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Capitol hosts 36th Vandalia celebration of W.Va. culture

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Timmy Morris had a guitar slung across his body as he clustered under the shade of two trees, forming a circle with seven other men. As one started to pluck out a bluegrass tune on his banjo, Morris joined him on the guitar and crooned out, "She was 17, the prettiest girl I ever seen."

Morris, of Wetzel County, had arrived at the Vandalia Gathering in Charleston in the early afternoon and planned to stay until dark. He said he's attended the festival every year because he enjoys seeing old friends and meeting new people.

But the main the reason he always comes back is for the music.

This year marks the 36th Vandalia Gathering, a festival that celebrates West Virginia's culture through music, dance, food, arts, crafts and competitions. The event began Friday and runs through Sunday at the Capitol Complex.

Attendees could take part in a pound cake and cupcake-baking contest, watch dance performances and fiddle contests and take in dulcimer and banjo performances.

In the midst of all the bustle Saturday, a lot of folks were trying to avoid the afternoon heat, which soared to more than 90 degrees. Emma Fowler of Nitro, Kevin Welch of Winfield and Welch's 4-year-old granddaughter, Kendra Welch, sat on the concrete, eating ice cream out of Styrofoam cups.

Welch said bluegrass music is a family tradition, mentioning that his uncle was "Wild Bill" Brunty, a singer who ran a barbershop on the West Side of Charleston for several years. Fowler said she'd been coming to the festival since she was in high school.

They'd been at the Capitol Complex for a few hours, and their cold snack was their last activity before heading home.

As they prepared to leave the festival, others were just arriving.

Madison Buskirk, 2 1/2-years-old, and her 4-year-old cousin, Timmy Simons, were sitting in their strollers, digging seeds out of thick pieces of watermelon. After a few minutes, Timmy started dropping his finished rinds on the grass, and Madison turned her attention to a box she intended to use to catch a butterfly.

Madison's mother, Christina Buskirk of Vienna, brought the children to see the cupcake contest. They'd missed the event, but they headed off in pursuit of tasting the winning cupcakes.

Under another clump of trees, a group had formed to play some Celtic music.

John Goodman of Elizabethtown, N.C., has been coming to the festival for 34 years. He showed off his "courtin'" dulcimer, which he explained is a lap dulcimer built for two. He said Ray Epler of South Charleston made the instrument.

Collin Nelson of Charleston played a bass that was formed using a metal washtub, a shovel handle and a piece of rope.

Nelson used his left foot to steady the upside-down basin and demonstrated how changing the tension of the string attached to the shovel handle altered the pitch.

Meanwhile, Sally Hawley of St. Albans played her hammer dulcimer.

"It's sort of like being inside a piano," she said, "except you only have two hammers."

She said the instrument was popular in the 1700s but has started making a comeback because of festivals such as the Vandalia Gathering.

Sitting on the dulcimer was a credit card cut into a triangle, which she used to tune the instrument as the group prepared to play another song.

Darryl and Ellen Vance of Charleston were sitting on the grass within listening reach of the Celtic music. Darryl said he and his wife attend the festival for everything it offers -- the music, dancing, crafts.

Ellen said she likes to come to the Vandalia Gathering for "the chance to see people doing things they don't do anymore."

They'd just finished eating corn on the cob from a Knights of Columbus booth, and Darryl said that was the extent of their participation in the event.

"We eat the food," he said.

Sunday's schedule for the Vandalia Gathering is packed from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with concerts, dancing performances and contests. Highlights include:

 

  • Gospel Sing with Angie Richardson, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the plaza
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  • Senior Banjo Contest for people 60 and older, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the Old-Time Stage
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  • The Liars Contest, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the State Theater
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  • Old-Time Banjo Contest for people younger than 60, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the on the Old-Time Stage
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    Reach Alison Matas at alison.matas@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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