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Annual Happening offers fun for all

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Tonja Musick, left, dances with Robbie O'Neal, 10, Saturday during Happening on the Common at the Tarboro Town Common.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Monday, May 20, 2019

TARBORO — Ask anyone attending the Happening on the Common why they come to the annual arts, crafts, food and music event and the sense of community pride comes up.

"It's always fun to come see your neighbors and friends — and see new people who are here and everything that's going on around here," Barbara Sykes, 71, a retired elementary school librarian, said on Saturday.

Sykes and her husband, Jack, also 71 and a retired high school teacher, have long been regulars at the event, which is held every third Saturday in May at the Town Common.

Jack Sykes also likes the setting of Happening on the Common having trees, which would help provide shade as temperatures would rise into the 90s later in the day.

"I wouldn't be out if it was on a ball field," he said.

And his wife said, "We're really fortunate that we have this town common because it's one of two in the nation."

The Town Common was established in 1760 by the legislative act creating the colonial town of Tarboro. The Town Common today is approximately 15 acres of grass, monuments and trees on the north side of Tarboro's central business district.

The Town Common is the second oldest such park-like setting in the nation, with the other being the more famous Boston Common, which dates as far back as 1634 and is 50 acres in size.

In Tarboro, Happening on the Common is sponsored by the Edgecombe County Cultural Arts Council, more commonly known as Edgecombe Arts, and by the town's government.

For a quarter of a century, Carol Banks has been running Happening on the Common.

Banks, 77, originally from England, directs the nearby historic Blount-Bridgers House, which houses Edgecombe Arts.

Banks said Saturday marked the 47th year of the event, which she noted is the oldest festival in the Tar Heel State.

As for how she and her team pull this off every year, she replied with a chuckle, "I don't know."

Banks said she has been doing Happening on the Common for so long this is second nature.

"And I know a lot of these vendors. This is the place they want to come because of the trees, because of the history. It's well known," she said.

She said the event on Saturday had 61 vendors, which was a record.

One of the attendees was Dr. Don Edmondson, 60, who is a semi-retired anesthesiologist.

Edmondson grew up in Tarboro, moved away and worked some 40 years in Cincinnati and Raleigh before returning to reside again in the town.

Happening on the Common appears to be a very low-key event, which Edmondson likes.

"I'm just a low-key guy," he said. "I like just hanging out and being outdoors. And the commons is always a pretty place to be. I mean, it's gorgeous out here."

Edmondson is hardly the only fan of Happening on the Common.

His partner, Dr. Jess Henderson, 46, a transplant from Raleigh, said, "I think this event is lovely. I love all the artisans and the homemade works."

With a smile and a laugh, Henderson added, "I'm super-interested in the metal works at the moment because I think I need a flamingo on a tricycle. Who doesn't?"

Edmondson was referring to the spot reserved for vendor Mike Winstead, 55, of the Temperance Hall community.

Winstead uses any kind of metal to create images of animals and characters.

He said he began doing so in 2015, when the weather outside was cold. He said he decided to make a likeness of a bird out of a rake and shovel and put his work in the front yard.

He said his wife and daughter loved what he did so much he responded by making more objects.

"And before long, I realized, 'Hey, God has given me a talent here'," he said.

He said Banks advised him to participate in Happening on the Common.

"It's exciting to see people enjoying my creativity and appreciating it. And that makes it well worthwhile," he said.

Henderson made clear she is in Tarboro to stay.

"I like that I have a huge sense of community here," Henderson said. "I know my neighbors. When I walk down the street, people know my name and look out for my children. I feel safe.

"You get to meet people — and it means something. I didn't know my neighbors in Raleigh, ever, and I lived there for 10 years."

Another visible vendor at the event was a food service team from St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church.

"It's a great way for fellowship — and it's a great way for us to raise money for the church," said James Guilford, 53, who was part of the St. Stephen team.

The team was selling barbecue, coleslaw, French fries, fried fish and hot dogs.

And Guilford said business was so good, "I don't think we've had a good five seconds of rest."

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