CARRBORO — Accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, Reagon Boggs sang about the mountains, her music competing with with an amplified blues band next door. Up the street, the trio Gentle Robot played indie rock; down the street the Blue Tailed Skinks string band played “Boil Them Cabbage Down” with a man in a loose saffron outfit dancing through the crowd.
And that was just for starters Sunday, as the Carrboro Music Festival opened for its 16th year.
Throughout a balmy, sunny afternoon – and in some places, well into the night – rock, jazz, funk, fusion, ukeleles and marimbas filled the air from the Chapel Hill border west past the Town Hall Commons, and thousands came out to enjoy the sounds of more than 180 bands.
“We like it all,” said Susan Williams who, with her husband, Bob, had stopped off to hear the Emerson Waldorf Jazz Band. “We like to wander and listen to all the different kinds of music.”
Jon Lamb of Chapel Hill was strolling with his wife, Nicole Spilotross, and their 8-month-old son, Harrison. “It’s very family-friendly,” Lamb said.
On Weaver Street by Carr Mill Mall, some kids took chalk to the pavement, others swayed with hula hoops and still others danced in front of a stage. On Main Street, Full Moon Pie went country with George Jones’s “White Lightning” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” Farther out Main Street, a cyclist riding by abruptly stopped and turned around when he heard Circle City’s rock.
“Hey, this sounds cool,” Skip Batolanzo said to his two companions, and they walked their bikes across the sidewalk to stand and listen while the band wound up its set.
“We look forward to it every year,” Batolanzo said. “We like the variety, and we like the idea you can just wander around and when you hear something you like, stop.”
That’s the idea, said Rah Trost of the Carrboro Recreation and Parks Department, one of the festival’s sponsors.
“We do want to see all the variety of ages,” Trost said.
“There is so much good music happening locally,” she said. “That’s truly the essence of the festival, to capture as much of the (local) ambiance as we can. ... It’s like a mini-Bourbon Street.”
Bands apply to play in the festival and are chosen by festival coordinator Gerry Williams and a steering committee. If chosen, their payment is only food vouchers or T-shirts, and “They have to fight for parking like everybody else,” Trost said.
That’s enough, said Brian Leden, drummer with Animal Envoys.
“It’s an opportunity for people that do it mainly for a hobby to get out and play,” he said, packing up with vocalist and guitarist Brett Durham after their show.
“It’s real open and accepting, there’s no one judging. ... A fun gig,” Durham said.
“This is a fantastic venue ... to get your music out there,” said drummer Gary Mitchell, who had finished a solo set and was getting ready to play with the band Funktion. “A lot of people are just going as the wind blows ... walking by and are pleasantly surprised” when they hear something they like.
Admission was free and there was no way to count the crowd, spread over almost a mile, but Trost said attendance appeared “every bit as strong as last year” even with competition from the bluegrass festival in Raleigh.
“We have a strong following, after 16 years,” she said. “Right now it’s tough to get across the street, so we’re very pleased.”