MerleFest. Mountain Song. Maggie Valley.
Apple. Hopscotch. Pumpkin.
And my group’s project, Carolina Bible Camp Bluegrass Festival.
The September festivals of North Carolina stand like spotlights before an uncertain audience, waiting to brighten their surroundings while praying the curtain doesn’t fall too early.
So many festival cancellations occurred in 2020 before the hope of a COVID-19 vaccine was on the horizon. Masking, social distancing, and obsessive-level handwashing were not enough to permit festivals in the throes of a pandemic.
A collective howl went up when MerleFest organizers pulled the plug on the 2020 April festival, understandably required by the Center for Disease Control and Governor’s restrictions on public gatherings. A month later, I watched grown men wipe away tears when they voted to cancel all seven weeks of 2020 summer Camp, a historic and tough decision for the Carolina Bible Camp & Retreat Center board of directors.
And I had the difficult task of canceling our 2020 fundraising bluegrass festival, reluctantly informing our artists that we were invoking the global pandemic clause to rescind our contractual agreements.
Everyone understood. Everyone hoped for better times.
We learned what it meant to “pivot.”
Some musical artists, like our good friends The Kruger Brothers, were creative in the face of setbacks. Uwe and Jens (ably assisted by office manager Melissa Call) produced an amazing, high-quality series for YouTube called Food Notes: Cookin’ With the Krugers. There was guitar and banjo, banter, and baking.
But there were no festivals.
Artists found their audiences on Facebook Live, on Zoom, and other social media platforms. There were tip jars, GoFundMe fundraisers, and PayPal: you pay, they play!
In order to keep the lights on at Carolina Bible Camp, we created an online fundraiser called “49 Days of CBC.” Although we missed holding seven weekly sessions of Camp, everyone could participate in the 49-day fundraiser. There were impressive acts of athleticism (bicycling hundreds of sponsored miles) and silliness (“The 49-Day Snack-a-Day Couch Potato Challenge”). We were together while staying apart, and we raised money for our cause.
There were phone calls and e-mails, binge-watching, and emojis.
But there were no festivals.
To those who would call any of 2020’s canceled events “just a festival,” try to understand that they are reunions full of healing music, good food, fellowship, and long, warm hugs. They require unimaginable amounts of teamwork and yet in the end they are somehow both energizing and relaxing.
We like to recall that Carolina Bible Camp Bluegrass Festival has created a number of special moments and relationships.
For example, two different couples have married after first meeting at the festival.
One of our volunteers traveled from Maryland to North Carolina to work with us because the festival fell near the day he had lost his wife. A painful anniversary is now made a bit easier as he gathers with his new friends at CBC each year.
A family that had never heard of the Bible Camp received tickets to attend the festival. The following year, their daughter attended a week of Camp and was baptized. Her sister soon followed. A friend joined the two sisters for a youth conference and was baptized. All three girls walk together in Christ now.
I’ve been present when our volunteers have prayed with our performing artists, and I’ve seen how those artists have been impacted by that simple act.
Each year, at the close of our headliner’s musical set, artists gather onstage to sing, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” It’s a sacred moment. As the audience says their goodbyes, they know that you never really say goodbye to festival friends.
Understandably, we are thrilled, excited, and a little giddy to see that our outdoor festivals will take place this fall. We are prayerful that we will all see each other in September. We crave the reunions, the music, the fellowship!
In 2020, the state of North Carolina lost 1/3 of the previous year’s tourism revenues. Festivals are an important part of our tourism.
More importantly, the lives lost to COVID-19 are precious and irreplaceable.
Therefore, let’s be smart. Please, let’s do everything we can to stop the spread of illness. As a police captain friend of mine says, the coronavirus is going to be around for a long time and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. Not in fear, but with caution, consideration and respect for others, and best practices.
If your physician clears you to get a COVID-19 vaccination, please get it. Vaxx up, mask up. Do what it takes, so we can enjoy these times of our lives.