By Cody Neff
Seventeen years ago, it was decided that the Appalachian Arts and Crafts Fair needed to be expanded. This expansion aimed to make the fair into a communitywide event that would include multiple events and partnerships with businesses and organizations in the area. This combination began the Appalachian Festival.
The Appalachian Festival is typically held throughout Raleigh County over three days in late August each year. This year the festival will be Aug. 23-25. The festival helps to advance the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce’s goal of giving visitors the opportunity to “see it all” in one stop.
The main attraction of the Appalachian Festival is the Arts and Crafts Fair, which is in its 49th year. More than 100 vendors will be there this year to sell their hard work and will have everything from quilts and pottery to sculptures and wood works. Foods like kettle corn, roasted peanuts, and steak sandwiches are also made by the fair’s artisans.
With half-a-century worth of history under its belt, the fair has touched the lives of entire family generations.
“We had sold to the families of children in strollers and now those children have grown up and brought their own kids to the festival,” stained-glass crafter Judy Bailey said. “We’ve been doing the Arts and Crafts Fair for around 25 years now.”
Bailey runs a craft stand that produces everything from garden lights to bird feeders.
“We started glasswork as a hobby and people just wanted our crafts more and more,” Bailey said. “We couldn’t give our crafts to everyone, but we would sell a little bit. We once went to the Charleston show and sold out all of our crafts on the first night, which was a little embarrassing,” Bailey added with a laugh.
Bailey says that the Chamber of Commerce has worked hard to avoid turning the fair into a regular marketplace.
“All of the crafts that everyone makes are always so nice,” Bailey said. “It’s not a bunch of cheaply made jewelry like you’d find in some shows. People come to the Appalachian Craft Fair for quality items.”
Bailey and her husband may have been contributing to the fair for 25 years, but they show no signs of slowing down.
“My husband and I will keep exhibiting in the fair for as long as we feel healthy,” Bailey said. “It’s nice to have a hobby that keeps me active, and I certainly don’t feel my age. All of the people that we’ve met through the fair have just been fantastic.”
Aside from the Arts and Crafts Fair, the Appalachian Festival also features daily musical entertainment that is said to range from traditional Celtic music to bluegrass.
Those who attend the Arts and Crafts Fair can also take their ticket to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine to receive a tour at a reduced group rate. Tickets can also be presented at the Cliffside Amphitheatre to receive discounted tickets to see “Rocket Boys, the Musical.”
Ellen Taylor, president and CEO of BRCCC, said she and her staff always look at this event as kind of a last summertime hurrah. “It’s a fun three days for the community and it is a very family-oriented event.”
Arts and Crafts Fair hours are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Other weekend events include artists demonstrations and a juried art exhibit from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Cynthia Bickey Gallery inside Beckley Art Center on Johnstown Road.
The gallery will also host a Make and Take Workshop from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in which adults and children can create a small watercolor painting to take home.
Another Make & Take, this one a traditional mountain craft, will be from 10 a.m. to noon at the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia.
A coal mining photo exhibit by George Bragg will be shown at Crossroads Mall.
The big event of the evening will be the Taste of Appalachia, a block party showcasing the flavor and music of Appalachia in Beckley’s Historic District. In addition to cuisine from local restaurants, there will be performances by Clinton Collins & the Creek Boys and the New River Jazz Band in Uptown Beckley at Main and Neville streets from 6 to 9 p.m.
Another evening activity is the Historic Beckley Ghost Tour, which explores local history and unusual happenings. The tour takes from 60 to 90 minutes and starts in front of the Raleigh County Courthouse.
A variety of activities in the New River Gorge National Park are available as well, including ranger-led activities to learn more about nature.
Craft demonstrations of textiles and turned wood will be available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day of the festival at Tamarack.
An Oldies Car Show by Shade Tree Car Club will be Sunday at Crossroads Mall; registration is from 10 a.m. to noon and the show will be from noon to 6 p.m.
Tours of Historic Wildwood House, home of Beckley’s founder, Gen. Alfred Beckley, showcase materials dating back through the 19th century and a doll collection. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m.
Tamarack will have its weekly Sunday@ Two performance featuring Bobby Maynard and Breakdown.
For more information, including ticket prices, visit www.appalachianfestival.net or call the Beckley-Raleigh Chamber of Commerce at 304-252-7328.