UNC student gains attention as film critic: ‘This kid knows what he’s talking about’

By Marine Elia

The audience watches the screen, their eyes fixated on the action and their ears picking up every flesh-tearing and blood-splattering noise. They jolt in their seats during the jump scares and collectively gasp as the character’s true identity is revealed. Sitting in the back row, quietly chuckling to himself, is Josh Martin. He’s already seen Jordan Peele’s “Us” — twice.

Martin runs his own film blog where he provides his insight on films, publishing reviews and sharing them on social media. A regular customer at the Varsity Theatre on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Martin takes advantage of the theater’s proximity to the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill to fully grasp the content before he starts writing.

Martin consecrates his life to movies. As a student film critic, he views about five to six movies a week in addition to those required for his film classes at UNC-CH and subscribes to several streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Hulu, Showtime, Canopy and Shutter, a horror-specific streaming site.

Martin’s induction into the world of cinephiles began with “Toy Story.”

“As a kid, back when movies were on tape, I watched “Toy Story” so much that the tape broke down,” Martin said. “By the time I was done with it, I had watched it well over a hundred times, and now the entire movie is etched into my subconscious.”

Over the years, Martin’s passion for film grew exponentially. Encouraged by his family and friends to start a platform to express his ideas and interpretations of film, Martin created his blog when he was 13 years old. Entitled “The Movie Guru,” his blog was his first attempt at publicizing his opinions to an online audience.

During summer 2011, Martin was able, for the first time, to see PG-13 movies without an accompanying adult. During these formative months, he watched “Super 8” and “Inception.”

“The films I saw during that summer, I quickly developed an obsession with,” Martin said. “After seeing the trailer for “Inception,” I was immediately intrigued and bought the $13 DVD once it came out. It was the first time I was ever blown away by a movie.”

When he entered high school, Martin rebranded his blog to “Martin on Movies,” distinguishing himself from the hundreds of online “Movie Gurus.”

Driven by his love for film, Martin sought out more outlets to share his thoughts. While a student at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, he delivered brief reviews of newly released movies during the morning announcements. Through this experience, Martin exposed himself to his critical peers.

“People thought the school picked someone at random to deliver the movie reviews, and they thought of it as a kind of a joke because they weren’t aware of how invested I was in it,” Martin said. “They thought I was doing it for the attention, even a few teachers.”

Martin remembers one day when his friends told him of a student in one of their classes who was extremely upset over his unfavorable review of “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” after he called it “garbage.”

“I was quite terrified of Josh,” UNC-CH sophomore Ishan Thaker said, recalling his view of Martin in high school. “He had a certain status among us because he was so good at what he did.”

Martin has since moved on from his oral, one-minute movie reviews. He is a contributor for Film Inquiry, an online source for film reviews, and Rotten Tomatoes, a fact that garners the most attention from his peers. Additionally, Martin boasts his status as the youngest member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association.

As a member of the NC Film Critics Association, Martin enjoys the perks of being involved with a larger network of film critics. Through the association, he obtained a press pass to Film Fest 919, a growing film festival held annually in Chapel Hill. During the festival, he had the opportunity to interview the lead actresses of “Roma,” the Academy Award winner for best foreign-language film.

Involving himself in multiple film communities, Martin has established connections with writers from various backgrounds.

Hunter Heilman contributes to the online film review outlet Elements of Madness. Heilman first met Martin through a serendipitous encounter on Twitter, where Martin maintains a steady stream of movie-related tweets. After exchanging a few messages over the social media platform, Heilman came across Martin’s review of “Nocturnal Animals,” a film Martin had exclusive access to when he attended the Toronto International Film Festival.

“When I read that review, I was like, ‘OK, this kid knows what he’s talking about,’” Heilman said. “His review made me interested in seeing the movie. I hadn’t even seen a trailer or movie poster at that point because it hadn’t been released yet to the public — I don’t feel that often with reviews in general.”

Heilman describes Martin’s work as authentic with a critical, objective eye that seeks to review all movies with equal treatment and equal amounts of passion.

“He’s so articulate for someone of his age. I was honestly kind of jealous,” Heilman said. “I wish I had it together at my age like he did.”

Movies are the vessel Martin uses to connect and relate to others. He says movies themselves are a reflection of present themes and societal issues.

Johnny Sobczak is a close friend of Martin and is enrolled in a horror film course with Martin this semester. The two met on Twitter, both active participants within the social media’s film community.

For the class’ midterm paper, the students were instructed to write about a horror movie of their choice. Sobczak was deeply impressed when Martin studied “Alien” and dissected it to form an analysis of capitalism.

“When most people think of “Alien,” they just think it’s a monster movie. They don’t relate it to capitalism and corporate greed,” Sobczak said.

Martin, like many college students, uses stickers on his laptop to reveal his interests. Covered in a sticker mosaic of cinematographic references, his laptop serves as a conversation starter with other film lovers. From classics like “Casablanca” to “Inception” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” in addition to an obligatory Quinten Tarantino sticker, his laptop has it all.

