ST. PAULS — There was a stage crowded with local talent, more than a dozen food vendors and craft booths that numbered four times that amount.
The thousands of people who descended on Armfield Street on Saturday could agree on one thing — for such a small town, St. Pauls can throw a big festival.
“It’s great that they can bring all these people together here,” said Linda Mauldonado, of Lumberton. “It’s different. I get to see faces and things I don’t usually get to see.”
Mauldonado and her sister, Ebie Maynor, were browsing pottery necklaces in the R.E. Hooks Building. Nearby, Tim McMillan’s hands were slowly forming clay on a spinning wheel as a small gathering of kids and adults waited to see what shape it would take.
What was taking place inside was one part of the multilocation Folk Arts Festival, the town’s 13th annual.
On the building’s lawn, the Rev. Ray Faircloth shouted as bidders competed for the chance to take home a cake baked for an auction to benefit the local library. Stationed across the street was a stage where dance and oldies music cranked out of large speakers, and where church groups would later sing. The asphalt in front of the stage turned into a dance floor for festival revelers and for a belly-dancing troupe, who would draw a large crowd.
For those who live in town, the event is a chance to catch up with friends, both familiar and long-lost.
“For a small town like this, it’s good that they can make this happen,” said Carolyn Griffin, of St. Pauls. “You get to see a lot of people you haven’t seen in a while … it brings other people and businesses into the town, too.”
Sharon Anderson and Susan Barnhill, Anderson’s niece, whose business operates under the moniker “Country Girls,” were capitalizing on the Mother’s Day holiday with wreaths and vases.
“We almost didn’t make it out to do this because we were so busy filling orders,” Anderson said,” but we don’t mind.”
While the vendors were happy to see a large crowd, they cited other reasons that bring them back to set up shop year after year.
“This is one of the good ones,” said Greg Waters of Miracle Temple Church in South Carolina, as he turned turkey legs on a charcoal grill. “People treat us real well here.”
Farther down the street, Linda Jacobs waited for customers under an awning adorned with necklaces and dreamcatchers.
“It’s nice,” she said, as she watched people meander by her stall, smiling at some and nodding at others. “People are real friendly here.”
While some shopped and chatted up those who were sitting behind booths, others took a spin on the merry-go-round, slide or swings at Sugar Memorial Park while children played on an inflatable slide or in bounce houses. Families took a seat on a curb and watched the action as they scarfed down barbecue, ice cream, chicken legs, funnel cakes or Italian ice — and festival organizers watched the weather reports closely for the storms that had been promised, but didn’t show.
“It was a good day, and it went really well,” said Duncan Mackie, president of the festival committee. “I think everyone had a really good time … it was a success.”
Abbi Overfelt works for Civitas Media as editor of The Red Springs Citizen and The St. Pauls Review.