ENO13400It’s astounding how rapidly a kind of casual but close community seems to come together and just coalesce naturally around an event like the Eno River Music Festival.

I stroll in among waves of visibly different types of people, from the local residents looking only for an interesting July 4th weekend out in the woods, and the regional music-lovers who wouldn’t miss a Bombadil show for anything but their own wedding, to the high school students looking for a thrill and the musicians themselves, who are generally impossible to categorize beyond the open-ended label of “musician.”

But despite all the distinct demographics, the camaraderie is nearly instantaneous. Within half an hour I am fielding questions and shocked looks from small children curious about how hammocks work and sharing freshly cut watermelon with a local artist who makes what look to be chandeliers out of what look to be tires.

Shared laughs, meaningful looks, and backward glances bring strangers together, uniting to appreciate the homemade ice cream, the ukulele lessons, a particularly powerful song, or simply the awesome variety of dance moves exhibited at the front of the stage. (I mean “awesome” in a dictionary sense, of course.)

I am there Saturday July 6th, for the second day of the festival at Durham’s Eno River State Park. I am surrounded by local music, local food, local art, and local people. But on top of all of that, there is a deep sense of pride.

–Pride in the community and the wonderful things we’re capable of — on an instrument, in the kitchen, or with a welder — but also a pride in the people and the park itself. The weekly Moral Monday protests at the N.C. General Assembly get a lot of shoutouts, but the stage never becomes a venue for a political stump speech or a rally; the protests are simply a community endeavor to be praised and encouraged.

And the announcements between each set make it clear: This festival is for the park and the Eno River itself. Money raised goes to the Eno River Association, and huge amounts of effort on the part of the staff and the visitors are intended to keep this festival from leaving even the slightest trace of human imposition on this natural land.

Many festival-goers, myself included, take the event as an opportunity to just explore the area for a while — with a little musical backdrop as an added bonus. And few of the immediately local bands fail to mention at least something about their favorite places to swim or wander or picnic around the park.

This environment, the pride, and the shared experience of it all bring people together — there is a trust and a sympathy there that was not before. And by the time I board the bus at the end of the day to shuttle back to parking, I can feel there’s something different, something new between people. They know what I’m smiling about, and I know who that lady’s talking about when she gushes to her neighbor, “And the drummer? I mean POW!”

This year a lack of funds led festival organizers to limit it to two days, instead of the usual three, but the great weather and attendance seem to bode well for next year’s celebration.

They say you can tell a lot about a people by the state of their bathrooms. Well, “Toilet Row” speaks for itself: with its comfortably spaced port-a-potties (a cramped row of those monstrosities ranks among my vilest nightmares), straw-covered ground (to preempt the gross, ubiquitous mud that tends to surround these things), and locally-sourced hand-washing stations complete with soap-pedals (useyerfoot.com) … actually I don’t really know how to interpret all that. “They” tend to say a lot, but they’re not great at explaining themselves or responding to follow-up questions.

Anyway, the state of the bathrooms was good. Impressive, even.The state of the park and the community was even better.