Much like each of his favorite films, Martin’s individuality shines through his movie reviews.

Douglas Davidson is an online film writer and a professor of public speaking at Central Piedmont Community College. Davidson knows Martin through Twitter, and despite never having met Martin in person, he said he understands how his personality interacts with his writing.

“His reviews sound like Josh,” Davidson said. “Even his tweets are authentic. He never looks to provoke a reaction out of someone with an outlandish hot take.”

Martin plans on attending graduate school and sees himself possibly pursuing a career in academia if he decides to not write full time.

“The industry is tough right now,” Martin said. “What keeps me motivated is that there’s always something new to see, and I have that to look forward to.”

Edited by Joseph Held.

‘Tough times never last, but tough people do’: Blumberg’s journey to tennis stardom

By Madeline Coleman

William Blumberg stood on the sidelines of the indoor courts, watching his teammate and close friend Blaine Boyden’s every move.

It was May 2017, and the University of North Carolina men’s tennis team was tied with the University of Georgia 3-3. Whoever won on Court Six would go on to fight for the NCAA Championship.

The Greenwich, Connecticut native locked eyes with his teammate for a split second and had a look on his face that showed his faith in Boyden’s ability. In a way, it calmed the then-sophomore for what was to come.

Boyden bounced the ball three times before throwing it in the air and hitting his serve. Blumberg moved his head side to side, never losing sight of the ball. As Boyden hit the ball wide, just out of reach of the Bulldog opposite the court, Carolina was headed to its first NCAA Championship. Blumberg, who was a first-year at the time, ran onto the court without hesitation, quickly followed by his teammates. He was the first to reach Boyden, who jumped and embraced his teammate in midair.

Two years later, a picture of that moment is now hanging in Boyden and Blumberg’s apartment.

Blumberg almost missed out on that game and the chance to play for UNC-CH. He was ranked as high as No. 4 in the juniors’ world at one point, playing international tennis matches as a teenager. He’s hit with Mike and Bob Bryan, the most successful doubles tennis players in America, over the years and even Roger Federer this past summer.

So why is Blumberg here, competing on Court One for singles and doubles, instead of going pro? Because he doesn’t want others to think of him as just an elite athlete.

There’s more to him than that label.

The Legacy of Little Compton

 The Blumberg brothers couldn’t help but smile as they rolled the windows down.

William leaned his head out the window of the car as his family got to the exit for Fish Road in Rhode Island. The salty ocean smell hit his nose and the sun shone down on the car. At the end of the road at the bottom of the hill, there’s a sign that reads “Little Compton.”

The Blumberg brothers’ smiles grew even bigger. They were finally at their vacation home.

“It’s something, and a place that you’ll never understand until you go there,” William said.

This small town holds a piece of William’s heart. Some of his oldest friendships were formed on Little Compton’s tennis courts and golf courses. This is where he fell in love with tennis and became a scratch golfer.

He, his brothers Alex and Andrew and his friends would play on the beach all morning, eating a marshmallow fluff sandwich or two. But once the clock neared 3:30 p.m., they dropped everything. With sand in their shoes, the kids would run to the country club in order to make it in time for AT’s, a tennis clinic for all ages where they would play games. The group would then play golf at dusk, get up the next morning — and repeat.

Sometimes, William and Little Compton are almost seen as one and the same to his friends.

“When I think about Little Compton, I think about Will immediately,” said Michael Marzonie, William’s best friend since kindergarten. “I affiliate him with that spot because it’s so down to earth and so genuine. There’s nothing flashy about it.”

Here, William isn’t the big-name tennis player. He can relax his shoulders and be William, or “Bops,” as his family calls him.

“William Blumberg is the tennis player and who people know,” said Andrew Blumberg, William’s oldest brother. “The Bops is who William is when you really know him.”

Reigniting his love for tennis

Blumberg sat on the bleachers and watched his brothers play tennis.

He longed to join them, to play with them. He wanted to be like them. Sports was his gateway in, his way to be seen as an equal and to hang out with them. He became a fiery competitor, making it hard to get him off of the court.

“He was always hassling me to stay after work for another 20 minutes to play another bunch of baseline games with him,” said Pat McNally, a tennis pro from Little Compton. “It’s funny how the tides have turned because now I’m begging him to stay and play with me… I used to kick his butt and now he’s kicking mine all over the place.”

Blumberg found success early on and started traveling in the junior circuit regularly, resulting in him missing more days of school. When he was in eighth grade, his school gave Blumberg an ultimatum — tennis or school. He chose to do online schooling and continue traveling for tennis.

He quickly found international success. At 17 years old, Blumberg made the quarter finals of singles and doubles at Junior Wimbledon and made the finals of Junior French Open Doubles with Tommy Paul, now a tennis pro. He even won the Junior Davis Cup for the U.S.

All signs pointed toward him staying pro. Blumberg was one of the lead junior USTA players in the nation, and had hit with pros like Ryan Harrison, Thomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic.

