The Triangle is home to some of the most festive people around. We are lucky enough to live in a microcosm of tourism, a collection of highly-accessible towns, each vying to attract visitors from one another every weekend. Whether it’s a jazz or bluegrass festival, Hopscotch, Brewgaloo, the State Fair, Artsplosure, Centerfest, or an infinitude of farmer’s markets and food truck rodeos in-between, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a boring Saturday any time soon (especially as we move toward the unstoppable force that is the holiday season).
At their core, these festivals are celebrations of our community, a place for the computer-tanned masses to stretch their legs when they emerge from their cubicles for the weekend. But it’s not all fun and games. Behind the scenes, there is often a small army of volunteers and several months of work that goes into organizing just a single day of festivities. It’s not an easy job to plan a massive party for thousands of strangers, yet most weekends we are met with a dizzying array of rodeos and shindigs and fests of all caliber. It’s a wonderful problem to have to decide between SparkCon and the Apex Jazz Festival, but what exactly is the motivation for the organizers who put all these events together? Do they simply enjoy cleaning up after people?
I spoke with several event organizers and vendors from around the Triangle in order to get a more complete picture of how these festivals come into being, and for what reasons. What I found was that not only do festivals provide recreation for the people in attendance, but they are also an essential outlet for many local businesses to connect with their customers, creating an environment that enhances the community by promoting local commerce.
Festivals are so pervasive in our recreation that they have become a necessary link in our economic system. They are a backbone for many local businesses that do not own brick-and-mortar stores but exist, instead, almost exclusively in these ephemeral locations. Festivals are, essentially, miniaturized economies – street malls erected for a day and filled with temporary vendors and foot traffic. Some even have their own currency in the form of tokens.
One of the events I was most looking forward to this year was 919 Beer’s Beericana Craft Beer and Music Festival. Beericana is held annually at Sugg Farm Park in Holly Springs – an idyllic country meadow lined with split-rail fences – where beer tents stretch into the distance like some kind of stairway to heaven. This was only the event’s second year but already they boasted a lineup of over 60 breweries, as well as more than 20 food trucks and about a dozen other vendors. It was like a small city unto itself (one where you could have unlimited beer… in tiny little glasses).
One of the vendors I frequently bump into at these events is Jud Patterson from the Oak City Collective, a design company that sells Raleigh-centric apparel and merchandise. Aside from an online store, the Oak City Collective exists solely as a tent at these types of festivals. Whenever I see them, I always enjoy stopping by to chat with Jud about some of their new designs. When I met him at this year’s Beericana, I asked him how he felt about having a tent as his storefront. “Not only are festivals a great way to simply sell products,” Jud told me, “but many connections are made there as well. Events and festivals allow us to see our customers face-to-face and interact in ways that a web store can’t.” They are one of a number of businesses that simply would not exist if not for the constant flow of festivals in the area.
It then becomes incumbent on festival organizers, like Adam Eshbaugh and Wayne Holt from 919 Beer, to find a way to attract as many people as possible, so that the vendors can have actual customers to interact with. This usually means providing entertainment. At Beericana, this entertainment came in the form of lawn games and live music. I had the opportunity to talk with Tess Ocaña, an event promoter from Sonic Pie Productions, who provided the bands and the sound system for Beericana. In the months preceding, the organizers culled through binders full of bands until finally settling on the musical acts they felt best suited the Beericana crowd: Empire Strikes Brass, Uncle Lucius, and Dark Water Rising.
“My simple motivation, for 13 years now,” Tess told me, “has been happy looks on the audience’s faces. I love the fact that I can look out and see literally three generations of people, from dancing 20-somethings, to soccer moms, to baby boomers. Not only do [festivals] bring people together for a common reason, they bring together a diverse group of people.”
Beericana brought together a group of around 3,200 for it’s second iteration. And for the most part, everyone seemed to get along very well, considering the amount of alcohol consumed (one guy got thrown out but we won’t talk about him). The beer selection at Beericana was, of course, stellar. It would be easier to list the breweries that were not there, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone. Most of the breweries in the Triangle were in attendance, but there was also a wealth of delicious beer from everywhere from Wilmington, NC to Coronado, CA. Beericana provided a terrific opportunity for people to make direct contact with these business owners and brewers, sample their new creations, and give immediate feedback. It’s a very organic way for a business to connect with its customers.
“It’s a community builder,” said Adam from 919 Beer when I asked him the motivations behind organizing Beericana. “That’s what I really like, and that’s what the craft beer community is all about. It’s about bringing people together and having a good time.” 919 Beer uses the word “BEER” as an acronym for “Building, Engaging, Educating, Resourcing.” The Beericana festival, itself, went to benefit two non-profits in Shop Local Raleigh and the NC Brewer’s Guild. They also do a weekly podcast about local craft beer and beer news, available on iTunes.
Event organizers have the dual responsibility of satisfying both the vendors who set up shop there and the attendees who choose to give them their time and money. It seems fairly clear that the motivations of festival organizers (at least for Beericana) are community-oriented, so this leaves us with the question of what effect festivals like Beericana actually have on the community. It’s all well and good that festivals help to support local businesses, but if they weren’t any fun, no one would go to them. They are a place where the community quite literally comes together for a common cause. Usually, that cause is to have a few and socialize with friends and family – and, perhaps, to even make some new acquaintances. I know several couples who either met or had their first dates at festivals (and a few of them are still happy today).
This is really the crux of it all, that a happy community is one that knows how to come together and simply have a good time. So, keep going out there and supporting local businesses by going to festivals, the happiness of your community may depend on it.
The Oak City Collective:
Sonic Pie Productions:
Empire Strikes Brass:
Dark Water Rising:
Pictures by Adam Pyburn:
[Originally published in the Triangle Downtowner Magazine]