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 multi-location 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, which 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 dream-catchers.
“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.”
Glen and Dorsey Hunt, of Lumbee Homemade Ice Cream, were named this year’s featured artists.
Mary Locklear, of Red Springs, was named last year’s artist of note for her booth “Mary’s Pillows.” She said she keeps her plaque in her living room.
“I do good here,” she said. “People’s nice, and I tell everybody about the belly dancers.”
While some shopped and chatted up those who were sitting behind booths, others took a spin on the merry-go-round 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 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.
“I know a lot of prayers were going up for it,” said Rufus McQueen, of the Men’s Fellowship Association. He had been praying for good weather for the 18 pounds of barbecue, 12 pounds of chicken and rice and 200 hot dogs he and other members of the group had prepared.
“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.
“Now, we can look forward to next year,” he said.
In keeping with the festival committee’s tradition of dedicating each year’s event to a behind-the-scenes worker, this one was dedicated to Libby Ferguson — someone who Mackie said “really works hard and embodies the Festival spirit.”
As the booths on Armfield Street cleared out, cars began piling in to Broad Street for the monthly Night Out event, and people started lining up to walk the street and look under the hood.
Among them were Billy and Gail Griffin, who were looking for pointers on the 250 S-10 they are restoring.
“I was telling him we need to get the chrome, a little bit at a time,” Griffin said. “Our next project is to get it painted so we can bring it out here.”
Mike Griffin and his fiance Maria Snyder were sitting near the library in camp chairs as they watched people look at Griffin’s 1970 Dodge Charger.
“I’ve been under the hood since I was 3 years old,” he said. “It’s a sickness, I’m not going to lie to you.”
Griffin took a moment to explain what he finds addicting.
“The cars look better, they smell better, they’re made of metal, not plastic,” he said.
People danced near the downtown pavilion as a DJ cranked out popular tunes. Down past Joe Sugar’s, Jim Reeves played classic rock on guitar while William Locklear banged out the rhythm on a drum kit. On the opposite side of the street, Rob Gable played a fiddle while children danced around his feet.
“I’m just playing music for people to enjoy,” he said. “It’s up to them rather they want to listen or not. … Some people ask me what’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle, and I tell them it depends on whether or not you’re wearing a bow tie. I’m wearing blue jeans, so it must be a fiddle.”
A raffle was held at the end of the night, with Peggy Powell taking home the prize. She was going to bring her Chevelle from Wilmington, but the weather report stopped her and Sheri Smith Blackburn-Jolly from riding in with her classic car.
“I love this whole event, it’s really nice,” she said.
The money she won wasn’t bad either.