But his body suddenly held him back.

Blumberg would come home feeling awful. His parents would send him to the doctor for more antibiotics. Even when he competed in the Junior Wimbledon and French Open, he was miserable.

The doctors eventually discovered that Blumberg had infectious mononucleosis, more commonly known as mono, but the diagnosis came too late. Blumberg was tired of people berating him in practice while his body struggled. He was burned-out.

“I was depressed and I hated the sport,” Blumberg said.

Blumberg took a step back from the lonely road and went home to Greenwich High School for his senior year.

It was his dad who convinced him to go out and hit a few times a day. As each day passed, Blumberg found his love for the sport again.

“It wasn’t who I am, but without that time period, I wouldn’t be the man I am today,” Blumberg said.

Blumberg and his oldest brother Andrew have always shared a love for sayings. As his little brother struggled through hard times, this Robert Schiuller quote captured how William would persevere, according to Andrew.

“Tough times never last, but tough people do.”

Blumberg’s next step was as unexpected as his setback. He decided to ignore what people were telling him to do and go to college rather than the pro circuit. It turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

During his time at UNC-CH, Blumberg has broken records. He was the first player in program history to reach the NCAA singles championship match. He was named ITA National Rookie of the Year, ACC Freshman of the Year, 2018 ACC Player of the Year, and ranked as high as No. 1 in both singles and doubles during his 2018 spring season.

“With all of the success he’s had as a player, he’s certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest, player to ever play at Carolina,” said UNC-CH head coach Sam Paul.

A never-ending network of support

There they are, gathered in the masses surrounding Court One.

UNC men’s basketball senior Luke Maye and manager Eric Hoots sit along the sidelines yelling as loudly as they can. The men’s golf team sits behind one end of the court, showing just as much support. Countless athletes and college students from all walks of life surround Blumberg’s court to support him on any given match.

However, some still believe it pales in comparison to what Blumberg gave up.

“There are people congratulating him or angry with him,” said Asher Dawson, Blumberg’s best friend from Little Compton. “They DM him on Instagram saying, ‘I can’t believe you didn’t win your match. I lost this X amount of money,’ and he has to filter out that noise.”

But his friends and family are the only voices that matter. They would do anything to support him, and the feeling is mutual. As his girlfriend Mary Bryan Pope describes, Blumberg cares deeply, whether it’s about family and friends or tennis.

When teammate Boyden’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in 2017, he felt his world stop. Boyden was in his room on Super Bowl Sunday when he got the call from his dad. Blumberg could sense something was wrong and decided to check on Boyden. Since then, Blumberg has been by Boyden’s side.

“If you’re in his corner, he’s going to care for you with all he’s got,” Boyden said.

Out of concern for Boyden’s wellbeing, Blumberg had Boyden’s favorite YouTuber Nick Colletti create a personalized video for Boyden.

“I will always go the extra mile for my friends and my family,” Blumberg said. “I would take a bullet for anyone that I’m close with.”

Moments like this showcase how meaningful friendships are to Blumberg, a love so strong that he wanted to get a tattoo of some kind that reminded him of his friends and family. It started as an impulsive idea, but his parents told him to wait a year before getting the permanent ink.

It’s small enough that no one would notice unless they were looking for it. The tattoo is hidden when his sleeve is down, which is something Blumberg loves. Etched in his mom’s handwriting on his right bicep is the word “we,” the letters formed together so the tattoo is connected.

“Whatever happens and you’re there for one another, that’s my ‘we,’” Blumberg said. “It’s just a subtle reminder that you’re not alone and you’ve got people around you, and you’ve got the people who love and care about you.”

Every so often, the junior will grab his arm, rubbing where the tattoo is. It reminds him of his family, who is the center of his “we,” and his friends.

He’s never alone.

Edited by Charlotte Spence.

Why to have your last straw before Mother Nature has hers

By Cee Cee Huffman 

A thirsty child opens his lunch box and rips the straw from his juice box. A barista calls a name, slides an iced coffee across the counter and places a straw on top. A young waiter reaches into their black canvas apron and tosses a handful of white, paper-wrapped plastic straws on the table.

Without a second thought, they rip off the wrappers and enjoy their drinks.

Every day, Americans use 500 million plastic straws, but few stop to think about what happens to their straws once their cups are empty.

“You take something and you throw it where? Away,” environmental artist Bryant Holsenbeck said. “We live in away. People think away is a magic place, and it’s not.”

If a straw makes it to the trash, it’s picked up and driven to a landfill. Unable to be recycled, it will spend the next several years slowly breaking down. If it gets lost along the way, it becomes part of the 7.5 percent of the total plastic in our environment.

Plastic straws are the fifth most common plastic product found in our oceans while plastic itself is the most common marine debris found in our oceans. This debris is made up of single-use plastics, or plastics that are only used once before being thrown away, like grocery bags, water bottles and straws.

