Featured, News

Putnam Well Represented at Vandalia Gathering

The Vandalia Gathering returned in full force Memorial Day weekend, with the festival of traditional Appalachian music and dance resuming its three-day long span. There was no festival in 2020, and in 2021, it was downgraded to a two-hour afternoon concert without any dancing, vendors, or craft exhibits. Last year, many people feared that the Gathering would be permanently scaled down or even discontinued altogether. However, these fears were to be for naught, for the 2022 Vandalia Gathering was reminiscent in size and scope of gatherings of the past. The theme of the event was “family Reunion,” an appropriate sentiment for the resumption of the popular festival.

Friday, May 27, marked the first day of the festival, and featured the presentation of the Vandalia Award; an awards ceremony for the Quilts and Wall Hangings exhibition; and performances by a variety of musicians. Saturday’s events included fiddle, banjo, and mandolin contests scattered over the capitol grounds, and Sunday’s events included banjo, dulcimer, and flat pick guitar contests, as well as the popular Liars Contest, in which lying is an encouraged part of storytelling.

On both Saturday and Sunday, Putnam County-based Appalachian Lasses did demonstrations of traditional Scottish and Irish dancing. The Lasses are affiliated with Mountain Dance, which is based on Red House hill and composed of local dancers. Many of the kilts that the dancers wore were made from material imported from Scotland, and represent the tartans of Scottish ancestors.

Scottish and Irish dancing actually has a long history in Putnam County. In the 1960’s, the WVU 4-H Extension Agency put an emphasis upon educating the public about the culture and traditions of Britain and Europe at the time in which many of the original settlers came to the Appalachian Mountains. 4-H Agent Jane Cox George organized a group of interested people from Putnam County and attended the West Virginia Mountain Heritage Weekends at Hawks Nest, in which they learned more about the roots of traditional Appalachian culture. There were linguistic workshops on the archaic dialects of the Scots-Irish settlers taught by Wylene Dial of Lincoln County; workshops about historical instruments such as dulcimers, banjo, fiddle, tin whistle, and bagpipes, taught by Frank George of Roan County; and workshops on traditional Black Spirituals taught by Bill Hairston. Sue Lang, a woman from Scotland, taught traditional Scottish dances, and Marian Castalo of Huntington taught English country dancing.

Organized by 4-H Agent Jane Cox George, a company of dancers called the SinéAnna Scottish Dance Group traveled around the state, performing at different fairs and festivals in the 1960’s and 70’s. Later, in the 1980’s, members of the Confidence Wild Cats 4-H Club formed the Appalachian Lads and Lasses. This 4-H club is now defunct, but the dance group lives on as the Appalachian Lasses, organized by Chantil McCormick, a teacher at Confidence Elementary School.

Several people from Putnam County and surrounding areas participated in the various contests held during the Vandalia Gathering. Sunday’s participants included Janie Miles of Pliny (Lap Dulcimer); Jane Stover of Red House (Old Time Banjo); Jared Thacker of Hurricane (Flat Pick Guitar); Matt Lindsey of Culloden (Flat Pick Guitar); Christopher Lindsey of Culloden (Youth Flat Pick Guitar); and Bob Gilmore of Hurricane (Flat Pick Guitar). The Breeze does not have a full list of participants for both days.

The Appalachian Lasses perform a Scottish sword dance. These dances were traditionally performed by men, and were used as calisthenics to prepare for battle. (Photo by Betsy Allen)
The Appalachian Lasses show audience members how to do a Scottish dance. (Photo by Betsy Allen)
Jared Thacker of Hurricane (middle) was one of the participants in the flat pick guitar contest. On his left is Mike Smith and on his right is Jeff “Casey” Richmond, who provided accompaniment. (Photo by Betsy Allen)
Please follow and like us: