“Spring” and “fall” are loose terms in North Carolina. Nowadays, it feels like we have “early summer” and “extended summer” (I mean, the calendar says October 3, but at 95 degrees outside, it feels like August 64).
While this might extend summertime activities, the heat index can make outdoor events a little less enjoyable. Last year’s inaugural Cape Fear Bluegrass and BBQ Festival learned as much with its spring debut in May. Set on the lawn of Saint Basil’s Orthodox Church in Castle Hayne, the festival attracted 800 folks who brought chairs to enjoy plenty of music, food and local beer throughout the day. “It was beautiful,” Folkstone Stringband’s Jones Smith remembers, “but quite a hot day for that early in the year.”
“We got hit with a heat advisory,” Father Peter Robichau confirms. “The news outlets were warning folks to stay inside, so we moved the festival to October 12 this year.”
Needless to say, everyone’s hoping for a cooler backdrop as four bands take the stage to play 90 minutes each.
The idea for the bluegrass fest came from years of church members wanting to expand their community outreach beyond bazaars and bake sales. Thinking outside the box, they landed on bluegrass and NC-style BBQ
“[Bluegrass is] our indigenous music here in the southeast,” Father Peter explains. “It pulls on traditional music from Europe and Africa, from where our region’s ancestors came. It’s infused with blues and jazz, and, the best thing about it: Bluegrass draws an audience from across many demographics. It appeals to doctors and hog farmers, professionals and workers, old and young. It brings all segments of our society together to enjoy an art form that is uniquely ours.”
Festival gates open at 10:45 a.m. Saturday morning, with local Americana favorites L Shape Lot kicking off the music at 11:30 a.m., followed by Linville Creek Bluegrass at 1:30 p.m., Folkstone Stringband at 3:30 p.m., and Massive Grass performs the last set of the day at 5:30 p.m.
“We are not alone in our enthusiasm that Saint Basil’s has committed to making the Cape Fear Bluegrass Festival an annual event,” Smith says. “This family-friendly festival is a wonderful addition to the many cultural events we have in southeastern North Carolina. I believe it will become one of the most popular.”
Smith plays mandolin in the band, alongside Ben Chontos (upright bass), Randy Hawes (banjo) and Charlie Coulter (fiddle). They channel their personal heroes of the genre (Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers), as well as “newgrass” players like Sam Bush, David Grisman, Dylan and even The Dead.
“Of course, we really get excited when we get to mix in original music,” Smith offers. “We will surely play a couple of songs written by Ben. ’Rosie’s Song’ has a modern upbeat and rollicking sound with a traditional bluegrass drive. The lyrics express the urgency caused by the distance between lovers while the instruments interweave solos over the melody.”
Smith says a Folkstone Stringband show always includes hard-driving barn-burners, a few sad waltzes, bluegrass classics, and a couple of honky-tonk numbers. Other Folkstone originals have more blues undertones to offer, like in “Weighing on my Head.” It’s all about the looming troubles often coming from having too much fun.
“You can really hear the blues come through on this one, with the call-and-response vocals, the note-bending banjo and syncopated, bouncy rhythm,” Smith adds.
Last year’s festival budget was stretched thin and ultimately consumed by a lot of first-year expenses (food warmers, industrial kitchen supplies, etc.) and lessons learned. Though attendance reached 800, Father Peter says they expected more.
“We met so many of our neighbors and members of the community last year and we’re hoping to meet many more this year,” he adds. “We hope this is the start of something we can do annually to meet folks and enjoy some of the best things about our local culture.”
With a positive outlook and prayers for good weather, they also hope to raise plenty of money for their charity beneficiary, Children at Heart. While the local not-for-profit facilitates adoptions regionally and nationally, Father Peter says they do more than simply place children in homes. “They ensure birth mothers and families have the support they need during what can be a difficult time,” he explains. “Children at Heart offer support groups for birth-mothers post adoption and a host of other resources as well. They’ve been in the Wilmington region for almost two decades now, and do a lot to give back to the community, and we wanted to support them this year.”
Entry to the fest is $10 (kids 12 and under, free), with plenty of NC BBQ for sale ($10 adult plates and $5 kid plates), and beer up for grabs from Front Street Brewery. Also, this year’s event will see the addition of children’s entertainer and magician Sarah Dippity from Columbia, SC.
“Sarah Dippity was just voted the best children’s entertainer of 2019 in her region,” Father Peter says. “She does a great job entertaining the kids with humor and magic. She also has some fun things planned for the kids and families during the performances.”