“The straw is just that single object that so many of us have encountered all our lives,” filmmaker Linda Booker said. “So, we never really stop to think about it.”

Sometimes fish might encounter microplastics, or pieces of plastic products the size of a sesame seed and mistake it for dinner.  Though harmful to the fish, it could also be harmful to you if that fish ends up on your plate.

From Rye to Oil-Based Plastic

In the 1880s, Marvin Stone was drinking his mint julep through a natural rye grass straw when it began disintegrating. A manufacturer of paper cigarette holders, he fastened together his own paper straw by wrapping strips of paper around a pencil and gluing them together.

He patented his invention in 1888 and began producing it in 1890. In a matter of time, people everywhere were drinking from Stone’s paper straws.

Over 50 years later, corporations discovered oil-based plastic straws were cheaper to mass-produce. Plastic straw quickly became the new norm, and they weren’t going anywhere.

Linda Booker is the director and producer of “Straws,” a documentary that details the history of and danger that plastic straws pose to our environment.

Booker said she remembers the moment she started noticing that straws were everywhere.

“Sometimes they get used, a lot of times they don’t,” Booker said. “We just go about our day and these objects are going into our drinks sort of vicariously, whether we ask for them or not.”

The Turtle that Started a Movement

She said people started paying attention when marine biologist Christine Figgener posted a video of a turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose online in Aug. 2015.

Figgener and her team wrestled with the turtle, holding its head still while they struggled to pull a deteriorating straw out of its nostril. The video received over 34 million views on YouTube,  and the turtle quickly became the poster child of the anti-straw movement.

However, Booker said that even after becoming aware of the problem, it’s still difficult to understand the scope.

Blair Bowden, a senior studying marine science at UNC-Chapel Hill, became more conscious of the straws she encountered when she took marine biology.

Bowden said she found the Stop Sucking campaign for a straw-less ocean and has been telling all of her friends and family about it since.

“Even though it’s not a cure-all for the environment, it’s a small step in the right direction,” Bowden said.

Booker said plastic straws are a relatable and simple way to tackle the bigger plastic problem. For now, she’s glad people are learning about it.

“It’s kind of like, shocking,” Booker said. “When you really think about exactly how prevalent it really is, and how many of them there are, and how they’re never going to go away. It can really be kind of scary.”

As scary as straws are, they’ve become difficult to avoid or live without while other similar single-use plastics are everywhere.

Scrapping the Straw

Having created art with recycled materials for decades,  Holsenbeck wanted to see if she could go a year without single-use plastics. She documented her journey in her book, “The Last Straw: A Continuing Quest for Life Without Disposable Plastic.”

“It’s made to use once and last forever,” Holsenbeck said. “That’s a bad equation, right?”

Holsenbeck said it was a challenge to find alternatives to her daily, plastic wrapped items, but now she knows where to find sustainable alternatives. Today, she has accepted some single-use plastics back into her life but avoids them when possible.

Reducing Your Plastic Use

Blair Pollock, solid waste manager for Orange County, said there are three simple things you can do to reduce your use plastics without completely cutting them out.

First, reusable water bottles.

Pollock said carrying a water bottle or canteen saves you the cost of buying bottled water while also being 47 percent more energy efficient.

“There’s savings to you immediately as an individual and there’s planetary savings,” Pollock said. “That’s probably the most obvious and best economically.”

Pollock said for the average shopper, carrying reusable shopping bags in your car is also an easy and effective way to avoid plastic. Lastly, of course, Pollock said to reject plastic straws.

If you find that you really need or miss your straw, try buying a reusable straw and carrying it with you. However, you likely won’t miss it since for many, drinking from straws is habitual but unnecessary said Pollock.

“Once you begin to change your habits, it just becomes embedded with you,” Pollock said.

Pollock said you have to be quick-on-the-draw to stop your barista or waiter from handing you a plastic straw.  Still, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to reduce the number of single-use plastics in your life.

Edited by Diane Adame

‘You can use the tree to create what you see’: Bonsai master cultivates art and imagination

By Laura Brummett

Harold Johnson, bonsai enthusiast and member of the North Carolina Bonsai Society, opens every class that he teaches with the same question.

“Who here has killed a bonsai tree before?” he said, maintaining his blank stare.

None of the seven moved at first, giving the room cautious glances to see who would react. A woman in her late 20s wearing hipster glasses and ballet flats was the first to take the bait, sheepishly lifting her arm.

Two more, a young dad in dirty Converse and a lively grandmother both raised their hands.

Johnson finally let his smile crack through the seriousness and added his hand to the count.

“I know I have,” he said.

Growing a love for bonsai

The first bonsai tree he bought was from an open-air market in Charleston, South Carolina, over 25 years ago.

Johnson and his wife each bought juniper bonsai trees. His tree quickly died of “natural causes,” but his wife’s tree is still alive and thriving.

Combined, they now have close to 40 trees at their home.

Three years ago, when the North Carolina Museum of Art announced its plans to highlight plants as an art form through the Art in Bloom Festival, Johnson jumped at the chance to have the N.C. Bonsai Society included.

