At last, Shakori Hills purchases its 75-acre Chatham County homestead

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The Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival has purchased its property in Chatham County. Bombadil, seen here playing the festival in 2008, is one of many local bands to have benefited from the event's exposure. - PHOTOS BY D.L. ANDERSON
  • Photos by D.L. Anderson
  • The Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival has purchased its property in Chatham County. Bombadil, seen here playing the festival in 2008, is one of many local bands to have benefited from the event's exposure.

When Jordan Puryear first began scouting area properties for a site that could host a music festival a dozen years ago, an image of an old oak tree creaked from his fax machine. He thought it was beautiful, but he thought that the parcel—newly on the market and located in Chatham County, near the crossroads community of Silk Hope—was beyond his financial reach.

“We drove out to Chatham County and saw the property, not thinking it was a possibility,” Puryear remembers. “But something about it spoke to us immediately.”

Since April 2003, that 75-acre site has served as the home of the biannual Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival, which gathers an assortment of international and local folk, rock and ethnic bands for four days each spring and fall. The festival, which has become a Triangle institution, follows the model of the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance, a summer event co-founded by Puryear in 1991 in Ithaca, N.Y.

On Tuesday afternoon, Puryear at last realized his decade-long quest to purchase the Chatham County property. Shakori Hills now owns its permanent home.

“The property is not going anywhere at this point, and that’s a real relief,” says Puryear. “That will allow us to grow.”

Future plans tentatively include large-scale summer concerts, where fans can camp overnight when the show is over. Puryear hopes to augment lagging music education budgets in schools with music education camps for area children. Sara Waters, the festival’s co-coordinator, hopes that the addition of a permanent indoor dance pavilion will allow for such events year-round.

“Now we can work on improving the property so that we can bring all of our dreams to life,” Waters says in a press release.

The purchase is significant not only for what it funds but also for how it was funded. Puryear and his staff never approached a bank about a loan for the $695,000 property. For the past dozen years, two different supporters of the festival, Anne Winfield and Robert Michener, have owned the land, essentially holding it while the festival collected money to pay for it. During a three-year campaign, they raised a $75,000 down payment. Carol Hewitt—with Puryear, a co-founder of NC Slow Money and a longtime volunteer and organizer at Shakori Hills—then assembled a group of more than 30 individual lenders to cover the remaining $620,000.

During the next 10 years, Shakori Hills Community Arts Center, the area nonprofit that coordinate the festival locally, and the Fingerlakes GrassRoots Organization, the festival’s founding organization and the group that funds the production of the festival, will repay the aggregated loan.

Many of the lenders are local fans of the Shakori Hills festival. Though a few live outside of North Carolina, they all return twice a year to hear the music in Chatham County.

“The Shakori Hills project is an example of using the community to do what it wants to get done, what it needs to get done,” says Puryear. “I’m not sure a bank would have even looked at this.”

The Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance returns April 17–20, 2014.

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