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The Vandalia Gathering, an annual event, celebrates West Virginia’s heritage of traditional music, crafts, food, folklore, and dance. The Memorial Day Weekend festival, sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, is held at the Culture Center and the adjoining grounds of the state capitol. Vandalia is one of West Virginia’s largest festivals, attracting thousands of people each day.

The event, begun in 1977 at the height of the folk arts revival, Vandalia was the brainchild of the agency’s first commissioner, Norman Fagan, and David and John Morris. David suggested naming the event after an unsuccessful attempt in the late 1700s that would have folded most of West Virginia into a new 14th colony named Vandalia. Ever since the inaugural 1977 event, many other people have helped shape the festival, including fiddle master Bobby Taylor, who has overseen the contest portions of the event since the late 1970s.

Vandalia was built upon a cadre of older musicians and craftspeople who returned to the festival for many years, some attending, performing, and even competing into their 90s. In addition to traditional musicians from across the state, Vandalia highlights West Virginia craftspeople demonstrating their skills and selling their products, which include wind chimes, pottery, quilts, and baskets, as well as foods such as jelly and salad dressings. Food booths offer traditional and ethnic fare, from hot dogs, hamburgers, and roasted corn, to Greek and Italian specialties and German sausages.

Highlights include old-time fiddle, banjo, and lap dulcimer competitions, flatfoot and square dancing, and the liars contest, with tellers of tall tales competing to see who can create the most fanciful story. Traditional singing, instrumental performances, and dancing take place throughout the day. There are indoor concerts at the Culture Center on Friday and Saturday evenings, with concluding contests and concerts outside late Sunday afternoon.

Vandalia continues to showcase senior performers, seeking to preserve traditional forms of music and folk art and to pass the traditions on to younger generations. The Vandalia Award, which is West Virginia’s highest folklife honor, is presented each year for a lifetime of contributions to the continuation of the state’s folk heritage. Some of the honorees have included Melvin Wine, Woody Simmons, Aunt Jennie Wilson, Russ Fluharty, Phoeba Parsons, Jane George, Frank George, Nat Reese, Elmer Bird, and Ethel Caffie-Austin.

In 2020, the Vandalia Gathering, like many events statewide and nationwide, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A scaled-down one-day event was held in 2021 before returning to its full schedule in 2022.

Last Revised on May 17, 2023


Cite This Article

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Vandalia Gathering." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 17 May 2023. Web. 15 April 2024.

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