The museum agreed, stipulating that the trees be placed outside so that the art inside wouldn’t be exposed to anything harmful.

Every year since, the Bonsai Society has displayed its best trees in one of the small, back gardens during the festival.

For the festival, floral arrangements are designed to mimic a painting or work of art in the museum’s collection. They sit proudly in front of their chosen artwork, matching its colors and shapes.

The bonsai, however, are a representation of their owner’s mind.

“Monet and Picasso just saw the world differently,” Johnson said. “You can use the tree to create what you see.”

Johnson’s favorite part of participating in the festival is watching children react to his work. When he asks them what they see when they look at the trees, he said they always come up with creative ideas.

“That’s something we lose as adults,” Johnson said. “That ability to look at art and use our imagination.”

The ‘Mr. Miyagi’ of North Carolina bonsai cultivation

Children weren’t the only ones transfixed by Johnson’s bonsai at the festival.

Rosa Cajahuaringa first saw the bonsai trees at the museum, where she works as the head of the housekeeping department. The trees instantly brought her back to watching “The Karate Kid,” the live version, in a Chinese store in New Jersey.

On the installation day, while the exhibit was being constructed, Cajahuaringa found Johnson and begged him to teach her how to grow a bonsai tree.

“I saw the exhibit, and I just wanted to take a class so badly,” she said. “They make me feel calm.”

She sat at the front of Johnson’s next class and listened intently for more than 3 hours.

Sitting next to her was Joyce Snapper, a festival attendee and bonsai enthusiast. She collects mosses, which are used to cover the base of bonsai trees, and grows them on rocks in her yard.

Snapper spent the entirety of Johnson’s class with a peaceful smile on her face. She thought the class was engaging and informational, despite the “brief time allotted.”

Afterward, she waited for Johnson to finish helping the last student. She wanted to marvel over the mosses he had growing around his personal trees.

The two bonded as they closely examined the tiny green spores.

Adding moss, Johnson said, is the finishing touch to a bonsai artist’s work.

Choosing the pot color, shape and size is the first step. Next comes cutting off branches and leaves.

Johnson instructed his class to use the “scientific term” of cutting off the “sticker-upper” and the “hangy-downy” branches.

Finally, the branches are wired to the tree trunk to form different visual effects. Johnson likes a harmonious arrangement of branches.

What’s left is a mix of harsh lines and rounded clusters of tiny leaves, creating a multitude of designs, each different from the last.

As he teaches the mixed crowd, he delivers a healthy dose of corny jokes, intertwined with intense information and facts.

He’s so eager to share his abundance of knowledge that his nametag starts creeping toward the middle of his collared shirt, hanging lopsided. With every enthusiastic movement, the tag gets closer to falling off.

He pays no mind to the nametag, nor to the soil that coats the floor. Every time he works on a student’s tree, the dirt pours out around him. Johnson walks right through it.

A resolute beauty

Just as it did at the festival, Johnson’s oldest bonsai tree stands stoically in front of his class.

Although his tree appears calm, it’s a work of Johnson’s pure and glowing passion for his art. The devotion shines through each minuscule, spiky leaf.

The old bonsai tree has now watched the masses stream through the exhibit for three years, and sat through countless hours of Johnson’s preaching.

And yet, its calmness remains.

Edited by Mitra Norowzi and Natasha Townsend

A living brochure, nobody knows Chapel Hill like Bob Ward

By James Tatter

Speaking in the entrance room to the Carolina Basketball Museum, Bob Ward was often interrupted in the middle of one of his many iconic Chapel Hill stories.

Midway through a tale of his short stint in the early 1970s as a rural mail carrier for the Chapel Hill Post Office, he stopped. A woman had walked in to inquire about the museum, a shrine to the storied University of North Carolina basketball program.

Ward was on the job as a “nonessential, seasonal, temporary, part-time” greeter and museum attendant, as he refers to the role he has held at the museum since his retirement in 2008.

He looks the part. His neatly brushed gray hair and darker bushy eyebrows frame a well-worn smile. His blue sweater has a wide silver, black and white argyle pattern down the front. He wears black Asics sneakers and navy socks with Tar Heel logos on them. A gold wedding band sparkles on his left hand, perhaps outshone by the pale blue crystal from his UNC class ring on the right hand.

The woman wanted to know if there was a brochure to guide her through the museum.

“We’ve never really had a brochure,” Ward said. “We’re a living brochure.”

No kidding. Ward’s memories tell of a Chapel Hill that anybody who has been there would recognize.

The town has changed, but Ward has a tale for every age.

Whether it’s a basketball game, a celebrity visit or even the weather conditions, Ward remembers it. Chapel Hill has left a mark on Ward, and he has left his mark on nearly everybody who has crossed his path in the seven decades that he has known the college town as home.

‘In my blood’

Ward remembers two presidential visits to Chapel Hill, both of which he witnessed in Kenan Memorial Stadium.

