May 13,  2008

Fireman’s Ball will have Ocracoke rockin’ on May 24


On Saturday, May 24, the Ocracoke Community Center will be rockin’ for the third annual Fireman’s Ball. A fundraiser for the Ocracoke Fire Protection Association, the event includes a pig pickin’ and live auction, followed by a night of great music with the Ocracoke Rockers and the Dune Dogs.

The Ocracoke Rockers will open the show with their mix of blues, country, and rock-n-roll classics. The Rockers – Martin Garrish on guitar and lead vocals, Lou Castro on guitar, steel guitar, and vocals, Clifton Garrish on bass, and Tommy Hutcherson on drums – have a loyal following on the island among Ocracokers and visitors alike. Aaron Caswell, an Ocracoke School sophomore, also joins the Rockers on guitar. Crowd favorites like “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Barefootin’” bring the out dancers young and old, in couples and in groups, to shag and boogie. And when the Rockers bring it down to a slow song like “Wonderful Tonight,” the couples take to the floor and sway to the music. And an evening with the Rockers wouldn’t be complete without their finale, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

“The Rockers are infectious,” said Ocracoker Charles Temple. “Their music is impossible not to dance to.”

Jim and Mary Ellen Piland are big Rockers fans, and a familiar sight on the dance floor wherever the band is playing.

“The Rockers always give us ‘happy feet,’ and when you have happy feet, life is good,” says Jim Piland.
The Dune Dogs hail from off the island, but claim their band was “conceived and delivered” on Ocracoke, and the local flavor seasons their original tunes. The Dune Dogs – Dusty Baker, Hill Dickerson, Chris Dott, David Finch, Trent Gray and David Urben – rock the house with music they describe as “country-fried swamp-n-roll.”

The two bands work well together, and it’s obvious that they’re having as good a time as the audience.

“The Dune Dogs are really great guys,” said Ocracoke Rocker Lou Castro. “They’re generous with their time and their equipment, and they love playing music. Last year I ended up jamming with those guys until 2 or 3 in the morning.” 

On their recently released CD “Carolina Country,” a mix of classics (“Long Black Veil” and “Georgia on a Fast Train”) and originals (‘Fly Dogs Fly” and “Carolina Country”), the Dune Dogs pay tribute to Ocracoke’s influence on the last track, a southern rock song called “Ain’t No Train to Ocracoke.”

“Gonna soothe my soul down on Ocracoke” sings Dogs frontman David Finch. The lyrics include references to South Point road, fishing, and “High tide on the soundside” – a popular example of the Ocracoke brogue. The chorus is a perfect singalong, ending in “I might have to fly and I might have to float, ‘cause there ain’t no train goin’ to Ocracoke!”

“The song was inspired by Rex O’Neal, so you know it’s authentic,” said Finch. “Rex’s daddy used to say, ‘No fools, no
fun,’ so that’s in the lyrics, too.”

Many Ocracokers will remember fondly that “No Fools, No Fun” was the slogan for the island’s dance hall. The former Three Quarter Time is now the Community Center where the Ocracoke Rockers and Dune Dogs will perform.

The combination of Rockers and Dogs gets everyone on the dance floor for a sweat-soaked night of fun for a good cause.

“The Dune Dogs started this whole thing,” said Steph Ihle, one of the Fireman’s Ball organizers. “They get people really psyched about the dance. And Martin and the Rockers have really stepped up whenever we need them, and lots of local people come out to hear them.”

Last year the Fireman’s Ball raised more than $45,000 for the fire department, and this year’s bash promises to be just as big, but the party had humbler beginnings.

“The first one was very informal,” Ihle said. “It was just beer and dancing.”

Organized by the Dune Dogs, Mayo Boddie, and Larry and Steph Ihle, the event was so successful as a fundraiser and as a good time, the organizers decided to make it even better.

“Last year we really got it together,” Ihle said. “We had the pig pickin’ and got sponsorships, got donations for the auction.” 

That’s a lot of money, but the fire department needs even more.

Ocracoke Fire Protection Association is a non-profit organization that seeks to protect the lives and property of Ocracoke residents and visitors. The high density of wood-framed houses and the narrow tree-lined streets and dirt roads present unique challenges to fire fighters, and updated equipment is a necessity.

The Fire Hall, built in the 1960s, no longer meets regulations, and isn’t big enough to house the equipment Ocracoke already has.

“The Fireman’s Ball is a fun time, and I’m glad it’s turned into an annual event,” said Teresa O’Neal, treasurer and former president of the Ocracoke Fire Protection Association. “The money raised will help us achieve our goal – taking the fire department into the present century.”

O’Neal appreciates all the effort that goes into the fundraiser.

“People are so generous – they donate money and auction items, or give us discounts on the tents and food. The auction was fun to watch.  There was a lot of friendly competition and generous bidding. And you can’t imagine how many man hours go into something like this. The OFPA couldn’t do this by ourselves.”

The OFPA depends on fundraisers to support the fire department. The state of North Carolina doesn’t require local governments to provide fire protection. The Ocracoke Fire Department is a private, non-profit entity that contracts with Hyde County for an annual payment of $15,000. Most of the OFPA’s budget is funded by the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board and supplemented by Bingo games at the Fire Hall and fundraisers like the Fireman’s Ball and the annual New Year’s Eve dance with the Ocracoke Rockers. Last year, OFPA received about $60,000 from fundraisers toward the $2 million needed for a new fire hall.

This year’s Fireman’s Ball organizers hope to get a bit closer to the goal. 

David Finch praised the organizers’ fundraising efforts.

“They’ve done so much already,” he said. “They’ve gotten close to $30,000 this year just in sponsorships.”


The Memorial Day weekend event will include a pig pickin’ and silent auction, beginning at 5 p.m., a live auction at 7, and a dance that will begin at 8:30.   The cost for the dinner is $10 per plate, and donations will be appreciated for the music and beverages.

The organizers would like to recognize their top sponsors: At the Platinum level with a $1,500 donation are Drake Properties, The Ocracoke Variety Store, Coastal Gas Service, Budweiser, Ferrellgas, and Ocracoke Island Realty. At the Gold level with a $1,000 donation are Ocean Atlantic Rentals, East Carolina Bank, Pony Island Motel and Cottages, Captain’s Landing, Austin City Limits (Finley Austin), Atcom, England Stove Works.

Ocracoke Rockers and Dune Dogs CDs are available at the Ocracoke Variety Store.

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