August 14, 2008

Saturday Swell in Saxapahaw


SAXAPAHAW -- Fridays in Saxapahaw are pretty much like the other four days of the week. Residents of an old-cotton-mill-turned- apartments make the daily round trek to Durham or Greensboro. The Citgo station at the top of the hill sells gas. And the Haw River burbles over the rocks below the bridge that connects the town.

On Saturdays in Saxapahaw, the joint is jumpin'. Farmers roll into town with their crops, a band cranks up some seriously old- school music, and kids slip down plastic-sheets-turned-water-slide as their parents lounge on blankets and plow through the food and drinks in their picnic coolers.

The music festival and farmers' market is in its fourth year in this former mill village on the banks of the Haw River. It draws as many as 1,000 people on Saturday nights from March to October.

"We created something that's like a three-ring circus," said Heather LaGarde, who launched the event in 2005. "It's an old- timey, Brigadoon-y event."

After the LaGardes moved back to the area from New York City in 2004 -- Heather was a Chapel Hill native, and husband Tom played basketball for North Carolina -- Heather was looking for a project. She met Mac Jordan, who had converted a yarn mill once owned by his family into apartments now called Rivermill Village. From their discussions, Saturdays in Saxapahaw was born.

The weekly festival features North Carolina bands that play bluegrass and traditional music and local farmers who sell their crops. Because the LaGardes have two young children, there's a water slide, hula hoops and face-painting for kids.

The perfect spot for this three-ring Saturday-night circus is the parking lot beside the old general store, now home to Jordan's offices and the post office.

The oak- and dogwood-covered hill is a natural amphitheater.

The event took off. Bands such as Polecat Creek, Memphis and the Kickin Grass Band have proved to be regular, reliable draws. Alamance County farmers sell goods as varied as asparagus and wine. And every week, people from the Triad and the Triangle make the trek to a town well off the beaten path.

Holly Coldiron, who lives in nearby Snow Camp, tries to make it out with her two children every Saturday night. She is amazed at how much the event has grown in just four years.

"It's family-friendly and safe for the kids," Coldiron said. "The music is great and the food -- you've got everything."

Contact John Newsom at 373-7312 or [email protected]

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