Fête Anxiety
Written by Berkeley Grimball after the first Fête de la Musique in 1998

Berkeley Grimball on sax at a recent Carrboro Music Festival I never imagined when I applied for a position on the Carrboro Arts Committee that it would cause me such anxiety that I would be waking up in the middle of the night. I figured I would meet some interesting people, hang some art shows, drink punch and participate in endless discussions about the aesthetic standards of the community. But that was before I heard about Fête de la Musique.

"This happens all over the world," said Elizabeth Boisson, who had lived many years in France. Eighty countries, a community wide free music festival, every year on the summer solstice the town is filled with music of all styles. The second year the French will even send us money. "Fantastique," we all said. The perfect thing to have in "The Paris of the Piedmont." It was only February, plenty of time to put it together.

The meetings went from monthly to biweekly. Venues, street closings, fundraising, publicity, sound systems, volume, trash, buses, volunteers, the Police, the Board of Alderman and ten thousand details sent every meeting into paroxyms of minutia. The only thing not a problem was finding musicians. Out of the woodwork they came - by phone, fax, e-mail and to meetings by the droves. Rockers mostly - it did take a little outreach to bring in some diversity. But only folks with paying gigs regretfully declined.

So on we went, adding venues, adding musicians, adding subcommittees, some of which seemed to have the half life of a soap bubble. It was in April that my sleep started to suffer. I would wake with thoughts like "Are six port-a-pots enough? Are twelve too many?"

Then, Jeff Harrison of Harrison Brothers Productions came to a meeting. He regaled us with festival horror stories from 20 odd years in the business: collapsing stages, electrocuted performers, irate drunks and potential mishaps we had no idea even existed, too numerous to remember. And as an afterthought he pointed out that when most communities undertook a festival of this magnitude, they did so with a year to plan and a budget in the tens of thousands.

That night as I tossed about it hit me. It wasn't just that we had not enough time, no money and absolutely no experience, but there was no one in charge. We were a committee. We were a committee of picture hangers attempting to put on Woodstock in Carrboro and the buck stopped nowhere.

The next day I called fellow committee member, the unflappable and irreverent Jackie Helvey, and pleaded that we stop this Fête before it became the debacle that ruined our good names forever, not to mention the law suits. She talked me down. "It's gonna be great," she said.

And it was better than great, it was fabulous. I won't go into all the wonderful details of how good it was, as that's been done, but to say that you're sorry if you missed it and that it is going to be even better next year. It's not too early to volunteer. Call Carrboro Town Hall at 918-7307.

Berkeley Grimball is the owner of Grimball Jewelers in Chapel Hill, a member of several local bands, and a former member of the Carrboro Arts Committee and the Fête de la Musique Committee.


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