On Memorial Day weekend, May 27-29, the Culture Center and State Capitol grounds will set the stage for the 40th 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 2016 Vandalia Gathering kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, May 27, with an awards ceremony for quilt and wall-hanging winners and presentation of the Vandalia Award, the state’s highest folklife honor. A concert follows the awards ceremony and includes a memorial tribute by Mark Crabtree and friends to the late Elmer Rich, an award-winning fiddler from Morgantown, Monongalia County, who passed away last June at age 95, having played fiddle for about 80 years, Frank George, Buck and Company, High Ridge Ramblers, Gerry Milnes and Dread Pirate Roberts in the Norman L. Fagan West Virginia State Theater of the Culture Center. A Saturday evening concert at 7 p.m. will present more of West Virginia’s finest entertainers, including Robert Shafer and Johnny Staats, Bobby Taylor, Jim and Valerie Gabehart, John Morris, Dwight Diller and 1937 Flood, who will perform a musical memorial tribute to the late Joe Dobbs of Kanawha County, who passed away last September and was known for his radio show Music from the Mountains, his music store Fret ‘n Fiddle and his love of music and the old-time music scene.
The Old-Time for Young ‘Uns area will have craft activities, including weaving with Jane Gilchrist, storytelling, scavenger hunts, the Three Rivers Avian Center “Birds of Prey” presentation and a special program, “Guitars in the Classroom,” featuring students at Clay Elementary School under the direction of Tracy Waye.
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.
In addition, there will be a 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 2016 will be on display from May 27- Sept. 6.
Vandalia Gathering is a program of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. The Culture Center is located 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.