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Amid pandemic, Logan hosts West Virginia Freedom Festival

Jul 08 2020
Dylan Vidovich | The Logan Banner

LOGAN — Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Logan became the first municipality in the state to hold a festival event this year as carnival rides, food vendors, music and more filled the streets for the annual West Virginia Freedom Festival.

The festival officially opened at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 1, the first day allowed for fairs and festivals in the Mountain State under Gov. Jim Justice’s orders, and exactly one week after its original planned opening date of June 24.

Each night opened with a “prayer of protection.” Wednesday featured Charlie Abraham; Thursday was Lee Dean along with Spiderman, Batman and Wonder Woman; Friday was Josh Vanhook; and Saturday was Gary Wilson.

Each day of the festival also had its own designated title. Wednesday was the Stronger Together T-shirt Night, Thursday was Healthcare Hero Night, Friday was Salute to Coal Night, and Saturday was Military/Veteran Celebration Night.

The first order of business on Wednesday was the crowning of the “Freedom Firework” Queens, and the entertainment for that night was the annual DJ Bill France Block Party. The theme for this year’s block party was “Straight Outta Quarantine.”

Thursday evening saw local bands Hammer Down Band and ‘80s rock tribute act Hair Supply hit the stage.

On Friday, local band Audio Outlaws performed, and then the “Salute to Coal” celebration happened on the main stage in which several communities who have designated themselves “Coal Pride” communities were honored. On hand to speak at the event were West Virginia District 7 Senate candidate Rupie Phillips and Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone, who accepted the “Coal Pride” designation on behalf of the City of Madison.

Friday night culminated with a live concert by New York City-based Foreigner tribute band, Double Vision.

The final day of the festival, Saturday, opened with a military and veteran presentation that included a flyover of the 1962 Vietnam-era Huey UH-1B helicopter piloted by Mike Holbrook, 21-gun military salute, and playing of TAPS. The presentation was attended by retired WWII United States Marine Corps warrant officer Hershel “Woody” Williams, who delivered a speech reflecting on American values and the job veterans and active military personnel have done to uphold those values.

Also in attendance and honored alongside Williams was Howard McNeely, a 98-year-old WWII veteran from Logan County who resides at Crooked Creek. McNeely is the father of newly appointed Chapmanville Mayor Joel McNeely, who stood by his father’s side during the service.

Following the service, the entertainment for the evening was the Hutchinson Brothers Band and then Journey tribute band Departure, who put on an energetic show, performing classic hits like “Lights,” “Faithfully,” “Feeling That Way,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Just as Departure was ending their set, this year’s Freedom Festival closed with the city’s annual fireworks display.

Aside from the numerous scheduled events, this year’s festival looked much the same as it always does, despite being somewhat scaled back — with most of the same food and drink vendors, merchandise vendors, and a carnival provided by Buckhannon-based company Gambill Amusements Inc. In between each ride, employees of Gambill Amusements could be seen spraying down and sanitizing the rides before the next patrons got on.

Inflatables, a rock wall and gold rush sifting adventure, a puppet show complete with a live pig and goat, and several characters around town, which included a sad clown and a juggling woman on stilts, were also all part of this year’s festival. Additionally, this year featured various points of entry throughout the town, each of which included optional hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves.

Despite less attendance due to community fears surrounding the ongoing global pandemic, Mayor Serafino Nolletti remarked that the festival was “fantastic” and came without any problems. He estimated attendance at this year’s festival was 30% down from last year, noting that some vendors reported almost no loss, while others reported upwards of a 40% drop.

“We knew there would be less people in attendance, but all in all, it was great,” Nolletti said. “Everybody that attended had a great time. All our entertainers, every year, these entertainers come from different parts and they all fall in love with Logan and the people in Logan.”

“All in all, the weather was great, it was perfect,” Nolletti added. “We’re looking forward to next year, and hopefully this pandemic will be behind us, and we can get back to business and everybody in the country can get back to business like we want it.”

Just like he did last week before the festival opened, Nolletti addressed negative sentiments some citizens had toward the festival, taking aim primarily at the claim that the city makes money from the festival.

“The people that have donated money, they knew this year was going to be a tough year, and we got a lot of people step up and helped us financially to pay for it,” Nolletti said. “A lot of people think the city spends money on this and makes money on this … not the case, I mean, I don’t know where they get this information from. I think people just talk because they like talking I guess, but they need to come and see me if they want to see where the money comes from. I can provide that. If they wanted to come see me face to face, these people get out there and run their mouth on social media, come and see me, I’ll show them in black and white if they need to.”

To see photo galleries from all four days of this year’s West Virginia Freedom Festival, visit