This Memorial Day weekend, May 23-25, the Culture Center and State Capitol grounds will set the stage for the 38th 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 2014 Vandalia Gathering kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, May 23, 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 musicians will follow, including Elaine Purkey, known for her powerful voice, and mountain singing style and a flat-pick guitar extravaganza with Brandon Bentley, Adam Hager, Robin Kessinger, Matt Lindsey, Robert Shafer and Bryant Underwood. Last year’s Vandalia Award winner Gerry Milnes and Dave Bing will round out the evening’s program.
This year, the spotlight will be on a tent set up in the Old-Time for Young ‘Uns area featuring kids’ craft activities centered around traditional weaving techniques, musical masters’ showcases and storytelling from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Novice musicians from 7 to 15 years of age are invited to listen and learn the traditional old-time techniques from these experts in fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer, banjo and guitar, bring their instruments and play along.
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, bluegrass banjo and mandolin. Registration is from 11 a.m. to noon. In addition, there will be a cupcake and pound cake contest on Saturday followed by a “Cake Walk” at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon. Registration for the cupcake 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 Jim Costa, Elmer Rich, Frank George, Modock Rounders, Dwight Diller and the Black Mountain Bluegrass Band.
The Sunday contests include old-time banjo, 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. The fiddle contest on Saturday and guitar contest on Sunday have a youth category for musicians 15 years of age or younger. 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, Angie Richardson will lead a gospel sing in the theater from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by storytellers Adam Booth, Bil Lepp and Karen Vuranch weaving their tales.
During the festival, more than 40 West Virginia craftspeople will be demonstrating and selling their creations ffrom 1030 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. 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 on the north side of the Capitol. 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, there will be vendors selling plants native to West Virginia.
The Festival Sales Booth will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 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 5:30 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, roasted corn, hamburgers, hot bologna sandwiches, funnel cakes, rib sandwiches, strawberry shortcake, cobblers, Greek and Italian specialties and German sausages.
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 2014 will be on display from May 19 - Sept. 7. West Virginia’s Natural Resources, featuring the state’s rich abundance of resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, salt, plants, animals and water will be in the Lobby Gallery. West Virginia Juried Exhibition 2013 Winners featuring 18 award-winning contemporary pieces of art; the West Virginia’s First Ladies doll exhibit; and Treasurers 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 6 p.m. Friday and 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 for a complete schedule of Vandalia Gathering events. Vandalia Gathering contests are open to West Virginia residents only.