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Rollin' on the river

By Laura Reston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fiddlers, sternwheelers, pepperoni rolls, a wiener dog race, a liars contest, a chili cook-off and a typewriter on the Capitol lawn to write mash notes to West Virginia. Downtown Charleston erupted in state pride and festivities Saturday as FestivALL and the Mountain State's Sesquicentennial celebration teamed up to host events all over the city.

At the Capitol, food vendors sold barbecue sandwiches, lemonade, hot dogs and pepperoni rolls. Traditional dancers leapt and twirled on a stage in front of the Culture Center. A typewriter sat under a large magnolia tree for festival-goers to type up love notes to West Virginia.

There was a parade down Kanawha Boulevard and an exhibition of classic cars.

Volunteers handed out servings from the massive cake replica of the Capitol.

Sternwheelers gave free rides all day up and down the Kanawha River.

Throughout the Capitol grounds, visitors commented on how the Sesquicentennial has successfully helped people remember West Virginian history.

"It's about heritage and connecting to the past," Bill Ryczaj said.

Ed Clark said he hopes the Sesquicentennial has taught West Virginians even more about their history, adding that the people of the Mountain State should learn from the failures as well as the triumphs of their state.

"You cannot move forward without remembering where you came from," Clark said.

Clark sat on a curb with his wife, Joan, watching people pass the colorful booths that lined Kanawha Boulevard for the annual Smoke on the Water Chili Cook-off.

"We wanted to enjoy the outdoors and celebrate with West Virginians," Joan Clark said.

One popular tent boasted "Emancipation Chili" and a sign read, "It'll set your colon free."

Vendors wearing costumes hawked chili from vats they had tended all afternoon. Live music blared from a stage on the Capitol steps looking out toward the river.

The program at the Capitol included several events -- such as dancing and clogging competitions, music preformed on outdoor stages, and the liars contest -- usually held at the annual Vandalia Gathering in late May.

State officials had downsized Vandalia over the Memorial Day weekend and folded many of its events into the Sesquicentennial celebration, a decision that angered many people, several of whom were still upset Saturday.

Fewer artisans and crafters attended the Sesquicentennial celebration than have turned up at previous Vandalia celebrations. Only a few musicians gathered for impromptu bluegrass sessions on the lawn -- a hallmark of the Vandalia Gathering.

Kat Kiger described the artisans as deeply disappointed.

Her friend sells plants and flowers from a stand on the Capitol lawn at Vandalia every year. She turns a profit because Vandalia falls in May -- the time when gardeners buy plants to kick off growing season.

She expected that her sales might suffer Saturday, because fewer people buy plants in late June.

Many onlookers also voiced disappointment about the downsized Vandalia celebrations last month.

"They should have left Vandalia alone," Sally Adkins said.

State officials have assured vendors and musicians that Vandalia will revert to its usual schedule next year. However, many attendees on Saturday were not so optimistic.

Adkins said she has noticed that other events, once scaled back, rarely generate the same momentum and crowds.

 However, festivalgoers hoped that that would not occur. They agree that celebrations like Vandalia and the Sesquicentennial are crucial to encourage West Virginia pride.

"We need to be proud of the traditions here in West Virginia," Cindy Keely said.

Across town Saturday, a less traditional party was going on.

Kanawha County's fastest dachshunds ruled the Stonewall Jackson Middle School lawn at the seventh annual West Side Wiener Dog Race.

The racetrack was modified to national wiener dog racing standards -- 30 feet long with six lanes -- and race director Libby Ballard, said this year's event was bigger than last year's.

The event added two new race categories, a past-champions division and an "I wanna be a wiener dog" division (which involves dachshund mixes). There also was a fetch competition, more food vendors and a BMX demonstration.

The event, sponsored by West Side Main Street and FestivALL, typically attracts 80 to 100 competing dogs.

Lisa Holstein of Cross Lanes has attended the event with her family since it began seven years ago.

"It's just a fun, family-oriented event," she said. "We'll come back again."

Holstein and her daughter, Grace, watched their dog, Charlie, win the Adult Division I for dogs between 1 and 5 years old.

Charlie is now eligible to go to the national wiener dog championships in Finley, Ohio, in the fall. No winner from the Charleston competition has ever gone to the nationals.

Charlie has an unofficial training regimen to get him ready for the race.

"He is just a very fast dog. The only entertainment he likes is running," Holstein said. "She [Grace] rides her bicycle and he runs beside her, that's how fast he likes to run."

Grace said they run and bike together, "whenever they can."

Brothers Carter and Cameron Kiss, both 11, of Kanawha City, entered their dog, Jazzy, in the race for the first time this year.

"We were just really happy when Jazzy crossed the finish line first and it was really close," Cameron said after one of the preliminary heats. "I was really excited and just so happy. I'm glad to spend this time with my dog."

Reach Laura Reston at laura.reston@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5112.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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