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The West Virginia State Folk Festival, the most venerable of our state’s folklife festivals, takes place each year on the weekend nearest June 20, West Virginia Day. This festival grew out of an Appalachian culture class taught at Glenville State College during the summer of 1950. Folklorist Patrick Gainer, who taught the class, asked his students to go out and interview someone who played a stringed instrument, sang the old ballads, or still practiced an old craft. Some of the students brought craft items back to class, and Gainer invited an antiques dealer to discuss them.

The following year the class activities spilled over into the town of Glenville, and the festival was born. Gainer set stringent guidelines that permitted only true mountain music, accompanied by acoustic instruments. He was careful not to create a commercial festival. When Gainer stopped teaching, E. G. ‘‘Fern’’ Rollyson took up the cause. With the assistance of volunteers, she got the West Virginia State Folk Festival officially chartered in 1961 with the charge of ‘‘preserving the pioneering traditions of West Virginia.’’ The Belles, older women representing pioneer ways, began coming to Glenville from counties throughout the state.

Over the years, the Folk Festival became largely a music and dance event and began to attract a national audience. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, it drew huge crowds. Despite pressure for change from many directions, the festival has held to the guidelines first outlined by Gainer and then carried on for many years by Rollyson. Mack Samples served as festival president from 1979 to 1994, succeeded by Ginny Hawker. Both held the festival to its roots, and today the West Virginia State Folk Festival remains a premier event in traditional music circles.

This Article was written by Mack Samples

Last Revised on November 19, 2010


Cite This Article

Samples, Mack "West Virginia State Folk Festival." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 19 November 2010. Web. 20 September 2017.

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