Conceptually straddling the Northeast and the South of the United States, West Virginia is a state of cultural and geographical diversity. As the centre of the mountainous Appalachian region, it is sparsely populated and rural, and while most tourists come here for the great outdoors, West Virginia’s cities – many of them filled with historic buildings – host numerous cultural events. Here are ten of the most interesting this August.
Music | Appalachian String Band Music Festival
30 July – 3 August
West Virginia is the only American state that falls entirely within traditional Appalachia, and as such is the perfect place to explore the region’s rich musical heritage. String band folk – which can count the blues, country, English ballads and Celtic fiddle music amongst its influences – is one of the oldest styles. This festival, which takes place atop a mountain in Fayette County, draws in musicians from across both the Appalachian area and further afield for a series of concerts, dances, musical contests and folksy activities. Visitors can pay to camp for the whole festival or purchase day tickets for a single day of music. Either way, expect to see hundreds of fiddles, dulcimers, autoharps and banjos.
Theatre | Contemporary American Theater Festival
11 July – 3 August
Though Shepherdstown is the oldest community in West Virginia, its annual drama festival is startlingly modern. Centered in the university but spread across several venues in town, this year’s celebration presents five plays, three of which are world premieres. Concurrently, there will be a series of play readings, Saturday lectures and late night salons with the festival’s committee. One Night, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Fuller’s unstinting look at the Iraq war, nationalism and sexual abuse, is sure to be a highlight. Chisa Hutchinson’s Dead and Breathing, about a death-seeking old lady and her caretaker, promises to romp hysterically whilst dancing around issues of morality and mortality.
Literature | Lewisberg Literary Festival
1 – August
A relatively new addition to the state’s cultural calendar, the Lewisburg Literary Festival is one of the largest events of its type in the entire state. Across a two-day weekend, there will be talks from and interviews with several authors, workshops to help you refine your own writing, and public art and music inspired by literature. Amongst this year’s line-up, you’ll find Garth Stein, whose bestselling The Art of Racing in the Rain was written from the perspective of a dog. State laureate Marc Harshman, whose work often celebrates West Virginia’s landscape, will be reading his poetry. And don’t miss local novelist Carter Taylor Seaton, whose new non-fiction work Hippie Homesteaders, which looks at the back-to-the-land movement in 1960s West Virginia, has been acclaimed by writers and historians alike.
Downtown Lewisberg, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, US, +1 304-645-4333
Music & Craft | Augusta Festival
8 – 10 August
Every summer, the Augusta Heritage Center runs a five-week series of events and workshops to encourage and instruct visitors in Appalachian folk arts, culminating in this weekend festival. After a participatory dance on Friday night, on Saturday Elkin City Park and its surrounding buildings will play host to craft fairs, art contests and bluegrass performances. The headline concert, hosted at the nearby Myles Center for the Arts, will be broadcast on NPR’s long-running Mountain Stage. Country-influenced indie band Cardinal Sons and bluegrass prodigy Sierra Hull have been announced already, with more to follow. On Sunday morning, the festival ends with a communal gospel sing.
Event takes place in various locations around
Augusta Heritage Center, Elkins, Randolph County, West Virginia, US, +1 304-637-1209
Culture | Asylum Civil War Weekend
9 – 10 August
West Virginia owes its existence to the American Civil War. Initially part of Confederate Virginia, the northwestern counties of the state ceded near the start of the war, becoming a Unionist stronghold. As such, it’s one of the best places in the United States for catching a re-enactment. There will be firing demonstrations, actors playing historical figures and insight into the living conditions of nineteenth century West Virginians. The festival is held outside the Trans-Allegheny Asylum, a grandiose nineteenth-century asylum that itself bears the scars of the Civil War, and a cast of volunteers will re-enact the building’s raids.
Art | Ellen Harvey’s Arcade/Arcadia
Opening 15 August
The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia situated in the state capital Charleston, is a near unique fusion of art gallery, concert hall and science center. This August, the award-winning British artist Ellen Harvey – trained on the prestigious Whitney scheme, and now based in Brooklyn – brings to the States a large-scale installation piece Arcade/Arcadia, originally commissioned for the opening of the Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent. Set within the frame of a shack, based on Turner’s self-built gallery in London, the piece contained distorted, engraved mirrors that offer panoramic views of Margate’s dereliction. Harvey’s work comments on the aesthetics of seaside resorts and the melancholy romance of degradation. A huge neon fairground sign spelling ‘Arcadia’ bedecks the structure, calling attention to the resort’s original function as a site of unconstrained pleasure.
Music | Ivy Terrace Concerts
Until 30 August
Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall – one of four functioning Carnegie performance centres left in the world – is one of West Virginia’s most prestigious and most beautiful venues. The annual Ivy Terrace concert series, which runs every other Thursday evening through the summer, sees a wide range of musicians play free concerts in the hall’s garden. On 31 July, just before the town’s Literary Festival, you can catch covers band Trio Grand, whilst on 14 August the lawn is given over to the funky Possum Holler Glee Club. The final concert of the season features Sassafraz, who fuse traditional Celtic and Appalachian music with later American traditions. Before the concerts, have a look at the exhibitions of local artists within the hall.
Theatre | Santee Delta
21 – 23 August
Morgantown’s M.T. Pockets Theatre Company, which celebrates its fifteenth season this year, is devoted to bolstering the area’s dramatic culture, with particular emphasis on producing new works that address contemporary issues, providing substantial roles for minorities and letting those with limited financial access to theatre to attend performances. Their production this August, co-written by two local writers, promises to continue their successful streak. Santee Delta tells the tale of Lunsford Planck, a New York-dwelling photographer who is forced to return to his gloomy Southern Carolinian home after his partner is left in a coma.
Culture | West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival
29 – 31 August
Perhaps the most rollicking street fair in the whole state, the Italian Heritage Festival– now in its 36th year – brings over a hundred thousand visitors to Clarksburg each Labor Day weekend. A staggering range of Italy-themed events run across the weekend, from the crowning of Regina Maria in the opening ceremony to a huge ball at the close. Throughout, the streets are closed off to vehicles and lined with stalls selling Italian cuisine and wine, whilst every year a range of popular musicians and entertainers play the main stage for free. The festival also hosts a range of awards honouring Italian-Americans throughout the country.
Clarksburg, Harrison County, West Virginia, US, +1 304-622-7314
Art | The Daywood Collection
Until 4 November
The Huntington Museum of Art is one of West Virginia’s finest galleries, with a collection of local paintings bolstered by English silverware, historic firearms and Near Eastern artifacts. The Daywood Collection, bequeathed to the gallery in 1967 and exhibited all summer, is a unique group of paintings, prints and sculpture gathered by a West Virginian couple in the early twentieth century. The bulk of the exhibition focuses on American realist and impressionist paintings, from artists such as Childe Hassam, Emil Carlsen and Frank Benson, but there’s also an extensive set of European prints and a series of small bronzes by women artists.