Butterfly Festival, 'Hudson's big day,' is Saturday

May. 03, 2013 @ 07:20 AM

Moments of anticipation and anxiety start coming to them around this time every year, when Bill and Angie Warren sometimes scramble to make phone calls and other last-minute preparations for the oldest annual festival in Caldwell County.

In their Hudson jewelry store, the Gold Mine, across the street from where several thousand people are expected to turn out for the Butterfly Festival, the Warrens acknowledged the ambivalence associated with the “labor of love.”

“We always go, the week before, ‘Oh my God, we’re never going to do this again,’” Angie Warren said. “And we always do.”

Two blocks of the main thoroughfare through this town of about 3,800 will fill with nearly twice as many people as the town has residents, including children dancing to performances of bluegrass and other music. Bill Warren calls it “Hudson’s big day.”

The lengths to which town officials and residents go to prepare for the festival reflects the essence of a town where “people just kinda treat you like you lived here your whole life,” said Tanya Yearick, president of the Hudson’s Community Development Association.

That level of willingness among townspeople to devote time to preparations has long drawn admiration from Yearick, who used to help organize a historic festival in Morganton before she moved to Hudson in the late 1990s.

“It’s a small community. But let me tell you, they’re hands-on,” she said of volunteers, who range from doctors and bankers to school teachers and hairdressers. “It’s more than just a job to a lot of those people; it involves their personal time.”

Preparations gain momentum three to four months ahead of the festival, organizers say, as police officers and public works officials begin preparations, which eventually includes cleaning the streets, posting signs and banners, gathering trash cans and setting up tables and stages.

The effort is constant, town manager Rebecca Bentley said, beginning right after the end of each festival.

“We know the routine,” she said. “We don’t even talk about it” anymore.

And it is not limited to town officials and traditional volunteers. The butterfly designs that organizers affixed to telephone poles in recent weeks, for example, were made by an inmate in the Caldwell Correctional Center, a minimum-security state prison on the eastern side of Cajah’s Mountain. (“He’s quite talented,” Bentley remarked.)

“Everything’s a community effort,” she said. “We do this ourselves.”

The stage for the festival was not always set against the backdrop of downtown. The festival started in downtown at the June Jubilee in 1982, but before long it was moved to a park less than a mile away.

In the early 1990s, after the Warrens moved here from Alexander County to town, they sought to revive the event and approached town officials with some ideas. It was moved back downtown in 1994.

“We wanted to bring it to downtown,” said Bill Warren, who has since watched what once drew about a dozen vendors grow “beyond our wildest dreams.”

Organizers expect between 5,000 and 7,000 people, and about 80 artisans and other vendors from across the county. The festival’s proceeds have helped finance streetscape and other improvements around town.

Among the vendors is Tom Kiser, who for the past eight years has displayed wooden clocks he makes at his home, no more than a mile from downtown, at what he described as “the show.” But selling his work is secondary at this festival he has grown to appreciate simply as a “good place to go and spend a few hours every May.”

And “if someone wants to buy one of my clocks,” he said, “that’s fine.”