As the beautiful and romantic sounds of “Azul,” by the Mexican composer Agustin Lara, wafted across the air like a golden butterfly in flight, Charity Kirk slowly walked across the lawn of Carrboro town commons Sunday.
Kirk wore a flowing black dress that shimmered in the day’s warm breeze. She unwrapped a bright red shawl from around her shoulders, laid it upon the green grass and demurely sat down on the shawl. Gabriel Martinez, head and shoulders erect, followed behind Kirk. When he reached her, he gracefully bent down to Kirk. Their fingertips touched. Kirk rose from the lawn as if in a early Spring day dream and the two danced across the lawn.
“I represented a gust of wind that carried a memory,” said Martinez, who along with Kirk, are both members of the Carrboro Modern Dance Company. “I’m not really there. That’s the idea.”
Martinez’s description of the dance he and Kirk performed may be an apt metaphor for Carrboro residents’ insistence on the little town’s otherworldliness.
For 20 years, on the first Sunday in May, residents have gathered on the town hall grounds to celebrate the things that makes the little town just southwest of Chapel Hill one of the most interesting places in North Carolina.
Sunday was a grand day for a festival and Carrboro was flush with color and activity in celebration of itself. Along with music provided by a lap steel guitarist, bluegrass by the Swift Creek band, Celtic rock music and poetry, town librarians hosted a book sale, the town’s garden clubs handed out free plants and experts educated passersby on the benefits of solar heating and recycling. And a couple of town historians sat on Town Hall’s steps and watched children romp on the front lawn.
“A lot of people think Carrboro is a mill town,” said Richard Ellington, who along with Dave Otto, has written two books about Carrboro’s history. “It was a mining town. Iron was mined here ... There’s a subdivision there now called Ironwoods, where the mining took place.”
The tiny town, named after wealthy industrialist Julian Shakespeare Carr, has a population just under 21,000. Still, with its “Paris of the Piedmont” philosophy, the residents fully embrace the arts and healthy living to bring its communities together.
Carrboro also had its own poetry council and a poet laureate, Celisa Steele, who read her poem, “Gabriel At The Bar,” in honor of the festival’s musical theme.
The poem describes a magnificent angel rendered ordinary, whose calls his trips to neighborhood bars far and wide “holy homework.” In an empty bar, a lady bartender watches a muted TV and Gabriel listens to songs of love from a jukebox. The country songs transfix Gabriel, who decides if he returns to Earth as a human, he would want a girl baby that he could name, “Loretta, Tammy or Patsy.”
Afterward, Smith, who has served as the town’s poet laureate for the past eight years, says there is a “fine balance” when it comes to Carrboro’s retaining its charm, while not being too unduly influenced by an influx of wealthier neighbors moving into town from next door Chapel Hill.
“The town can’t remain the same,” Smith said. “We have to indoctrinate them into the Carrboro Way so that they will appreciate the things that make Carrboro, Carrboro.”