The first was by John F. Kennedy, on one of those patently Chapel Hill fall days where the sky dons Carolina blue and the clouds never roll in. Something was wrong with the public address system — “You couldn’t half hear what he was saying,” Ward recalls.

He remembers the day JFK was assassinated, too, just over two years later. His fifth period English class was dismissed early, and the bus home from the old Chapel Hill High School building on Franklin Street was stone silent.

“Nobody said a word,” Ward said, his characteristic smile temporarily leaving his face.

He remembers Bill Clinton’s visit for UNC’s bicentennial celebration as well, but not for anything the president did.

“Charles Kuralt stole the show,” Ward remembered. That was the day that Kuralt, the famous CBS broadcaster and UNC alumnus, delivered his ode to Chapel Hill, perhaps best remembered for his question, “What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?”

Ward is bound to Chapel Hill by a relationship that started with his father, who attended UNC.

“It was, I guess, in my blood,” Ward said.

His dad instilled an early affinity for the school. Ward remembers games in Woolen Gymnasium, where the Tar Heels used to play their basketball games. The wooden bleachers were carted over from Kenan Memorial Stadium after football season, and Ward was terrified of the large gaps in the slats — large enough for a kid to slip through, he was certain.

He remembers the 1957 season. After winning a triple-overtime game against Michigan State in which the lead changed hands 31 times, UNC advanced to the NCAA title game the next day against Kansas.

Ward and his father already had plans to go to visit his mother’s family in Florence, South Carolina, the next day. The tournament games were televised that year, but not as far away as South Carolina.

So after driving to Florence in the morning, he and his father hopped in the car that night and drove north to Fayetteville, North Carolina.

There they gathered in the living room of his aunt and uncle’s house along with a few neighbors to watch on a small black-and-white TV as UNC went to triple overtime for the second night in a row. After the Tar Heels sunk Kansas to capture their first NCAA title, Ward spent the night at the house before riding back to Florence in the morning and then back to Chapel Hill later that afternoon.

A man worthy of a statue

Ward graduated from UNC in 1970. He worked in banking for years, but never stopped being involved with UNC, particularly its basketball program. He has ushered at home games for the Tar Heels for 35 years.

He started at what was then called Carmichael Auditorium, moving over with the Tar Heels to the Dean E. Smith Center when it opened in 1986.

One of Ward’s close friends, Freddie Kiger, is a courtside statistician for college basketball broadcasts on ESPN, Raycom, Fox Sports South and CBS. Kiger labels Ward as a local legend.

“Bob Ward has been here forever,” Kiger said. “They should have a statue of him somewhere.”

Ward brought another Tar Heel fan into the fold when he married his wife, Ann, who he met in 1973.

“When he planned our wedding in the fall around football season, I kind of got an inkling for it,” Anne said.

He took her to her first UNC basketball game in 1973, a senior day matchup in Carmichael against Duke. The game would become one of the most iconic in the history of the UNC-Duke rivalry.

With 17 seconds left, the Tar Heels trailed by eight points. Before the advent of the 3-point shot, the Tar Heels scored four times to tie the game in regulation before winning it in overtime. Ann remembers thinking the bleachers were going to give out from the crowd jumping around.

“Those things were bouncing,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we are going to die right here.’”

The couple estimates that they go to 60-70 UNC sporting events per year, including the games Ward works with the basketball team.

At the Smith Center, he is a fixture, responsible for sections 127-130. His job has put him next to rapper J Cole and author John Grisham. Scott May, the father of legendary UNC player and current men’s basketball director of operations Sean May, used to stand next to Ward on the concourse to watch games away from the crush of the crowd.

His job has put him even closer to some of the players on the court. He took a knee to the chest from a diving James Michael McAdoo while working courtside, and had a near miss when Reggie Bullock jumped above him.

Ann often watches on TV from home, where she looks for the back of his head on close-up shots.

“If I’m ever near the TV, I’ll tap on his head,” she said. “He says he can’t feel it.”

A smaller world

The Wards have one daughter, Katie, who quickly got caught up in her father’s fandom.

When she was 3 years old, Ward would take Katie with him to watch UNC baseball games. Katie was like her father: She never met a stranger. She would walk around the stadium, talking to whoever she could.

Over the course of the season, she befriended a college girl named Lindsey Mathews, who would sit behind home plate. Mathews dated the team’s catcher.

The catcher, Todd Wilkinson, would let Katie run around the field after the games.

In 2017, more than 30 years after Mathews and Wilkinson graduated, a UNC graduate student walked into the Carolina Basketball Museum. She was filming something for a project.

As always, Ward struck up a conversation. Bizarrely, it came up that her father was Wilkinson. Ward shared with the girl the connection he had to her father and the girlfriend. The girl informed him that Lindsey had ended up marrying Todd after all.

“Is your daughter’s name Katie?” the girl asked.

It sure is, Ward informed her.

“I’m named after her,” the girl told him.

