Ask a Local: West Virginia Transcript
Charleston, I think, has the best of two worlds. It's a town of around 50,000 people, and yet, you have that feeling of friendliness of a small town. I love it downtown; there’s a couple of streets, particularly Capitol Street, which has restaurants, bookstore, ice cream parlor. And it looks like the typical downtown of small-town America and that's the way it functions. But it has a big performing arts center and a symphony and a show like Mountain Stage – and a whole lot of things like that. My favorite thing, and the reason I’m still here 47 years later, has to do with the people and the style of life. It’s not uncommon to see people on their porches getting together. Neighbors come over with their friends, have a drink and just have a good time.
Another great thing about Charleston – this is true about a lot of West Virginia but Charleston being the biggest city – is that you don't have to go very far. Really very quickly out of Charleston, you're into what other people would say, this is like the deep forest, the woods. But what strikes you immediately when you get out of town is like, “Wow, this is beautiful.”
This state is a wonderful place for the outdoor sports like fishing and hunting and rafting. I have spent a lot of time rafting through the New River Gorge, and you go over, you know, class two, three, four rapids, sometimes even more but with guides. But people come from all over the world to do it. Some of the best water rafting in the world.
The river runs right through Charleston. I could fish right on the Kanawha River that runs through Charleston. Often, I see boats out there fishing. But then you can go to smaller rivers and streams and fish for different kinds of fish, from bass to trout.
West Virginia, because of the way the geography works, people went around it, but very early, they took the rivers. So, it made it a little bit isolated, and it was one of the last places where interstate highways were built. So it, in a way, it preserves some of the old culture and I think it’s a big advantage.
Everybody knows about the outdoors in West Virginia. It’s well known for being beautiful. You know, “Take Me Home Country Roads” – that's something that everybody knows. What everybody doesn't know is that this place is a wonderful music source. And not just one kind. Yes, we have some of the best old-time Appalachian music in the world, no question about that. It's here, it's always been here and we love it. The same goes for bluegrass and country music. That's what you would think. But there's a whole lot more than that. It's live; people love live music, they love to go hear live music. It's a great reason to come here and spend a few days.
I came to West Virginia in 1972, and I was invited to do a program called Musician in Residence from the National Endowment for the Arts. The fact that West Virginia supported that program shows you how important the arts are to the folks who live here.
FestivALL Charleston was started by some people who wanted to do something different to show off the town. We have some great venues from a big performing arts center and a civic center down to little theaters and bars. And during FestivALL, all of this stuff is going on. It brings in artists from elsewhere: national, international artists and then it also showcases local people who are really good but who you may never have heard of. But if you come here, you'll be surprised how great they are. It's a great time to come to Charleston.
Then, of course, there’s Mountain Stage, which I helped found almost 40 years ago now. We welcome on the stage live performances of music of all types – international music, regional music, local music. If it's really good, then we want to have it on the show and it's probably been on the show sometime over the years.
The Empty Glass is a place where they have live original music every night, particularly after Mountain Stage. We go over there, and you get something very, very special, which is many times, artists you’ve seen perform at Mountain State get up and sing with other artists from the show or with the house band, and they do songs that they wouldn't usually do. They're only doing it because they're having fun and want to do it, and everybody has a great time.
If you love music and you love to hear music live, Charleston is a fantastic place to visit. You will hear some great music in an intimate setting in a way that probably would be difficult to find anywhere else.
Wheeling Speaker 1:
So, Wheeling’s called “the Friendly City,” and when you come to Wheeling, you're definitely going to meet friendly people who are open and happy to share their stories with you. And I think that's what's so beautiful about this community, is the people’s desire to share the experiences that they’ve had and their view of the city and the world.
Wheeling Speaker 2:
You’re standing in front of the most important man in West Virginia. History was made here.
Wheeling Speaker 1:
Wheeling has a lot of great history that you can see when you’re walking around through town. I moved back to Wheeling to help restore the Capitol Theater. And during that process it became really clear how great the community is here. This desire to bring back these historic sites that are meaningful to people who live here, the stories that they had and the things that they’ve seen in those places.
During the industrialization of our country, this is the place where nearly everything was made. You know, it’s said that you can get everything here including the kitchen sink. And that theme and that heritage is what ties people together today here in Wheeling.
So, there are a lot of arts and crafts that still exist from those industries, particularly ceramics and pottery and glass blowing. And there’s a lot of steel being re-incorporated into art as well and as a major steel producer for a number of years, it's great to see that brought into the arts. One place that you’ll see the steel is with Bob Villamagna’s work. He's a tin collage artist, and he’s very highly regarded in the art world here in West Virginia and has won the West Virginia Artist of the Year several times.
Center Market is a great part of Wheeling. There's a lot going on there. There's breweries and restaurants and shops, and it's also where you'll find staples like Coleman's Fish.
Alright here it is, it’s awesome. Fried fish, Wonder Bread; that's it right there. People actually get these shipped to them when they move away.
Wheeling has a great history of people making a mark on the city in different ways. One of those ways is with Oglebay Park. You can just see where these philanthropists and industrialists really were committed to the community and wanted to leave a legacy here. Like here at Oglebay Park, which was built in the 1800s as a working farm by Earl Oglebay who was a shipping industrialist. But he wanted to create a farm that was more efficient and would compete with European farms for efficiency.
The other thing that you’ve got to see when you’re here in Wheeling is the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. Built in 1849, it was the longest suspension bridge span at the time and was critical to westward expansion because before that, you’d have to get to the Ohio River and take a ferry across. Now you can take other forms of transportation across the bridge and continue westward. You got to walk across it because the experience is unlike anything else. It’s got a steel bottom, so you can see through to the Ohio River, and it sways a little bit, and you’ve got to get out into the middle and take a selfie.
So then you’ve got some unique things to Wheeling like its square pizza that's cooked first and then cold cheese is added to the top. There's a couple different competing institutions here that make it different ways, and so there's a little bit of a divide here locally. So, you’ve got DiCarlo’s in downtown and Patsy's Pizza in Elm Grove. The experience at both is pretty different too. At the downtown DiCarlo's, you’re going to call or walk in and get a number, and then they're going to call you in that order. At Patsy’s, you’re going to call in and get a number, then you’re going to walk in and realize there's really no order at all. One number is called and the next number might be, you know, a number before it, or way after it. It’s kind of a wild experience.
Also, the way in which you eat it is different too. Arguably the best way to eat Patsy’s is to walk outside and eat it in the parking lot while the cheese is still cold and melting. Whereas at the downtown DiCarlo's, you want to grab it, kind of walk down to Heritage Port and just kind of take in the scenery there at the Ohio River and enjoy the views and enjoy a Wheeling staple.
You’ll also see, when walking through Wheeling, that there's a lot of things going on creatively. There's a new gallery and events for people to showcase their work and to bring the community together, like Clientele in East Wheeling or at the Artisan Center or with the YWCA doing some really interesting events like Hip-Hop: A Black-Tie Affair or The Art of Inclusion, which is really about bringing the community together and using art to do that.
One of my favorite places is a little place just outside of town and they're known for their burgers and a great selection of craft beers. It’s just a great time, just getting outside the city, hanging out with some friends, and I definitely recommend it while you're here. It's one of Wheeling's best kept secrets.