On Memorial Day weekend, May 26-28, the Culture Center and State Capitol grounds will set the stage for the 46th 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 2023 Vandalia Gathering kicks off at 6:30 p.m., Friday, May 26, in the State Theater with an awards ceremony for quilt and wall-hanging winners and presentation of the 2023 Vandalia Award, the state’s highest folklife honor, at 7 p.m. A concert following the award ceremonies, emceed by Bill Kimmons, will feature the Long Point String Band, Ben Townsend, Roger Bryant, Robert Shafer, The MacAbre Brothers, and The State Birds. A Saturday evening concert, emceed by Bill Hairston, starts at 7 p.m. in the State Theater and will feature performances by Gerry Milnes and Mike Miller, The Mack Samples Band, Ginny Hawker, Val Mindel, Emily Miller, Kanawha Tradition, Lady D, and Steadfast.
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.
Outside activities begin on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Events include old-time fiddle, bluegrass banjo, and mandolin contests, with half-hour concerts by Jenny Allinder, Chance McCoy and Tessa Dillon, Tery Vaughan, Buck and Company, Brayden Williamson, and Robin and Dan Kessinger. Sunday’s events begin at 10:30 a.m. with a one-hour gospel set by Angie Richardson at 11:30 a.m., followed by old-time banjo, lap dulcimer, and flat-pick guitar contests, with half-hour concerts by Andy Fitzgibbon and Rory Mullenex, Andrew Dunlap and Friends, Southridge, and Sawyer Chapman. 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 to flat-foot dancing in the Great Hall of the Culture Center where spectators are encouraged to jump in and kick up their heels.
The popular Liars Contest returns on Sunday in the State Theater at noon (with registration beginning at 11 a.m.) as storytellers compete for Goldenseal magazine’s coveted Golden Shovel award.
The Old-Time for Young ‘Uns area will have craft activities and “musical instruments” for all ages to enjoy, along with Purrington Looms and Mud Rugs.
During the festival, West Virginia craftspeople will be demonstrating and selling 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, Italian sausage sandwiches, tacos in a bag, potatoes and eggs, strawberry shortcake, 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 2023 will be on display from May 26 – Sept. 20.