You can walk through downtown Carrboro any weekend and hear music playing in the bars.
But this weekend you can also catch bands performing outside an auto shop. And a hardware store. And a bank.
The 18th annual Carrboro Music Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday. The 25-stage festival is free, with a lineup of 184 acts from surrounding areas.
Gerry Williams and his wife Janet Place, who coordinated the festival in the past, have moved to South Carolina. So Jim Dennis, owner of the Music Loft of Carrboro, is now in charge.
The festival will continue to feature Americana music, which is popular in the area, along with rock and jazz.
But Dennis is adding some unconventional artists, such as indo-fusion band Project Mastana and Stranger Spirits playing “rock and roll performed by mad scientists and dancing robot girls.”
“My hope is that somebody will see something they have never heard before or never been exposed to before and go, ‘that was interesting,’” Dennis said. “It’s always good when you learn something.”
Vasu Kilaru, bass player for Project Mastana, thinks Carrboro is the perfect place to introduce its modern take on Bollywood classics.
“People are interested in hearing new things like this,” he said. “I hate to generalize, but we aren’t in Texas. I know the Carrboro audience is open and receptive to hearing a variety of music.”
Dennis has some venues specializing throughout the day. The Century Center will continue to feature jazz, and singer/songwriters will perform at Southern Rail’s beer garden.
These and other specialized venues will give festivalgoers the opportunity to stick with one genre or branch out by walking around.
The festival’s diversity also provides opportunities for performers, Dennis said.
Leandra Strope is the director of Sisters’ Voices, a choir of second through eighth-grade girls who specialize in classic world folk music. This is the first time Dennis thinks the festival has had a girls choir singing this music.
Strope started rehearsals when the school year began, so many of the girls will have rehearsed only a few times before their Sunday appearance. She sees the festival as a chance for the group to expand beyond its normal church venues.
“There is just something really special about being in a place where people are going to hear music and absorb everything that’s around them,” Strope said. “I’m excited for the girls to be in that kind of atmosphere.”
Another big change to the festival this year is the Town Commons venue, Dennis said.
Aside from the music stage, the Town Commons will have food vendors and a beer garden. Also, The Scrap Exchange, a re-use craft center based in Durham, will have a booth for kids.
“It’s a fantastic, family-friendly, free celebration that the town puts on,” Dennis said. “You really would have to work hard not to have a good time.”
The festival starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Town Commons, the only venue with music that day, and continues at 1 p.m. Sunday with the last act starting at 11 p.m.
Streets will be closed during the festival, with a free shuttle service provided from Carrboro Plaza. For a complete schedule and festival map go to www.carrboromusicfestival.com.
If you go
Parking will be free at the Carrboro Plaza Park and Ride (N.C. 54 and Old Fayetteville Road by Food Lion) during festival hours on Sunday. A free shuttle will run from the plaza to the festival every 10 to 15 minutes between noon and 9 p.m. Sunday. The shuttle will make stops on Main Street between Town Hall and the ArtsCenter. For more parking and shuttle information go to chtransit.org.