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The festival fiddle contest used to be held on the dance platform in downtown Glenville. This unidentified gentleman is competing in 1960. Photograph courtesy of the State Archives, West Virginia Department of Commerce Collection.

"Let's Keep It Traditional"

West Virginia State Folk Festival Turns 50

By Bob Heyer

June 17-20, 1999, marked the 50th anniversary of the West Virginia State Folk Festival. Held in Glenville each year on the third weekend of June, it is one of the most historic and authentic folklife events in the state.

When the big weekend rolls around, festival activities and people fill the streets of town, the campus of Glenville State College, and every hotel, motel, and campground for miles in every direction. Last year, along with many of the festival musicians and other participants, I took a bunk in one of the college dormitories. It wasn't luxurious, but it was convenient and affordable, and allowed me easy access to one of our state's most endearing and enduring annual events.

A grassroots affair in the truest sense, the festival is produced almost exclusively through the dedication and hard work of countless community volunteers. Through their efforts, the independent spirit of the earliest settlers in the central mountains has been admirably upheld.

Mack Samples of Clay County is a musician, dancer, dance caller, and educator who has had a long association with the festival.

"During the years that I was president of the folk festival committee," Mack explains, "the community support was always just wonderful. There was always somebody there to do whatever needed done. Many of these people work behind the scenes. They give hours and hours of their time. Everybody had the right idea of what the festival should be. The word was always, ‘traditional – lets keep it traditional.' I have a lot of respect for the town for doing that."

Although there have been some changes during the last 50 years, the people guiding the festival have always been aware of the importance of keeping the original spirit of the festival alive. That's what makes "Glenville" – as most of us call the festival for short – such a unique experience.

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer 2000 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.