June 10,  2008

Ocrafolk Festival 2008 – sweltering but still spirited

By SUNDAE HORN



In spite of sweltering heat, the Ocrafolk Festival, which was June 6 through 8, was a weekend of great music and fun.

Gary Mitchell, who started the music festival nine years ago, is happy with the way the festival has grown, yet has stayed small enough to fit Ocracoke’s small-town island style.

“There’s an Ocrafolk spirit in the air during the festival,” he said. “It grabs everybody and makes them feel like they’re part of a big family.”

The festival kicks off with the family reunion dinner – a “meet the performers” potluck at the Ocracoke Community Center. The crowd is full of familiar faces, visitors who return year after year, and friends greet each other and get re-acquainted and meet the new folks who are just discovering the Ocrafolk phenomenon. Following the potluck is the fundraising auction, where a little friendly competition makes for a rowdy time. Philip Howard acts as auctioneer, assisted this year by the Ocracoke Girl Scouts, who displayed the auction items (donated by local businesses and individuals and festival artisans).

Saturday dawned hot as blazes, but, as many folks commented, it was better than rain! (The festival has been plagued by rain for the past three years.) All agree that it was the hottest festival ever, but the performers and audiences weren’t diminished or subdued in spite of the temperature.

Musicians and storytellers performed on two different stages -- the Live Oak stage under the oak branches in the yard at Deepwater Pottery and Books to Be Red and the Howard Street stage, located around the corner on Howard Street next to Village Craftsmen. Some of the performers were local favorites (Martin and Friends and Molasses Creek). Others were festival regulars (The Green Grass Cloggers and storyteller Rodney Kemp) and still others were new to the scene (blues singer Ruth Wyand). The music ranged in style from jazz to country to folk to rock to bluegrass to blues to British pop parody. The youngest performers were under 10 and the oldest was over 80, and the audiences reflected the same multi-generational span.

All around the festival area were the colorful tents and displays of the artisans. There were baskets, jewelry, handcrafted soaps, bread knives, wooden bowls, carved lighthouses, paintings, photographs, doll clothes, and pottery for sale. Children’s book author Audrey Penn, author of “Mystery of Blackbeard’s Cove,” held a book signing on the front porch of Books to Be Red. The information booth sold festival T-shirts, performers’ CDs, and quilt raffle tickets.

In the Deepwater Theater Kids’ Stage area, chainsaw-sculptor Clyde Jones of Bynum, N.C., kicked off Saturday’s events at 9 a.m. with his not-to-be-missed performance. Jones, with the help of kids in the audience, found the “critter” hidden in the cedar log. After the critter was created, kids painted their own cutout critter to take home. The Kids’ Stage area also had storytelling, a drumming workshop, a clogging workshop, a harmonica workshop, fish-printing on T-shirts and hula hooping! Ocracoke School’s pep band, The Last Rebels of Rock, performed Saturday afternoon in (air-conditioned!) Deepwater Theater.

Ocracoke Child Care provided good eats for festival-goers with a Mexican food fundraiser of delicious tamales, taquitos and tostados. After the spicy food got folks good and thirsty, they could take a few steps over to the Ocracoke Youth Center booth, where the teen group was serving freshly-squeezed lemonade. Across the street from the Live Oak stage, Thai Moon carryout set up an egg roll stand, which was also quite popular. Brothers and entrepreneurs, Kyle and Andrew Tillett, helped to keep the crowd hydrated with their drink stand, set up in front of their mom’s shop, Deepwater Pottery and Books to be Red. They sold ice-cold sodas and water and did quite a business.

The Saturday evening events moved indoors, beginning with a traditional Ocracoke Square dance in the school gym. The Mallomar British Invasion Band performed at Deepwater Theater, followed by Katy Mitchell and friends. Skye Zentz hosted an "open mic" session at the Ocracoke Community Center, and the music lasted late into the evening with a Hootenanny Jam hosted by Bob Zentz, Kevin Hardy, and Wes Lassiter that started at 11 p.m.

“We sat in a big circle, and everyone got to participate,” said Skye Zentz. “The open mic session was a round robin, with people taking turns, and then it crossed over to the jam. Everyone stayed in a circle and just called out songs to play.”

Zentz said the late night events at the Community Center drew about 20 musicians and twice as many listeners.

“The open mic and jam gave everyone a great sense of community,” she said.

The Gospel Sing on Sunday morning is the highlight of the festival for many folks, and continued to be this year, even though Sunday was even hotter than Saturday! The festival musicians gather at 9:30 on the Live Oak stage to share gospel music. One of the highlights was a performance by the Ocracoke United Methodist Youth Choir singing “Morning Has Broken.” After the Gospel Sing, the festival takes a break so as not to interfere with Ocracoke church services and then resumes at noon with more music, culminating in a Finale All-Star Jam session to close out the weekend.  

This was the first Ocrafolk Festival for guitarist and singer Louis Allen, who performed with the trio Warren, Bodle and Allen. He summed up the weekend like this: “I knew [Ocracoke] had a good festival, but it was much better than I imagined. Had it been 20 degrees cooler, it would have been too perfect and the rest of my life would then be meaningless.”


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