The weekend I choose to return to Ocracoke puts me in the middle of much activity. It is the Ocracoke Music and Storytelling Festival. With spectacular weather in store, tents are set up on Howard Street for music and vendors.
There is no time to unpack or take a lazy walk on the beach since folks are meandering in and out of the cottage with mandolins, guitars, accordions and every other instrument that can be played on a stage!
The crew behind the scenes, Ocracoke Alive, has provided activities for everyone of all ages … now we just wait.
My son, Adam, and Tara are to arrive on the 11 p.m. ferry. It is always fun to wait for the arrival of guests. Folks either get on the ferry or they miss it, so no one ever shows up unannounced.
Adam calls to say they are on the ferry and on their way. By midnight I am waiting for their arrival. It is dark on this sandy lane with just a few amber lights shining through the windows. Adam has been to Ocracoke before, but not at midnight. Soon, I hear the car and their laughter. They tumble into the cottage regaling us with stories of their travels.
They tell me they met a friend of mine on the ferry. It must be a late arrival to the festival, I think.
“Two musicians,” they say excitedly, “who serenaded us across the waters.”
I know right away who it is. “Bob Zentz and Jeannie!” I exclaim. I met Bob on my first trip to Ocracoke. He is a balladeer of sea music and a master of all instruments. I smile to myself as I listen to their tales of travel. Who wouldn’t want a midnight serenade?
Morning arrives quickly with folks in and out for coffee and doughnuts since Philip’s cottage is the green room. We gather our chairs and head out to one of the stages for some fine folk music. The musicians have come from all over, not just North Carolina. The MacDonald sisters have come from Nova Scotia with their fiddles and step dancing. I take one of their workshops determined I can do the skip and a hop, but I think my recovering ankle needs a little more time before the hopping!
Philip and I both join in the parade of the large Paper Puppets up and down the street. I laugh and wave my seagull around for the crowd. By now I am immersed in the Ocracoke community and feel I have “come home.”
Dusk takes us all to the Community Square where Philip calls the traditional Ocracoke dance for locals and guests alike. I take a few moments out to just watch as the sun sets over Pamlico Sound to the fiddle tunes of the musicians. Adam and Tara are laughing and loving every moment of their Ocracoke experience.
I soon slip away to the stage under the live oaks. I am to emcee the Women’s Ocrachicks set. By 9:30 we are all gathered on the stage, the women performers of the Opry led by Marcy Brenner. The audience sits under the waxing moon with a sky full of stars. There are 700 folks in the audience for our show; almost more than the population of this little island.
There are songs and stories. I recite my new poem, “Summons,” by Robert Francis. By 11:30 I meander the sandy lanes home.
By Sunday night, guests have taken ferries back home to get ready for work the next day or are spending the evening tucked away in little cottages by the sea wishing they could stay forever.
Philip’s cottage becomes home for the cast party and food is spread out in my Mad Mag Studio. The back porch is the catalyst for music. I am amazed at the energy of the musicians! After playing for two full days they are still wanting more, and so do we. At one point there are five fiddle players dueling it out!
We want it to last forever, but by two in the morning all is quiet. There will be much clean up and many stories to tell about this festival. Friendships have been made and addresses exchanged.
My sleep is echoed with the sounds of music playing, hands clapping, feet stomping. This is my first festival in the past few years. I wonder to myself why I have missed it?
Finally, all is quiet in this little cottage by the sea.
LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola at the White Picket Gardens where you can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and a collector of front porch stories.