I want to thank everyone responsible for putting in the stretch of sidewalk along Hwy 12 adjacent to the Berkley property. It is so nice to be able to walk facing traffic and not have to be in the road or mud along that curve. Additionally, given yesterday’s storms it was unexpectedly dry there this morning – no more water pooling, too!

Atticus and I are grateful that our morning walk is safer and more pleasant.
–Finley Austin, Ocracoke
Editor’s note: The NCDOT installed the sidewalks and Ocracoke’s County Commissioner Tom Pahl adds the following: The DOT did make the road improvements, but only because of an intense lobbying effort by Hyde County Manager Kris Noble and me.  Not that we aren’t grateful….we are very much, and we hope they come back in the fall and work on some other tasks we have been talking about.

The NC DOT recently installed new sidewalks in front of the Berkley Manor. Photo: C. Leinbach
We’re passing on Ocrafolk (but NOT Ocracoke)

It was the last day of the Ocrafolk festival in 2004, and while we were settling our boat into a slip at the Community Store docks, we heard music coming from down the road and, a short while later, we followed our ears to find chairs set up in the yard beside Books to Be Read and a band performing on a raised platform. The festival was almost over, but we stayed to hear the “grand finale” and were hooked.  We haven’t missed a single year of the festival since; we made it our major boat trip of the year and built our time on the island around the festival. It became more than special for us; it acquired an almost magical quality that uplifted us spiritually in more than just a musical sense.

Why would we keep returning for so many years? 

First and foremost, the music was really good! Nothing compares to live music, and all the participants were certainly above average, and the best ones were astoundingly talented. 

Second, attending the festival seemed to generate a community feeling, as if one was part of the Ocrafolk “family.”  During a break between numbers, the people next to you in the audience would grin and talk about previous festivals they had attended, brag on who had the oldest T-shirt and the like.  Events like the potluck supper made the attendees feel even more like, for that one weekend at least, they were part of the unique island culture that is Ocracoke. 

Third, as tightly organized as it might have been behind the scenes, there were no gates, no walls, no restrictions.  A large part of this probably came from it being an outdoor festival…being able to walk down the street to the Live Oak Stage and then wander back up Howard Street and over to the smaller venues in the church yard, but there was something more–the festival felt very informal, loose, and free.  And, the word “free” being mentioned, the fact that the festival had donations boxes rather than a formal admission charge was a plus,  but would we spend a considerable amount on diesel fuel, dockage, restaurants, and two days each way of our time to attend a festival just because it was free?  Absolutely, not! It was the culture of the festival that made it so appealing.

Sadly, that culture we so much enjoyed has changed. There is certainly nothing wrong with making enough money to pay the musicians, rent the chairs and tents and other direct festival expenses, but Ocracoke Alive has stated a goal of expecting the festival to help support “hundreds of hours of student and community programs that would vanish without your funding.”
Of course, there is nothing wrong with this either, but to us at least, this seems to be the driving force that has changed the atmosphere at the festival. For many years the mission seemed to be to bring music to people; over the years it seems to have moved more and more towards making money.

Changes other than financial ones have evolved as well.  Politics has reared its head, especially in the last two years.  We expect musicians to be left-leaning but having so blatantly disrespectful lyrics sung by some of the musicians makes it less palatable to those who might lean the other way.  Last year would have been our 15th festival; we came to the island at Ocrafolk time, and given all the changes, planned to decide whether to attend after we got there.

We walked to the festival area and immediately decided not to attend. It was not the ever-increasing price of admission, politics, or even the more formalized and rigid atmosphere, which was almost palpable–it was the “walls!” The walls were the final straw that made us realize that the entire culture of Ocrafolk had changed; it was no longer the festival we loved so much. The sense of community was severely diminished both visually and physically. There were those on the inside and those on the outside.  

Our first reaction was anger, but it was soon replaced by a wistful sadness.  While we are old folks (71), and perhaps set in our ways, perspective has shown us that it’s inevitable that things change.  We accept that. A few things actually change for the better, but sadly, to us, Ocrafolk is one that hasn’t.  

The only thing that clearly hasn’t changed is the music; it looks like this year’s festival has a great lineup.  We’re sad that we won’t be there to see and hear it and enjoy the sense of community that used to make the festival so special.

Rick and Anne Joslin
Carolina Beach, N.C.

