Summer Festivals, Outdoor Events Energize W. Va. Residents As Covid Restrictions End
The last of West Virginia’s COVID-19 restrictions are gone. Masks are no longer required in public spaces. That’s just one more step to things looking more normal in the Charleston area.
Last Sunday, people gathered in the shaded lawn of the state’s capitol on West Virginia Day. Gov. Jim Justice recounted the hardships faced and strides made during the pandemic.
“A year and 100 days to the day, we have been struggling and fighting this terrible killer,” Justice said. “You had to step up, and you brought us through this.”
Nick Quinn, 42, was in the crowd with his 3-year-old granddaughter in her stroller. Quinn remembered his own struggles over the past year and a half.
“I went six weeks without seeing my granddaughter, and I got her out today. So we’re just excited that we can be out and see people’s faces again,” Quinn said.
Quinn’s happy to see his family, and his customers. He’s a tattoo artist and runs Gilded Age Tattoo in Charleston. For six weeks his tattoo parlor had to close. But now, Quinn’s busier than ever.
“We’re just booked out to the point that we almost have to be appointment-only, due to the build up that was created by the shutdown,” he said.
The pandemic isn’t over, a new variant from India has emerged in the state that’s more infectious than the current most common strand. But for now, almost a million vaccinated West Virginians are enjoying a newfound freedom that they hope will last.
For businesses that survived the pandemic, things are picking up again. Dining and shopping regulations were completely rolled back earlier this year.
Outdoor festivals are bringing out fun-loving West Virginians with cash-in-hand ready to buy food, drinks and crafts from local vendors.
A pepperoni roll festival was held at Charleston's Haddad Riverfront Park last Thursday. Dozens of vendors brought their version of the classic snack.
Hundreds of people like Joe Zecevic of Charleston attended. It was the first time in more than a year that he had to stand in a long line in a large crowd.
“We’re at “Rolls on the River,” waiting in line for a tiny little beer that's hopefully going be pretty good,” he said.
Zecevic just graduated from WVU, and he’s ready for more parties and nightlife.
“I turned 21 in the pandemic so being vaccinated and going to bars now is pretty nice,” he said.
The pepperoni rolls sold fast. Early in the evening, there wasn’t enough to go around.
“We actually sold out of all the pepperoni tasting tickets,” said Mallory Richards, one of the many people who helped organize the festival. “So that's a sign that this year's event, after a long hibernation, was a success,” she said.
This event is one of many happening as part of Festivall. It brings two weeks worth of live arts events to Charleston in June. Last year it was all virtual. Now, dance, music, theatre and other performances are back, even if it’s on a smaller scale, Richards said.
“I’ve seen people crying in crowds,” Richards said. “We haven’t had [live performances] for over a year and that's what we’re used to doing is bringing our community together in person to enjoy the arts.”
Business owners in downtown Charleston are starting to take down signs stipulating COVID-19 guidelines. They’re replacing them with flyers for all kinds of events this summer.
Dive bars like Sam’s in Charleston are hosting rock bands again.
Johnny Compton and his band the Amos Steel Company played last Saturday night at the bar.
“I feel really great about tonight, a little rusty but fun,” Compton said.
Like many creatives during the pandemic, he went more than a year without performing for fans. But he did spend that time taking a step back and making more music.
“For us, we got a chance to sit down and write and record this first album. So for us it was not a bad deal,” Compton said.