After 27 years of face-painting, magic shows and youth-centric events, the Burlington Carousel Festival rebranded itself for this year’s iteration this week.
The festival added the new “Under the Trees” section, which took up a third of the festival area and featured local vendors, food trucks and bands throughout the day.
“Under the Trees” began last year, but it was unnamed and a fourth of this year’s size, according to Mary Faucette, special events coordinator for the City of Burlington.
“Last year, it just had face-painting, three food trucks and a magic show,” Faucette said. “So maybe a thousand people across the two days. This year’s is much, much bigger.”
Faucette said the goal of the push for the “Under the Trees” section, along with two Carolina Brewery beer gardens added to the Sept. 19-20 event, was to connect better with millennials while still maintaining a kid-friendly atmosphere.
“We wanted to connect with an audience that once came to the festival, like young professionals and recent college graduates,” she said. “We wanted it to be an experience where you could come and hang out whether you were up in the beer gardens or with friends [who] have children.”
The changes worked, Faucette said. City of Burlington estimates a couple thousand people showed up to last year’s festival. Faucette said they “very easily” could have surpassed 10,000 on Saturday alone with the crowd this year’s festival brought in.
A local focus
The crux for the “Under the Trees” section was the variety of local vendors set up in the shade of Burlington’s city park.
“We had four or five downtown Burlington merchants come here and set up,” said Morgan Lasater, the festival’s co-coordinator. “So we’re really trying to connect with all that’s going on in the community here.”
The vendors specialized in arts, crafts and clothing. Southern Glen, a boutique shop in Burlington, sold long-sleeved T-shirts and hand-stenciled chairs. Mary Katherine’s, Dandy Designs and Angie’s Homemade Goods were also among the downtown Burlington vendors present. Grit & Grace, a gift shop located in Mebane, was also present, selling tank tops and wall art.
“It’s great to see the focus of the fair shift more from the event and entertainment part of it to local shops playing more of a factor,” said Southern Glen owner Chelsea Dickey.
Grit & Grace owner Angela Bobal agreed that buying local is a rising trend.
“Now people are asking more and more if something is locally made,” Bobal said. “There’s more awareness, and this will help with that.”
Food also made its way to the “Under the Trees” section. Food trucks for Southern Comfort Catering, Dusty Donuts and Gussy the Greek clustered together selling their cuisine. For those that needed caffeine boosts, The Blend & Co., a coffee shop located in downtown Burlington, sold chai lattes and cold coffee brews.
“When you go here, you see all of your friends in the community,” said The Blend & Co. owner Holly Treadwell. “Most of the people here [in “Under the Trees”] are mostly a downtown Burlington group, so it’s really fun to connect with each other.”
Other festival activities
The introduction of the Carolina Brewery beer gardens to the festival, one near the main stage and the other in the “Under the Trees” section, helped changed the feel of this year’s event, Faucette said.
“It’s easy here,” she said. “It’s relaxing. It doesn’t feel like you’re going to a carnival-type of festival like in the past. You’re going to where you feel like you’re in your backyard hanging with friends.”
The gardens had Sky Blue, Flagship IPA and Copperline Amber on tap. Faucette said the masses didn’t flock to the gardens as a whole, but it helped contribute to more young adults coming to the festival.
Activities for children still had a presence at the festival. The kid’s art tent, a recurring magic show and the carousel drew in families throughout the weekend.
Local bands played on the three festival stages throughout the two days. The main stage featured The Black Lillies — the festival’s headliner — Darkwater Redemption and Eric & The Chill Tones. The Thataways Stage near the art tent had performances from the Alamance Jazz Band and the Graham High School Band. The new “Under the Trees” stage showed Honey Magpie and Sweet T & the Biscuits.
“We’re two years out from our 30th anniversary,” Faucette said. “And when you’ve had a festival for 28 years you try to think outside the box and keep it new and fresh.”