The first thing you notice when you walk through the gates of Shakori Hills are the smiles. Above the sounds of bluegrass from the Cabaret tent and the smell of sage wafting through the air, are the smiles being worn by festival-goers of all ages, races, and amounts of tie-dye. It is those enormous grins accompanied by a jovial, “Happy Shakori!” that really lets you know you’ve pulled into the right festival.
Shakori Hills is a bi-annual, four- day festival of music and arts that is held in Pittsboro, North Carolina every spring and fall. This year, the festival landed on the weekend of Fall Break for UNCG, taking place from October 4-7. The festival showcases craft and food vendors, healers, dancing and most notably musicians during its four-day span every year.
This year, some of the over fifty bands this year included Lettuce, Locos Por Juana, Hayley Jane & the Primates, Yarn, The Blind Spots and of course Donna the Buffalo, who are some of the founders and host bands of the festival. The genres span a variety of genres as well, representing everything from bluegrass to Latin music to country. There was something for everyone, and every act seemed to be more explosive than the last.
One of my personal favorite parts of the festival were the dance workshops which spanned most of Saturday in the dance tent. From clogging to salsa, beginners lessons in a variety of styles were provided for festival-goers, whether you’d brought a dancing partner or not. After choosing whether you wanted to be the leader or the follower (no matter your gender orientation), the lesson would begin just in time to learn a few steps before the next band went on.
It was after each lesson that the fun really began. Once the lessons were finished, a band which corresponded with that style of music would take the stage, and the dancers would get to strut their stuff. Though I was born with two left feet, I still twirled my way throughout the dance tent, only stepping on a few very understanding toes through the sets of the Resonant Rogues and Locos Por Juana.
Between the various musical acts, there was also plenty of food to sample. From the warm and comforting vegan options of Kerala Curry to the loaded nachos of Cilantro Mexican Cuisine, the festival lent itself to a pretty incredible food tour. After trying nearly every truck, I have to say that the tater tots from American Meltdown were my festival favorite, and quite possibly were the greatest tots I will ever eat.
With all of the sounds, sights and smells, the festival could get a bit overwhelming. Luckily, the founders of Shakori Hills had thought of this, and had set apart places for meditation and relaxation. This included yoga, massages and natural healers who offered their services to all festival-goers. One of the more beautiful areas for healing involved the Peace Park, a small section of the grounds which were intended for patrons to sit and talk about peace in a quiet, more solitary area before returning to the exciting and stimulating sights of Shakori.
Overall, the most wonderful part of Shakori Hills is the magic. From walking through a forest of Jack-o-Lanterns that adorn the trees like a scene from Harry Potter, to the sounds of laughter and music that echo into the sky throughout the night, long after the bands have packed up. Shakori feels like another universe just a few miles from home, a universe built on joy and the kind of unconditional love that seems to become so rare in adulthood.
After the midday parade on Saturday, I spoke with Mystic Waters from The Bulltown Strutters about the energy of Shakori Hills. With a smile that reached ear to ear, he summed up the festival with words that represented what everyone seemed to be feeling. “Shakori is the place where you can be free, let go, put your feet into the mud, let the rain baptize you, and let the spirit move you… I mean what a place for the hippies! For the new age hippies to be free. This is where you need to be at.”