Booming business accompanies Carrboro Music Festival

In this photograph from last year's Carrboro Music Fest by photographer Alicia Stemper, dancers enjoy the music at one of the many venues. This year's music fest is slated for Sept. 27-28.
In this photograph from last year’s Carrboro Music Fest by photographer Alicia Stemper, dancers enjoy the music at one of the many venues. This year’s music fest is slated for Sept. 27-28.

Every year, the Carrboro Music Festival is accompanied by the beat of footsteps along the crowded downtown streets. And local businesses are keeping tune.

Many of them say it’s their best day of the year.

“We’ve had record-breaking days in the past,” said Jared Fruth, an employee at Jessee’s Coffee & Bar, one of the festival venues. “It’s a madhouse. It’s great.”

The festival, which is free of charge and features local musicians, craftspeople and other vendors from across the Triangle area, expanded into a two-day event last year. This year’s festival will kick off on Saturday, Sept. 27, with performances at the Carrboro Town Commons from 2 to 6 p.m. Later in the evening, Cat’s Cradle’s Back Room will host musicians, with the doors opening at 8 p.m.

On Sunday, Sept. 28, more than 180 musicians will fill stages across downtown Carrboro at 25 venues. Listeners can hear genres ranging from Celtic rock to jazz to bluegrass.

Last year’s festival drew a crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 people over both days, said Rah Trost, recreation supervisor at the Carrboro Department of Recreation and Parks, which helps organize the event.

“(The businesses) are always pleased to be a part of the festival,” Trost said. “There’s also a number of businesses that are there and aren’t necessarily official venues, but are open, and there are a lot of people that are dining and drinking.”

The event requires nine to 10 months of planning, Trost said. The festival shuts down Weaver Street from Main Street to Town Hall, and despite a free shuttle bus, parking creates a logistical challenge.

“The logistics of mobilizing all the stages and the bands, 180 bands and 25 venues — that’s a lot to organize,” Trost said. “Logistically, the parking is sort of the Achilles’ heel of it all. We really encourage people to take the shuttle, and it’s not as utilized as we’d like it to be.”

But although the limited parking space may be inconvenient to some, it draws potential customers to explore the downtown area as they walk around the festival, which benefits local businesses, Fruth said.

“It gets a lot of people out in the streets patronizing businesses,” he said. “There’s just so many people, especially when it’s good weather.”

The festival is an economic boon not only for restaurants and bars, but it also attracts consumers to art galleries, bicycle shops and other varieties of businesses, with Carr Mill Mall serving as a central hub, Trost said.

“People that have really just never been to town before are walking around and seeing things for the first time and get to go into shops,” Trost said. “It’s just a really good trickle-down effect.”

For Steel String Craft Brewery, another festival venue, beer and music go hand in hand.

“It provides us access to many, many people and a venue to sell our beer,” said Eric Knight, the brewery’s “hoopla czar” and one of its owners.

“Music lovers are definitely beer lovers, too, and that’s a big part of our business plan. It brings our ideal customer base to us and makes it easy to sell beer.”

The festival comes at an ideal time to debut the brewery’s new patio, which has been in the works for the last five to six months, Knight said.

“We’ll basically have lots of people to buy our beer and hang out,” he said. “The patio will draw people who have never heard of us.”

The town prioritizes maintaining the festival as a free event, Trost said.

“The event continues to grow,” she said. “We do want to keep it accessible to everyone.”



Author of the article

Tara is editor of the Carrboro Commons. She is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill and a native of Stokesdale, N.C.