By Laurie Paolicelli
The Carrboro Music Festival was started in 1998 by a handful of dedicated volunteers who felt certain they could pull off a local music festival with little more than hope and a dream. They had confidence in themselves, but more than that had a well-founded confidence in the local music community. Time has proved them right. There were those who attempted to dissuade them; perils were many in a project of this size. But they were undeterred. Through the generosity of countless musicians, the support and encouragement of then Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson (who was on the original committee), and the Board of Aldermen, as well as many donations from Carrboro businesses and its citizens, Carrboro’s Fête de la Musique was born.
Through the efforts and contributions of Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson, the festival began as part of the French celebration known as Fête de la Musique, a free festival of music celebrated worldwide on the summer solstice. From 1998 through 2001, Carrboro was one of only a few United States Fête de la Musique venues officially recognized by the Ministry of France. Other cities included New York City and San Francisco. Carrboro was honored to be a part of it.
The Fête brought together musicians of every genre and style, and they played for free at stages from one end of town to the other. Jackie Helvey, an original board member, remembers the early years.
“In Carrboro we moved the Fête to the Sunday closest to June 21st, celebrating Father’s Day at the same time. This initiated a great annual event to bring Dad to that was free and fun for the whole family.”
In 2000, the 20th anniversary of the international Fête de la Musique was celebrated in more than 100 countries all over the world. “In 2001,” Helvey says, “Carrboro was an official venue for the last time. A cooler month needed to be chosen for Carrboro’s music festival, when more folks were around to volunteer.”
Changes in 2002
The original board made the decision in 2002 to move away from the international June celebration. This allowed them to create a music festival unique to Carrboro. The annual celebration of music, which was entering into a fifth year, would still be “The Fête” to all who participated; it would just fall a few months later.
There’s only one big change this year. Almost a quarter of a century after its founding, this is the first year musicians will be paid. Helvey joined a group of musicians advocating for pay. The Carrboro Town Council agreed it was time to put their money where their art is: the local music scene.
“After many months of review and negotiation, the Carrboro Town Council allocated $25,000, which allows us to pay each group $250. Although that reduces our total music groups from 200 to 100, it’s the right thing to do.”
Helvey said that she and the board are now reviewing submissions and are ready to make offers to 100 groups, mostly local, some from the greater Triangle and Triad.
“This is a new year for us and we want to celebrate big time after two years of COVID-related issues that hurt our creative industries ability to perform in front of live audiences.”
So on October 1st and 2nd, 2022, we will once again celebrate the Carrboro Music Festival. Events will be held at venues all over Carrboro, from Craftboro on South Greensboro to the Speakeasy, Cat’s Cradle, Century Center, ArtsCenter, 401 Main, and many other traditional and new locales. Most events will take place on Sunday, October 2nd.
The Festival is still free, of course, and parking is available in town and by shuttle, through the local free fare transit system with shuttles to/from University Lake on Jones Ferry Road.
So the beat goes on. Call it Fête de la Musique, Carrboro Music Festival, or the Paris of the Piedmont’s Parade of Performers. Just be there and bring a pair of dancing shoes. In Carrboro this year, October is Rocktober again.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.