Q&A: Folk Festival manager Caroline O’Hare has long to-do list

It’s difficult to image who in the community will be called upon to do as much work in the community — and under extreme pressure — then Caroline O’Hare.

Selected from a field of more than a dozen candidates who applied for the position, O’Hare is Salisbury’s Local Manager for the National Folk Festival. That means she has about 10 months to put together an event that hopes to draw as many 100,000 people.

O’Hare has proven her production management skills in some of the most challenging and highly regarded media environments throughout her career — notably as the Creative Director for the morning show “Live! With Kelly and Michael,” where she produced daily promotions, gave direction to on-air talent, and oversaw a team of editors and graphic designers.

Prior to working with Live!, she was a Senior Writer and Producer for The Wendy Williams Show, and a Producer for MTV/Viacom.

After moving to Salisbury, O’Hare was employed as the Administrative Head of Wicomico Day School, where supervised the daily activities of staff and students, as well as acting as liaison between parents and faculty, and overseeing the school’s multiple fundraisers and events.

As Salisbury’s Local Manager for the National Folk Festival, she will be the city’s direct line to the National Council for the Traditional Arts to ensure that the Festival is a remarkable success for the entirety of its three-year residency in Salisbury.

With myriad essential tasks which require constant oversight, the position demands that the Manager serve in multiple capacities, switching gears frequently, all while maintaining a sharp eye for detail. In addition to representing the festival, writing grants, and communicating with media outlets, O’Hare  will supervise the marketing of the festival and will work with the city, the NCTA, and the Festival’s Executive Committee to create fundraising materials.

First held in 1934, the National Folk Festival is the oldest multicultural festival of traditional arts in the nation, and has been produced from its inception by the National Council for the Traditional Arts.

It is a traveling festival produced in partnership with communities around the country.  The National Folk Festival’s three-year stay in each host city is intended to lay the groundwork for sustainable, locally-produced festivals and events that continue after the National moves on.  To date, the National has been presented in 26 cities.

Q. Do you have any clue what you have you signed up for? This is a huge endeavor.

A. I am incredibly honored I was selected for this position.  The impact it’s going to make is going to be astronomical, so I’m very excited.

We are going to succeed. Because we have a lot of support. We have a lot of guidance, especially with the NCTA. The people who have signed on so far are committed 110 percent.   We have the ability to do this. The city was selected by the NCTA. They wouldn’t have picked us if we couldn’t do it. The festival has been going on since 1934. It started traveling later on and it’s been in 26 cities. They came out here. They did site visits and they looked at our master plan. They have faith in us and I know that we can do this.

Q. You had a great quote in Salisbury Independent. When asked to describe the event, you said: “It’s not Woodstock. It’s not Joni Mitchell.” So what is it?

A. When you hear folk festival I think of Joan Baez, who I think is amazing. They could have traditional American folk songs, but this is about the American arts. This is about living traditions. In music, dance, art, in craftsmanship. So if you think about the different cultures that make up all Americans. It’s not just music from Appalachia or it’s not just Cajun music or rockabilly or things like that. It’s all Americans. It’s Americans who were here in the beginning.  Native Americans, all the way to our newest visitors who make up this fabric of America.

At the Greensboro festival that we visited, one of my favorite nights was the night the salsa band came. The crowd was electric. There were little kids dancing. Older people. No one was sitting down. In fact the police officers who were on the side of the stage, basically just there to make sure nobody went up on stage, were dancing so much the band called them up on stage. These two men had two women dancing with them. The crowd lost it. They just thought they were amazing

Q. The festival has been in Greensboro for three years. It will be here for three years and it will be in Downtown Salisbury. How is that going to work?

A. We want to focus on Downtown because Downtown has great bones and structure and it’s the heart of our city. We want to show everybody how amazing our Downtown is. When we bring it downtown, we’re putting Downtown on a national stage. We’re having visitors come in. Our local restaurants, businesses. We want to show off our town. We’ll have it for three years with the national and after that we’ll continue that legacy with our own festival.

I think what a folk festival can do is shine a light on communities that have this great potential. We have an amazing community here and we want to show it off.  We want people to know that, hey, when I come to the Eastern Shore, I’m stopping at Salisbury because Salisbury is as special place.

Q. Will you position stages all around the Downtown?

A. Yes. There are about seven stages. Performers perform multiple times over the three days, so you can try and see every single person. I tried in Greensboro. I was running all over the place. You start to get into a rhythm of how to catch the acts. They’re about 45 minutes. Sometimes a little longer.

There was a polka band there with a family, so the main polka player was a father with his daughters. Before that, there was a representative from Arthur Murray and they taught everybody dance step, so it’s very interactive. They want people to learn about these traditions. You know what it’s like? It’s kind of like traveling without ever leaving Salisbury.

Q. OK, now you’re getting me excited about this event.

 A. I know. It’s going to be so exciting. I can’t wait.

Q. To pull all of this off, you’re going to need some money

A. Sure. We are reaching out to our community, to our business leaders. We want, especially our local businesses, to be up front. We’re reaching out to them first. We’ve gotten a good amount of interest. Hopefully, that ball will start rolling and we’ll get to where we need to be.