Ten years after leaving UNC, the Wilkinsons were still charmed by the lovely child who had kept Lindsey company. So much so that they named their daughter after her.

Katie Wilkinson connected Lindsey with Ward via phone, and they both started crying. The Wilkinsons and Wards reconnected when Barton College, where Todd is now the athletic director, came to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels at the Smith Center later in 2017.

The world seems to be a little smaller for Ward than it is for anyone else. He has a connection to and a story of just about everything to do with this town. Spend enough time in Chapel Hill and your thread has probably crossed over his at some point.

His stories could fill volumes of books. And it doesn’t take much to get him to tell them.

“All you have to do to get to know Bob Ward better is walk up and introduce yourself,” Kiger said. “And then let Bob Ward be Bob Ward.”

Story edited by Brennan Doherty

Conflicted: Leading tours while black in the Silent Sam era

By Karen Stahl


The pulse of helicopter blades chopping the air sliced through Jess Casimir’s ears.

Words zoomed around her brain in a flurry as she tried to chase just a few in pursuit of a coherent sentence.

The group around her exchanged confused glances and questioning eyes. Casimir took a deep breath.

“So I usually like to end with my ‘Why Carolina,’” she said on an exhale. “It is why I came to Carolina, why I choose to stay at Carolina and why I love Carolina.”

But her false confidence was no match for the deafening chants of the Silent Sam protestors around her.

Her palms started sweating. Her mind would not stop racing. Her braids hung limply in the humid August air.

Pressure is a feeling Casimir knows all too well.

As a black tour guide at UNC-Chapel Hill, junior Casimir still struggles with giving well-informed, honest tours about Silent Sam, the controversial Confederate monument that stood on McCorkle Place from 1913 to 2018.

“We have to talk about safety at Carolina,” she said. “As a person of color, I feel like you have an obligation to other people of color to be truthful about those situations.”

One of her most difficult tours took place in the middle of a Silent Sam protest.

But, as a daughter of Haitian immigrants, Casimir is no stranger to adversity.


Her mother makes Casimir’s favorite dish – “mori ak banann bouyi,” or salted codfish and boiled plantains – in the comforts of their cozy home near Lake Norman, where her father keeps the temperature at a steady 75 degrees. He grew up on an island and cannot handle colder climates.

Scattered around North Carolina and New York, Casimir’s family speaks Haitian Creole, the French-based official language of Haiti.

Casimir is a first-generation college student. And she is not alone at UNC-CH.

According to the Office of Undergraduate Retention, about 20% of undergraduate students at UNC-CH are first-generation college students, or students whose guardians do not have bachelor’s degrees.

A 2014 report from the office said 34% of first-generation students at UNC-CH are African-American.

But Casimir did not feel supported by her peers when applying to colleges, and she struggled to realize that there were others like her. Coming from a predominantly white community, she felt as though her experiences as a black woman were invalidated.

“I’m a particular type of black person,” she said with a chuckle.

As the youngest of four children, Casimir looked to her older siblings for support. After applying to countless schools and scholarships, she finally settled on UNC-CH because it was the most affordable option.

Her parents knew it was the right choice for her.

“We hear her sing the alma mater in the shower all the time,” said Patricia Elibert-Casimir, her mother. “Any excuse to talk about UNC.”

Though she was excited, being a black, first-generation college student in a class of 4,228 enrolled students – 71% of which were white – was daunting for Casimir.

“It has its challenges, like not feeling wanted at the university,” she said. “Everyone has networks, and you just kind of have to start from the ground up.”

The first night on campus after her parents left, Casimir cried silently in her room.  But she resolved to hit the bricks running.

She had no idea what she was in for.

Silent Sam. Minority safety. Being a black woman.

Her first tour, all Casimir could think about was facts.

“I was like, ‘I know they told me not to do that,’” she said. “It’s about your experience, but I was so nervous because that was all I kept doing.”

Casimir began as training as a tour guide in August 2017 and gave her first solo tour in January 2018.

Her training coincided with the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 11, 2017. She immediately began getting questions from parents on tours about Confederate monuments.

After a rally to take down Silent Sam later that month, the volume of questions surrounding the monument skyrocketed.

“It just became a thing that people assumed you were going to touch on, because how could you not?” Casimir said with a tired shrug.

The pressure never ceased.

Every tour had the same recurring themes: Silent Sam. Minority safety. Being a black woman.

Her palms still get sweaty thinking about it.

For nearly a year, Casimir teetered around the issue of Silent Sam, giving a university-tailored response only when a parent specifically asked about it.

“I know it took a toll on her,” said her friend Ashlin Elliott. “I think she managed the tours in a way that her opinion was not known to her groups, even when it was hard for her.”

Then the unthinkable happened.

When Silent Sam fell the night of Aug. 20, 2018, Casimir was lying in bed and scrolling through her phone.

She saw the video on Twitter and let out a shriek, though she was not entirely shocked.

Not after what had happened earlier that day.

