Wendy Kowalski tucked orange, yellow and purple dreadlocks behind her ear before painting a portrait of a mother and her small child in the middle of a field. Nearby, men with varying forms — and lengths — of facial hair played the banjo, drums and guitar while activists passed out flyers to passersby.

Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival, a four-day event held every year in Chatham County, prides itself on welcoming those from all walks of life who appreciate music, art and dance.

"This festival is about putting family and the community first and making sure everyone knows they are welcome," said Elizabeth Cox, the coordinator for the Kids Tent, a special area for children at the event.

It was Kowalski's sixth time showcasing her artwork at Shakori Hills and she said it is the festival she enjoys the most.

"This is my favorite festival because of the amazing people," she said. "They love the music, love the artwork and it's a nice exchange of people."

Kowalski is just one of the many vendors who set up camp during the festival, showcasing artwork, woodcarvings, blown glass, pottery and woven images. This year's festival was held Oct. 6-9. Nonprofits also lined the fields and woods with booths sharing pamphlets and flyers with any who were interested in learning more about their cause.

People from around the world travel to the annual festival to exchange art and music and to learn more about different cultures, Cox said.

"We want everyone who supports and participates and wants to learn about music, art and dance," she said.

The festival's emphasis on family bonding and children's activities is an important incentive for families to attend the festival, Cox said.

There are games, crafts and events for children of all ages and the festival has seen the number of children it entertains in the Kids Tent rise from about 20 to 30 an hour to 200 to 300 an hour.

This is Cox's third year as a volunteer for Shakori Hills but she has brought her family to the event before.

"It's a chance for children to learn a new dance and learn about music," she said. "And some of the older children can even showcase their talents."

More than 40 bands performed during the festival, including first-timer Driftwood.

"The vibe here is fantastic," said John Doll, bassist for Driftwood. "There's nothing shady. It's just a really relaxing, chill venue. It's beautiful and really family focused and you can't go wrong there."

The four-person band ended up playing four different times during the weekend and they said they enjoyed playing on the different stages.

"We got to bounce around and really cater to the different audiences at the festival," said Joe Kollar, banjo player for Driftwood.

Kollar and Doll both said they are looking forward to coming back to Shakori because of the atmosphere.

"The community and the music is really upfront and the focus of the festival," Doll said.


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