CHARLESTON — On Memorial Day weekend, May 24-26, the Culture Center and State Capitol grounds will set the stage for the 43rd 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 2019 Vandalia Gathering kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, May 24, in the State Theater with an awards ceremony for quilt and wall-hanging winners and the presentation of the 2019 Vandalia Award, the state’s highest folklife honor, to Dwight Diller, a world-renowned clawhammer banjo player, fiddle player and teacher.
During the evening performances, three other members of the Vandalia family will be honored posthumously: George “The Earl of Elkview” Daugherty, Marvine Loving and Judson Wallace of Armstrong Creek, a member of the United Gospel Singers for more than 50 years. The concert will include a musical tribute to Daugherty, featuring Roger Bryant, Buddy Griffin and others; a musical tribute to Loving, featuring Bobby Taylor; a musical tribute to Wallace, featuring Bare Bones and others; and the High Ridge Ramblers.
A Saturday evening concert starts at 7 p.m. in the State Theater and will feature performances by Bil Lepp; the Modock Rounders; Appalachian Country Cloggers; Gerry Milnes; Bobby Taylor and Kanawha Tradition; Bryant Underwood; Buddy Griffin; Terry Vaughan; and Robert Shafer and Johnny Staats.
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.
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 beginning basket weaving, using small weaving looms to make potholders and coasters, making cornhusk dolls, weaving and a Capitol scavenger hunt.
In addition, there will be a classic cookie baking contest on Saturday, and on Sunday, the popular Liars Contest will take place in the theater.
During the festival, more than 30 West Virginia craftspeople will demonstrate and sell their creations. Visitors can shop for wind chimes, pottery, wall hangings, garden accessories, wood products, stained, fused and pressed glass, musical instruments, jewelry, silk scarves, candles, leather goods, baskets and a host of other items in the Artisan 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.
Vandalia food booths will feature a unique sampling of traditional and ethnic foods, including such favorites as hot dogs, roasted corn, pepperoni rolls, sausage hero sandwiches, tacos in a bag, 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 music 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 2019 will be on display from May 24 to Sept. 16.
Vandalia Gathering is a program of the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. The Culture Center is located at the State Capitol Complex in Charleston.
Visit the department’s website at www.wvculture.org for a complete schedule of Vandalia Gathering events. Vandalia Gathering contests are open to West Virginia residents only.
— Department of Arts, Culture and History