Carrboro Music Festival has two major pieces of news for its 2022 edition. The first is that it will be back to happening in-person on Oct. 1-2 – the first time since 2019, following 2020’s online-only virtual version and 2021’s last-minute cancellation due to resurgent virus-infection rates. As always, it’s free to attend.
The second big piece of news is that, for the first time in Carrboro Music Festival history, musicians will be paid. With underwriting provided by the Town of Carrboro, the festival has a $25,000 budget to pay talent this year.
It’s been a long time coming, and an issue that blew up ahead of last year’s cancellation with heated social-media arguments. But if paying the performing musicians is clearly the right thing to do, it also comes with the downside of forcing the festival to do some belt-tightening. In contrast to past years when more than 200 bands played on several dozen stages across Carrboro, the 2022 model will have about half that number. This year, 100 acts will perform, and each will receive $250.
“But this is the first year, and if all goes well, we hope we’ll get more money to hire more bands,” says Helvey. “We’ve spent the last month or so listening to bands, discussing who’s in and who’s out. It’s a good list and we try to keep it as diverse and local as possible. Some are not from Carrboro or Chapel Hill, but the bulk are. The festival has never brought in bands from outside the state.”
Shows will happen in 16 indoor and outdoor venues across town, from Armadillo Grill to Weaver Street Market. You can get around by hoofing it, or taking shuttle buses. Among the acts on the schedule are harp guitarist Andrew Kasab, the Kingsbury Manx’s C. Albert Blomquist and the School of Rock Chapel Hill House Band.
Carrboro Music Festival has roots far beyond the Triangle, beginning in 1998 as the local branch of Fete de La Musique, a worldwide festival. Carrboro was one of only three participating American cities, alongside New York and San Francisco, but the original festival’s summer-solstice date was less than ideal. So the Carrboro version rebranded itself and moved to the last weekend of September starting in 2001. This year, however, it will be the first weekend of October to avoid conflicting with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.
In keeping with the overall Fete de La Musique concept, Carrboro Music Festival started out as an all-volunteer free event with no cover charges or payments to musicians. But it proved to be a boon to local restaurants and businesses, which profited from the crowds thronging to Carrboro. That led to ongoing complaints from some musicians. This year’s slimmed-down model with a budget to pay performers was the compromise.
“It’s a whole new ballgame with less bands and fewer venues,” says Helvey. “We’ll see how it all pans out, but I for one am not that upset we cut back because it really was almost too much. It’s gonna be fabulous regardless of the number of bands or venues, so come enjoy the day. It’s the only day you can walk around Carrboro and every single person you’ll see is happy. I think it’s Carrboro’s greatest day, a wonderful event for the community.”