“Wanna go to Ocracoke?” Friend Becki Rea is tempting me with a trip a few weeks down the road. We’re sitting at the bar in Manteo listening to Bill, Doug and Tommy entertain us. Donny’s basketball buddy and his wife have taken over the waterfront eatery, Avenue Grill, and he decides that support all the way around is the perfect evening out. Lora and Ben are a few stools down from us. They recommend a few items which we order. It’s a casual fun evening. Becki explains that friend Liz Teague, she, Lora and I can make a girls’ trip of it. Twenty-four hours. I might just be able to squeeze that in between work commitments. I’m game.
This past Saturday morning sees the four of us head out in Becki’s new Ford to our destination. Hatteras Island is a mess from endless rain water dumped by Bonnie, the storm that wouldn’t quit, for days over the entire Outer Banks. We practically pontoon through pond after pond. There is more traffic headed north than south and we have to yield to most. Finally we reach Hatteras village, make a stop for water, and get in the ferry line. Luck is with us. We are the last car on an otherwise not full ferry. They’re just keeping to the schedule.
The crossing is such a switchback of turns due to so much shoaling that it takes more time than it should. At last we’re actually on Ocracoke. Liz has a good friend who offered her guest cottage aka the overflow for all family things vintage for the evening. We find her house, meet delightful Jennifer and unload. Our little abode is just the right size for the four of us. One couch, two single air mattresses, a foam padding pallet plus two desks, a dresser, boxes of vinyl lps and the room is maxed out. We are shoe horned in and could care less. Bathroom and shower are but a few steps away in the main house.
Jen, married to native Wayne (the main street on the island sports their surname) as well as being a career upper class level science teacher at the island’s one school, hands us our entry buttons (although I never saw anyone check, everything is that casual) and the five of us are off to experience the festival. It’s within walking distance as is most everything, but still golf carts are everywhere. The island favored mode of transportation, along with bicycles and shanks’ mare.
We start out mostly together and pretty much remain that way dividing and conquering occasionally and flowing back together with ease. The festival is low key, fun, and full of high caliber treats. The Green Grass Cloggers start us off. From there between two backyard venues, within short walking distance of each other, we hang with the Oak Grove String Band, Lipbone Redding, De Tierra Caliente, The Bucket Brothers. Every other person we see is from Dare County. Our county is well represented. Friends send their love to Donny. I send him a photo of the house to rent that would be perfect for his porch style listening.
We eat lunch that we buy from food vendors and sit on the deck of the Thai Moon (they are closed choosing to be a food vendor for the afternoon) to the tunes of the Blue Eyed Bettys and Maggie and Cassie MacDonald. We get beer and Lora and Liz sandwiches from The School Road Deli. Lora gets the Vice-Principal. I vow to get Laurie McKay an author gig at the school. Her books will fit right in and lunch at the deli is a must for her. We explore the artisan offerings. I buy a requisite t-shirt and we decide to mosey back to the homestead for a shower before dinner and the evening shows.
Lora and I opt for the outside shower. It’s a cobbled affair I fall in love with. Tiny, it sits right beside a little canal, Jen realistically calls a ditch, that flows to the sound when the wind blows the water the right way. Inside the shower there is barely enough light to see snakes and spiders that probably love it as much as me. I don’t care. I go first to shoo any visitors out for Lora. I only find a few small slugs climbing the walls of the bathtub you must stand in. Refreshed I dash across the yard in my towel to dress in the slightly larger cottage.
Donny’s bag of pistachios that he tossed at me as I’m leaving home work well for an appetizer. We nibble on cinnamon buns and chocolate chip cookies I have managed to bake before leaving home. Dessert out of the way, upon Jen’s recommendation, we walk to the Ocracoke Oyster Company for dinner. We figure everything in town is going to be packed. Becki orders a Mule. Our waitress doesn’t know it but after Becki explains the simple drink she says no problem. We all fall in line except for Jen, who is our DD and also has her stellar teacher image to maintain. We declare the Mules perfect and before we leave have another round.
We walk back to the house to get the car. Jen needs to check on the mom and pop motel in town that she and Wayne own and it’s right next to the evening venue where Kaira Ba is going to be performing. They’re just getting started. We all begin standing together near the front but as the evening progresses Liz and I inch even closer while Becki, Jen and Lora move in the opposite direction. They want the full experience, we want the Mosh Pit rhythm. Liz has been instructed by Steve to check the group out as potential for the Salvage Station. Almost immediately, Liz and I look at each other and grin, perfect for Asheville. Every member is a dynamic force. They blend well. Senagal native Diali Cisokcho with his 22 string kora is magical. And the universal theme of love is evident in every piece. We are mesmerized.
Show over, we drift off to find the others. Our next stop is the community center where Michael Stanwood is performing. You could not find two more diametrically opposed acts. Michael works alone occasionally accompanied by David Tweedie but the show is his. He’s miked but he really doesn’t need to be. He might just have performed the song of the festival with his, “I’m Breaking Up With Myself.” It’s just so Ocrafolk. The perfect way to end our evening.
Back home we organize our bedding and fall into various states of sleep that bring on morning all too soon. Jen has a pot of rich coffee ready. That paired with the balance of the cinnamon buns and we’re all awake. We pack up and have just enough time to take a quick trip to the beach in Jen’s four wheel drive. It’s smack on high tide, still the beach is wide and beautiful. We soak it all in and decide to stop at the Fig Tree Bakery and Deli and Sweet Tooth for take out breakfast to be picked up on our way out of town. We hug Jen goodbye after she lets up steal some mint (it won’t grow if you don’t steal it) which is overtaking her garden. She loads us up with homemade fig preserves. A better new friend would be hard to find.
We stop for our breakfast and aim for the ferry. There is a line. They’re loading. There is an RV in front of us. Some cars have gone around it. We try and are stopped. Then we are waved forward. Literally last vehicle on. We rock. Liz texts Jen our success. Goodbye Ocracoke. When Liz asks me what impressed me the most about the festival, I say everything and then pause. While that’s true, I’m most impressed that between my last visit three decades ago and now not much has changed. Sure businesses have come and gone and growth has happened. But to the outside observer, it’s still the same quaint neighborly island I remember. Were a golden opportunity such as the one that brought us to our beloved home on Colington Island open up I’d move there in a heartbeat.