The night before I went to the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance, I was so excited I could hardly sleep. I expected to photograph characters from the Woodstock era at Shakori, a festival held every spring and fall on a secluded, 72-acre farm in Pittsboro. Instead, I discovered that its simply a gathering of down-to-earth people who embrace peace and happiness.
There are no strangers at Shakori. I had intended to be a fly on the wall and to do my job objectively, but that was downright impossible in an atmosphere with such an abundance of generosity and kindness.
Cellphones dont work, and Internet is spotty at best, so the hours pass unnoticed, and the days take on a rhythm orchestrated by the sun. Before sunset on the first day, and after our entertaining episode of setting up the tent, my friends and I wandered down to the Meadow Stage to see David Wax Museum, a duo that fuses Mexican folk music with American roots tunes. Like this one, most of the bands in the lineup are obscure but amazing.
If you had to pick a genre for the festival, it would certainly be bluegrass, but many shows defy categorization. As I photographed Revelation Mizik, a Miami-based band with catchy Haitian harmonies, a woman asked me how I could stand still and not dance.
After a long night of dancing, we slid into our sleeping bags for just a few hours. I was uncomfortable in the crowded tent, so I not-so-quietly climbed over everyone about 5 a.m. I photographed people asleep in tents, in hammocks, on the ground, and even in chairs.
But mostly, I enjoyed the quiet of the morning. Over the next few days, I photographed yoga classes, workshops and craft vendors. I shot hula-hooping, bubble-making, bingo, face-painting, and storytelling for the kids in the crowd, who dashed from one activity to the next, barefoot and unsupervised.
The first three days of the festival saw beautiful weather, but come Saturday night, a downpour turned the farm into a mud pit.
I realized I was covered in mud to my knees. I hadnt showered; my teeth had only been brushed once, and my hair was a tangled mess.
The best part was no one cared!
On Sunday morning, many campers cleared out early, as did I. My shower was heaven, and relief for my poison ivy a godsend. I hope my photographs captured the essence of Shakori for you.
The essence of people who dance without judgment, children who feel no fear, and artists who know not of boundaries.
Casey Toth is a freelancer for The News & Observer.