CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WV News) – After a few years of uncertainty, West Virginia’s festival season finally seems to be back in full swing.
While not all festivals and fairs have been completely canceled in 2021, many that were holding face-to-face events were still restricted to some degree.
The state’s largest festival, The State Fair of West Virginia, was one of the celebrations set to return in 2021 despite challenges.
“It’s been a tough two years for everyone, but I personally know this industry has been a tough road,” said Kelly Collins, CEO of the West Virginia State Fair.
“Obviously we canceled 2020 and were then able to return in 2021, but I feel like this is the first year that I know that all fairs and festivals are open and all are open at full speed. That’s not to say there won’t be challenges this year,” Collins said.
This year’s main theme is inflation rather than the pandemic, but state fair officials still expect big turnout. The fair will take place from August 11th to 20th.
A typical year for the state fair brings about 160,000 people to the Lewisburg area and sells out hotels and campgrounds.
“We said during COVID you had a way to protect yourself. You could wear a mask or choose which activities you would like to participate in,” Collins said. “But now we’re facing inflation – nobody’s immune to that,” Collins said. “We had a very good turnout last year. I think people were just excited to be out there. I think this year will be even better.
“We also had to deal with the backsliding of the school system during the fair. I know some counties that usually go down this week go down the following week. So we’re just a way to end the summer before you get to school and I think everyone will come out and really enjoy what we have to offer this year.
Fair and festival appeal is easy to find at the State Fair of WV, including farming shows, concerts and unique dining.
“I think there is something for everyone at the fair. People love the agricultural component. For this reason, state fairs were created primarily to celebrate all that is great about farming in our state,” said Collins.
“When we survey our trade show visitors, trade show food is always at the top of their list of why they come, because you get food here that you can’t get anywhere else and it’s always something unique. There is always a line at the cinnamon roll stands. It’s one of the crowd favorites,” Collins said.
To perfectly sum up the novelty of fair food, one of last year’s fair food winners was cucumber pizza, she said.
Another fair continuing traditions this year is the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair in Ripley, celebrating its 60th anniversary July 1-3.
“It was launched in 1963 as part of the state celebrations for the 100th anniversary. It was meant to be a one-off, but it proved so popular that we’re here 60 years later. It really has followed its own tradition all along,” said Buddy Davidson, vice president of the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair.
“Essentially this is a juried arts and crafts show, so the items for sale here have gone through a process to ensure they are handcrafted and of the highest quality,” Davidson said.
Attendees can participate in some of the crafts, which helps pass on the heritage of craftsmanship, Davidson said.
“Another feature of this special event is that we offer many opportunities for visitors to create arts and crafts projects to help spread the legacy,” said Davidson. “It doesn’t just live with the craftsmen. We try to preserve the traditional craft that people have relied on in the past and it’s a lot of fun.
“People could come and make paper or stained glass or we had kites made last year, which was a lot of fun for the kids.”
One of the highlights of the fair will again be the food, especially apple butter and baked goods made on site.
“There’s a company called Legacy Foods that comes in and runs the on-site bakery,” Davidson said.
“The cinnamon buns in the morning and the pepperoni rolls at lunch alone are worth the price of admission in my humble opinion,” Davidson said.
Other activities at the fair include a youth fisherman derby.
Festival fans looking for a celebration of West Virginia’s bizarre history will have a hell of a time at the Mothman Festival, which returns for 2022 on September 17-18 at Point Pleasant.
“We haven’t had it for the last two years because of COVID and all that. This year should be pretty much back to normal,” said Jeff Wamsley, founder of the Mothman Museum.
“We’ve got live bands, we’ve got guest speakers, we’ve lined up a few TV celebrities, we’ve got a 5k race. We have guided bus tours – we have a 55 passenger bus that takes people to the TNT area. We do a lot of cosplay. A lot of people come dressed up and stuff,” Wamsley said.
One of West Virginia’s most celebrated festivals, the Mothman Festival brings together vendors from across the country and fills Point Pleasant to the brim, with area hotels selling out.
“There are also many unique food vendors and unique merchandise vendors. Not so much local. A lot of them come from all over the country with Mothman merchandise and things like that,” Wamsley said. “Parking is a big problem because there is only one way in and one way out. Traffic is a problem.”
“What’s bringing tourism and tourism dollars to Point Pleasant is probably pretty much the best day of the year for a lot of people — the restaurants, the hotels, the stores, and miscellaneous businesses.” It’s a good weekend for her. I think even a lot of hotels within an hour or two are fully booked,” Wamsley said.
One local festival in north-central West Virginia that will return after a two-year hiatus is the Salem Apple Butter Festival, which runs October 6-9 and features a small-town setting.
“The Salem Apple Butter Festival is a family-oriented, free festival where everyone can come and enjoy the entertainment and actually see how apple butter is made,” said Christy Howell, President of the Salem Apple Butter Festival.
As the name suggests, apple butter is the focus of the festival and is made locally by local groups who ultimately compete to be named the best apple butter.
A problem common to many small-town festivals this year has emerged as fundraising after it’s been a year or two away, so committee members are working to bring the festival back to Salem.
“A lot of the committee members have come back and we’ve got some new ones, so everyone pulls together because everyone wants the festival to run and not be like we’ve been for the past few years,” Howell said.
“We are a good group of volunteers. Everyone has their own committee and they work hard to make sure we have it,” Howell said.
One of the biggest events at the Salem Apple Butter Festival this year will be the grand pageant, historically held off-site prior to the festival.
Howell noted that the event would take place on Thursday evening, the first night of the festival, when the Queen contestants were competing for a scholarship.
“One thing we’re changing this year is that we’re going to have all the big pageants on the first night of the festival so everyone in town can be there and see it,” Howell said.
“It’s really a great opportunity for a young lady because Salem University gives four years of paid tuition to the winner of the Queen’s pageant,” Howell said.
Other local festivals looking to return for 2022 include some Clarksburg favorites like the Italian Heritage Festival and the West Virginia Black Heritage Festival.