governors are also on display in the Balcony Gallery.
Vandalia Gathering is a program of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. The Culture Center is located in Charleston. The State Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The State Museum Shop is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
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 West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts with Kay Goodwin, 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.
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