Ocrafolk Festival director David Tweedie responds:

First of all, I appreciate the writer sharing their concerns. Ocrafolk Festival is obviously an event they have held close to their hearts, and that’s good to see! At Ocracoke Alive, we certainly thought long and hard about the transition of the Ocrafolk Festival into its new form of a ticketed event. Every year we experiment with different elements and tweak them in an attempt to make the festival more enjoyable, sustainable and supportive of a greater community purpose. Sometimes we make brilliant discoveries and sometimes we are learning from our mistakes. Our mission walks a delicate balance between just meeting the needs of our visiting tourist population, whom we love and consider our extended family, and serving the needs of the students and community members of our remote and underserved island.

Inside the ‘pay walls’ of the 2018 Ocrafolk Festival at the Live Oak Stage, School Road. Photo: C. Leinbach

I will be the first to say that constructing walls that determine one patron to be inside and one to be outside can seem less than ideal, even harsh. We thought long and hard about it before implementing it. In addition to helping clarify that the Ocrafolk Festival performance areas were now ticketed areas, one additional advantage is that as the festival gets busier, these walls can help provide a more intimate concert experience for those who choose to be in the concert listening mood. It separates the performance from the equally valuable carnival nature of the street festival.

Although the writer mentions that the charging for the event is not really at the heart of their concerns, they did refer to an increase over the years in Ocrafolk Festival pleading for money from the stage. When we made the change to tickets in 2018, I was uncertain of the response from our fans (and this is why we polled them before we made the transition).

What surprised me the most about their response? Over 95% of those who responded said, “It’s about time you charged for this wonderful weekend. It makes it so much clearer to us for you to ask for exactly what you need, rather than to hint at an unspecified donation.”

The financial difference to our bottom line was that ticketing turned the Ocrafolk Festival from a break-even nail biter that was about to fold, to an event that cleared $15,000 in support of community programming. And from the stage last year, attendees heard zero percent begging for money, only our thanking them for supporting the event with their ticket purchase. That should make the writer happy!

 I did receive some calls from concerned attendees who felt that the new ticket prices made it prohibitive for their group to be able to attend. For those who expressed concerns about the cost, I introduced them to our Volunteer program, which allows anyone to attend the festival free of charge in exchange for four hours of service to the event.

Ocrafolk Festival is only possible with the contributions of hundreds of hours of volunteers, most of whom are not residents of Ocracoke Island. At the writing of this letter, I have over 40 off-island volunteers who will be making Ocrafolk Festival 2019 happen. I have not turned down anyone’s help.

And now a quick note about community need. The writer loves Ocracoke and our wonderful music scene. Indeed, we do have a magnificently musical (and artistic) community that entertains visitors. Let’s match that up against a total absence (due to lack of funds) of a music program for our Ocracoke students.

Ocracoke Alive has been in discussion with the wonderfully supportive administration at Ocracoke School about working together to remedy this shortfall. But it will take time, planning, and financial support. The Ocrafolk Festival is merely one of the sources of funding that could help create this program. Tax-deductible contributions from concerned Ocracoke fans (like the writer) could play a critical role in creating and growing such a program.

I would love the writer, and everyone, to feel included as part of our Ocrafolk Festival community by stepping within the boundaries of the stage screens. Think of them not as walls that exclude . . . think of them as a foundation that help inspire the next generation of Ocracoke.

David Tweedie
Executive Director, Ocracoke Alive

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  1. The last thing I want is to get into a “flame war” with someone whom I consider to be a musical genius. I’ve said my piece and thank the Observer for posting it. Thanks for all the great festivals we’ve enjoyed over the years, and I wish Dave, Ocracoke Alive, and the festival all the best for continued success in all the years to come. (And this is from the guy who wrote the letter that Dave responded to!)

  2. Well said David. No doubt if Admissions had not begun Ocrafolk Festival would no longer be sustainable. Thank you for your hard work and dedication . Also a Big Thanks to all the Volunteers.

  3. Super news on the sidewalk!!! We have only visited Ocracoke once (April 2017) and realize the challenges you all have to accommodate foot traffic. I wonder about the use of boardwalks where appropriate. We stayed at Ocracoke Harbor Inn (lovely) and the stretch of road on Silver Lake Drive was a bit of a mess to walk.

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