GLENVILLE — In 1950 in Glenville, on the hills above the Little Kanawha River, an event came into being that has continued down through the years.
Originally a class project of Dr. Patrick Gainer, it has become a long-running event. Dr. Gainer ( a 1924 graduate of Glenville State College), renowned folklorist, musician, author and teacher, was distressed by the idea of losing our cultural mountain heritage to the rapid advances in modern society, so he began the preparations of preserving the traditions that have been passed on orally and handed down through the generations.
In 1963 the State of West Virginia awarded Dr. Gainer the Order of the Thirty-fifth Star for his work in preserving our folk culture. He directed the festival for 10 years, relying heavily on Glenville State College’s summer school students in organizing a showcase of the best in traditional West Virginia music, singing, storytelling, and crafts not merely to entertain but also to heighten the public’s awareness of the beauty and simplicity of a way of life in danger of disappearing.
2017 was the 68th West Virginia State Folk Festival and carries on the original purpose of highlighting folk music and Appalachian culture to insure they are continued in the coming years by future generations. Though many activities such as a car show, parade, spelling bee, cake walk and talent show take place during the festival, the “stars of the show” are the music, singing, dancing, storytelling and crafts. It’s not uncommon to see several musicians gathered on a corner, porch, or flatbed truck playing dulcimers, banjoes, fiddles, guitars, harmonicas and other instruments. People join in for a while and then drift away perhaps to join another group. Small and large groups gather at random locations to sing gospel and other types of songs, often in the old-time way – no instruments.
Storytelling is another popular activity. The oral traditions tent attracts many to hear tales of coal mining, fishing, hunting and haunting. Some tales are humorous, some are harrowing. Square dancing is one of the most popular activities of all and continues late into the night on Friday and Saturday. Days before the festival begins, volunteers build the square dance platform right in the middle of town. Because of the Folk Festival, the old squares still exist in their original forms. Local and visiting “callers” call squares such as “Take a Little Peek” and “Butterfly Whirl” that were popular many years ago and many are called to the same old-time fiddle tunes. Dancers range in age from toddlers to great-grandparents and include many teenagers. Tents where crafts and food are available never lack for a crowd, especially the FFA tent where strawberry shortcake is served.
In 1958, “Belles” became a traditional part of the festival. Over the years, almost every one of West Virginia’s 55 counties has sent a Belle to the festival. The Belle tradition is now of such long-standing that daughters of Belles have been Belles themselves.Each county may choose a lady to represent them. The ladies selected must promote the pioneering, can-do spirit of our mountain ancestors and serve as good will ambassadors. This year there were Belles from 25 counties. They are truly treated as royalty – prominently featured in the parade, seated in the “best seats in the house” at various events, honored at teas and dinners, chauffeured to all activities and recognized in the town square on Saturday afternoon by having their biographies read and their accomplishments highlighted.
A milestone was reached in the Belle program this year when there was the first centenarian Belle. She was 100-year-old Elda Campbell, a hometown gal from right there in Gilmer County. Through the years there have been 44 Belles from Mason County. The first was Mrs. I. U. Blain. This year, Mary Sue Kincaid was chosen by the local CEOS clubs to represent Mason County. Kincaid is a member of the Pleasant CEOS Club and holds the positions of Purposeful Reading Chairman and Meditation Leader in her club. Another local woman also attended the festival. Becky Haer is well-known square dance caller and has taken part in the West Virginia State Folk Festival for several years, both as a dancer and as a caller.
Glenville is only a couple of hours from Point Pleasant. Anyone interested in folk music and Appalachian culture as well as good fun, good food, and good folks would certainly enjoy attending the 2018 West Virginia State Folk Festival.
Submitted by Mary Sue Kincaid.