I make my way in to town Friday morning and there are still plenty of street parking spots near where I’ll be most of the next 48 hours. As I walk across the block to Art Fort 321, (where I’ll be selling the Morganton Map shirts all weekend, a collaboration with the Urban Monk) most of the foot traffic is other vendors setting up, feeding each other and trying to escape the heat.
We put our racks up casually and admire our sidewalk stand. Shawn and I roam around town finding potential customers and seeing what the festival has brought this year.
The people who are brave enough to be here in the full sun are focused only on ice cream and lemonade. Browsing the vendor stalls is sweaty and intense work, not to mention how the poor souls stuck at the tables feel. The traffic stays slow and manageable until the bands start to unload equipment and the sun shows some mercy and dips below the horizon.
The real rivers of traffic start around dusk when the temperature drops to merely muggy as opposed to the sweltering heat of the day.
Cutting through the studio building is cool, momentarily. It makes me grateful that I’m leisurely vending out of the luxurious comfort of a brick and mortar instead of a canvas stick and flap shelter on the frying pan-like sidewalk.
We take lopsided turns manning the booth and talking to passers-by, all the while anticipating the Friday night show; a pop-up rock show in the alley – scheduled directly against the official Friday festival headliner, Throwdown Jones, playing two blocks away in the middle of the street, main stage to the majority of the festival-goers. But in the alley behind Homer’s, a few lucky visitors are going to witness the birth of a potential beer garden, a grimy and intimate venue, a back-alley oasis to the small town’s mainstreet charm.
Gates are going up in the three alleys that connect in the shared concrete courtyard. They are intriguing and confusing the patrons, who tilt their heads to look over their shoulders, perking their ears to possibly hear some insider info. Hoping they stumbled into something special, hoping the tantalizing buzz in the air means an experience is in their future. The band begins to bring out equipment and more people start to crowd on the patio.
As the band sets up we start not being as stressed. (I can’t speak for the food/bar service crew, they were flashes all night.) It’s too late to turn back now. Either it works, or it doesn’t, and at this point the only thing I can do is watch with optimistic eyes.
Shawn and I do casual security at the gate behind the Art Fort as Marcus sets up to livepaint a mural. Spray paint cans and audio equipment are carried out the door in turns.
The crowd on Homer’s patio grows. There is a station set up at the end of the ramp, a sort of airlock for glass containers – a table with gold Solo cups, clear plastic tumblers for the classier booze drinkers, and a variety of canned beer. Don’t you dare step off that patio with a glass. Get you a cup, sweetie. Go on, now, enjoy the show.
Plastic cups and PBR tall boys galore, people start moving out into the main area – a bit nervously at first, usually deterred by alcohol laws and a lack of entertainment, they realize no one is stopping them from enjoying the show, quite the contrary – Bobbie Snakes is urging them, pushing them, intimidating them into moving up, up to the front. Bouncing around throwing water, taunting the crowd in skin-tight jeans and silver sequined leg warmers. They play to the back alley crowd like it’s an amphitheater. Encore after encore. People hear the music from the street on either side and sneak up the alleys to watch from the other side of the gate. They can hear there’s some awesome rock band playing but there are almost no visuals from the street. The stage is completely contained from any sidewalk vantage point. The alcohol is flowing but contained in a gated area, and the kids still get to enjoy the show safely – the sweet spot for public venues.
Marcus spray paints a peacock on the designated spot on his building – a large section of the wall that has sported a growing number of his temporary murals, layered infinitely over one another, bound to be covered again and again. Public safety officers mosey to the gates one by one, watch the scene, and continue on their way. We breathe a cheerful sigh of relief at their backs each time.
Various local personalities lend their character to the event, live streaming, laughing and boosting the energy until it feels like something we’ve done a hundred times, each time to more comfortable joy. This is gonna work. This IS working. It might even work again… It might be a precedent for years of pop up alley shows. If it leads to tradition, or it never happens again, it was an honor to witness the power of a small town with big talent, paving the way for the inevitable future growth of the downtown district.
We finally hit the road home long after the streets are cleared and the tents are shut down. In the rearview Downtown Sports Bar is still spewing bass lines and after-partiers, we make the half hour drive home to rest before coming back tomorrow.
The streets are more busy today, so finding a street spot close to the gallery is unlikely. I opt for the first lot find devoid of signs warning of the businesses’ close and personal relationship with the tow company. Near a low and leafy tree, in an attempt at subliminal camouflage. Only a block from the gallery, win. We drag an industrial fan with us this time– yesterday was truly too hot to browse, and Jake has the bright idea to plant a fan in front of the shop to slow people down. It’s golden, immediately people are pulled to it.
The day is busier in the streets, but we are feeling sluggish. Yesterday was the intense show, the plan, the thing. Marcus keeps reminding me that we have nothing to stress about today, just enjoy the festival and sell shirts.
It rains briefly, enough to wet the street, and when the sun comes back out, it bakes the moisture off quickly. Small talk, old friends, business cards, sweat.
We stick around, not wanting to miss any important moment of our little world, spreading identies and artwork, philosophical discussion, political arguments, turning backs on some of the less-than-charming visitors enjoying Morganton’s recent transition into relatively lax public drinking laws.
The night relaxes slowly as the bars shut down and the patios empty. We’ve spent most of these two days behind local businesses and doing laps downtown. The crew gathers in the studio to shake off the social interaction overload and make sure the rest of the beer cooler inventory is accounted for and consumed. I fall asleep on the couch, Logan’s Run on the projector screen reminding me what a surreal and incredible universe this is.
To view more of my photos from the Festival click here!
That’s all for this week! Join me next week when I might blog about a hiking trip – or maybe I’ll vent a personal vendetta on hurricane Florence. Stay safe!
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