For much of the country, “West Virginia” evokes a dirt-poor state full of moonshine stills and ginseng. Popular TV shows like Appalachian Outlaws and Moonshiners falsely portray the Li’l Abner mentality of yesterday, and the last presidential election cycle brought focus to its coal towns on the verge of collapse, and nothing else.
Thank goodness moonshiners do still exist, and sure, there are guys battling it out over wild-grown ginseng. But here’s the thing. A person would have to go so far back in the hills even Jesus couldn’t find them to ever stumble across any of this activity. You won’t find it by accident.
West Virginia is modern, industrial, artsy, collegiate, and advanced. But there’s an important difference from the big city life. It isn’t overpopulated and things generally move at a slower pace. West Virginians don’t mind standing in line for a few minutes. Life is short, why rush it?
West Virginia is dotted with smaller communities, and some of them are very cool. Many people do not realize West Virginia is a haven for artists. Masters of the brush, musicians wanting to keep it real, theatrical actors, poets, and entertainers of various types. They come to the state to be true to themselves. To escape the constant hum of the larger cities. To concentrate on what’s important to them, their craft.
Here’s where lots of them ended up.
Fayetteville (Population 2,892)
Fayetteville is a great place to start. It was rated “Coolest Small Town” in 2006 by Budget Travel. Not only is the scenery drop-dead gorgeous, the art scene is alive, thriving, and growing. It’s everywhere you look. The city even hosts a “Meet the Artist” series where local artists are featured and their work displayed at a public gathering.
Local musicians can be heard just about every night of the week at some location. More and more singer/songwriters are traveling further distances to perform and participate in the cities open-mics at places like “Pies and Pints.”
There are loads of events at the historic Fayetteville Theater to include Broadway shows, plays, music events, and much more.
Visit some of the quaint shops, do a little hiking, maybe some nearby rock climbing, or just do nothing if that’s more your cup of tea. Fayetteville is the perfect place to do all of this, and more.
Lewisburg (Population 3,830)
Lewisburg is vibrant and alive with a downtown that has it all. Like Fayetteville, the artistic community is pretty much in control of things. Because of the many performance venues, musicians flock to the city. As a result, a person would be hard-pressed to find better talent, anywhere.
Many artists and entertainers of all types have found their home in Lewisburg where freedom of expression is encouraged. Artists display their works all over town, including the sidewalks, restaurant walls, and small shops.
With a huge hand load of quaint specialty restaurants like The French Goat, Stella’s, and Stardust Café, your pallet will be praising you. Chefs are artists too, you know. The good ones are. And that’s all you’re going to find here.
It may surprise you to know that Lewisburg is home to one of the four Carnegie Halls and many concerts and art exhibits are held on its prestigious stage. In addition, there is the Greenbrier Valley Theater and Lewis Theatre and Trillium. Not in the mood for the theater? Would you rather hear some jazz? Go to Casasanta.
Buckhannon, WV (Population: 5,645)
Every Friday an art scavenger hunt is held downtown. Local artists hide their pieces, whether it be handmade jewelry, a hand-carved walking stick, a mobile made from colored glass, or paint on canvas. Each item contains a tag identifying it as a scavenger hunt item, and, it’s finders, keepers.
During the summer the community hosts “Festival Friday” in Jawbone Park. All you need is a lawn chair or a blanket. Music groups from around the region perform and artist from all around the area have their works on display.
If groovy is still an acceptable term, the McNemar House is it. This McNemar’s have such an affinity for the arts they have turned their home into a “house show” venue.
“We’re dedicated to bringing music and the arts to our beautiful town of Buckhannon, West Virginia located in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains,” the couple said. They bring in the best of the best Indie musicians from everywhere.
If you’re into underground, international, or independent films, Lascaux Micro-Theater is the ticket. The ambiance is Greenwich Village reminiscent and now and then live music warms up the audience before the movie.
Artistry on Main is where local artists can sell their handcrafted wares. You never know what you may find. In support of the arts community, 100% of all sales go back to the artists.
There are a number of creative and historical writers among the population of Buckhannon as well as poets and artists of all varieties. For theater buffs, there is the Buckhannon Community Theatre.
So, instead of rushing off to the beach on your next vacation, why not take a more peaceful route into the hills, mountains, and communities of West Virginia? Take a load off by traveling to one of these cool towns. Relax. You’ll be among friends.