Q. You’ll need volunteers.

A. Exactly.  When I was in Greensboro, I walked by two younger guys in their 20s or 30s and they had so much fun. They said, “Next year, we need to volunteer. This is great.”

Q. Do you really need 800 volunteers?

A. I would say we need a little more than 800.  When I was talking to the coordinator in Greensboro they had a little over 800 people and 1,000 spots.

Q. The city is worried about where everyone is going to stay. Obviously we want them to stay close so they will spend money here. The City Council wants to do something with Airbnb. Will that help?

A. I really can’t speak to that. I do know that Wicomico tourism, Worcester tourism and our business development program are working together and working with hotels. I heard there are bus tours that are being formed from Ocean City. Everyone is on board. There will be a place for everyone to stay. I think our hotels in Salisbury will be at maximum capacity.

Q. Someone said to me years ago that Salisbury is not a music town. They said it’s an arts town, that 3rd Friday has caught on but some of the things we’ve tried, like at the old firehouse, just don’t catch on in the same way. Is that true? Are there music towns? Art towns?

A. If that is true, this festival is going to change that. Some people are going to be more interested in the craftsmanship. Some people are going to be more interested in the discussions.  Some people are going to be more interested in the music. There truly is something for everyone. For me, I didn’t think salsa was my thing, but that was one of the highlights for me. I loved it. I was exposed to it at that festival.

Q. You have an interesting background. Talk about your experience.

A. I have about 20 years’ production experience. My husband and I lived in New York. While I was there I worked for various production companies I did freelancing. I worked at Wendy Williams. I was the senior writer and producer for their promos. That was a lot of fun doing daily promos and campaigns. It’s a lot of fun. After that I moved to Live With Kelly and Michael when Michael was still there. A lot of fun. They’re a great group of folks. They are incredibly hard working. Funny. And, Michael had a job before that show. And she did, too, she had jobs. They moved. They hustled.  As soon as the show would end I would run upstairs and we would shoot promos with them.

A few months later, we moved here because I found out I was pregnant and my husband, who is from here, wanted to raise our daughter on the Eastern Shore and he wanted to be closer to his family.

Q. There are some great young people in this city. Who’s going to be working with you, from the city staff?

A. Right now we have Laura Soper, Jamie Heater, who is with Arts and Entertainment. They are incredible. I work in the office with them. Alison Pulcher. And Mayor Day, of course, and Julia Glanz. Right now we are sort of building that team, building that support.

Q. Officers will be needed, but the history with these festivals is that security problems just aren’t an issue.

A. When we went down to Greensboro, we met with fire and police. Chief Barbara Duncan was down there are as well as representatives from the fire department. We wanted to know what their plan was, how they dealt with such a large crowd. We wanted to know what their safety plan was. This is a concern, of course. They gave us their plan and stuff but this is not that kind of festival. It’s not Bike Week. It’s family friendly. People are there to experience cultures, to have fun, to walk from stage to stage. There’s no anxiety. You can see that with the police officers. They were enjoying the festival just as much as everyone. It’s just a joyous event.

Q. I heard there are some questions about the food, whether there are going to be trucks, or whether restaurants can set up tents.

A. In past festivals, there have been food trucks. Of course, in some places restaurants do have tents because some restaurants don’t have a truck. That is something we’ll have to look into.

Q. Where do the acts come from?

A. The National has a very big catalog of performers. They say, for example, here are 10 polka bands, then our program and community look at that and they make those choices.

Q. What about local bands?

A. There will be an avenue for local musicians. An application progress is in the works. There will be an avenue for local musicians. One of the great things about the festival is economic impact. After the festival, we went out to dinner, out for drinks. There was some shopping but not later at night. Every place we went there was a band playing. There was constant music. It was wonderful.

Q. Will there an admission charge to the festival?

A. This is free. It’s 100 percent free. You don’t have to get a wristband, unless you want to have a beer or something, then you get a wristband. There is something called the Bucket Brigade. Volunteers go around and say, “Hey, if you want to make a contribution that would be really helpful” but it is a free event. That means it is accessible for anyone who wants it. I love that it is free.

Sponsors will have their tables there or a tent. That way people can see what’s available in the community.

Q. Will there be beer and wine available?

A. There will be beer and wine but it’s not a drinking event. It’s someone saying, “I’m going to try some of this beer from a local brewery and watch my favorite act of the festival” or “I’m going to go walk across and take a look at the marketplace.” But it’s not a drinking event.

Q. How can people contact you?

A. I would love for them to reach out to me. We have the nationalfolkfestival.com Website. There’s a contact form on that Website and that Website should be active next month. There’s also going to be an area for artists to submit their work. More information can be found on the City of Salisbury Web site. We hope to hear from everyone. Everyone is very excited and I’m looking forward to working with the entire community.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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