The fall

Casimir approached the Old Well with her tour group following closely behind. Out of the corner of her right eye, she spotted the familiar Silent Sam crowd.

She braced herself for the questions.

But instead, she was met with the chants of protestors. News crews formed at a distance. Barricades surrounded the statue in layers, like rows of sharp teeth in the mouth of a shark.

She knew this was it.

It was the day before classes began, and Casimir watched the eager faces of prospective students in her tour melt into confusion. Most of the parents and their children were from out of state, and while Silent Sam had garnered national attention, not everybody was up to speed.

She crossed the street and walked around news crews with their trucks, stopping her group in front of the Old Well.

Her palms were sweaty as always, but this time her mind stopped racing. With slow control, she began her final speech.

“This is my ‘Why Carolina,’” she said. “It is why I came to Carolina, why I choose to stay Carolina and why I love Carolina.”

She talked about the different opinions on campus, student activism and selflessly provided her thoughts to the tour group, as her friend Kirsi Oldenburg described it.

Casimir felt like it was the end of the era of questions surrounding the monument. She knew that very soon the discussion would shift to moving forward. Even if she did not know the statue would fall that very night.

“I have to say, as a first-generation college student, I was really nervous about where I wanted to go,” she said to her tour. “Everybody experiences Carolina differently. It’s awesome to see different stories that people tell.”

The pulse of helicopter blades chopping the air sliced through Casimir’s ears.

But with a gentle look back at McCorkle Place, she gave a small smile.

Edited by Paige Colpo.

Hold them, pet them, cuddle them: 1870 Farm’s goat cuddles are for everyone

By Megan Cain

On this farm, you pop out of the womb ready to work. At 1 week old, you become the star of the show, and the show sells out almost every single time. You’d think it would be a lot of stress for these kids, but they take it all in stride.

Their mothers on the other hand? Not so much.

As Tiffany Breindel presses herself between the metal wiring that holds the makeshift pen together, Mocha, now 5 weeks old, bounds through tufts of grass toward her. Breindel scoops her small frame with ease, careful to support her inflated belly — she’s been munching under the sun all day. When Breindel carries Mocha out of the pen, Mocha’s mom shatters the tranquility of the crisp air with cries of disapproval.

“They’ve got to earn their keep, momma,” Breindel says over her shoulder in response.

And earn their keep they do. Mocha and five other baby goats, all younger than a year old, are the main subjects of today’s goat cuddling sessions.

It costs $10 per person to get up close and personal with these fuzz balls at 1870 Farm. From January through April, groups of up to ten can join the goats in a small pen for 30 minutes. Hold them, pet them, entice them to crawl on your back. How you spend your cuddle session is up to you.

The sessions started this past year on a pure whim. Breindel noticed the success of goat yoga, but she wanted goat interaction that was accessible for everybody.

“And you can’t really find your Zen if a goat does their business right next to your face,” Breindel says.

Unfortunately, Breindel hasn’t solved the “business” puzzle, but she prides herself on the wide range of people that participate in the cuddling sessions.

A breath of fresh air

Newly married couple Bethany and John Bradenton arrive first for today’s 4:30 p.m. session, both giddy with excitement for a break from their stale date night routine.

Music guides them past a sprawling oak tree that could tell a thousand stories to the entrance of a small white barn. Four chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, seemingly untouched by the dust that swirls through the barn, reminding Bethany of the decorations at her wedding.

1870 Farm used to host weddings, but now focuses mainly on children’s programming, like birthday parties and summer camps, with an emphasis on up-close animal interactions. Just two turns off U.S. Highway 15-501, a short drive down a road that seems to wind with the breeze and you’re transported back to a simpler time. The farm has come a long way since it was started in 1870, beginning as a commercial cattle farm. A couple from New York fell in love with its charm and turned it into an experience for town dwellers eager for a breath of fresh farm air.

The cuddle sessions help the baby goats cozy up to people and make them more comfortable in their jobs. 1870 Farm will usually host a few cuddle sessions per week, depending on demand.

Since it’s the only place in Chapel Hill to formally offer this sort of interaction, demand remains high no matter the weather.

Bethany’s dressed for the occasion, but John, as husbands do, seems to have forgotten. In gray slacks and a teal-and-blue-checkered button-down, he looks ready for Easter Sunday.

But when Breindel mentions that one of the goats likes to climb on people’s backs, John’s the first to drop to his knees.

It’s the oldest goat of the crew, Honey, ringing in at a solid 30 pounds — not including the cud in her belly from a full day of chomping in the sun — that takes the bait. She pokes at John’s shirt, unsure of its silky texture.

She toys with him. One hoof, then two. Back off. A back scratch. A few more pats. She’s enjoying this.

Bethany slides some hay onto John’s back, and it’s game over. Honey leaps onto John’s back, and Bethany’s right there to capture the photo.

Through his laughter, he jokes that Honey’s hooves give a better massage than his wife.

A unique experience

There’s no marketed benefit to goat cuddles; Breindel thinks everybody takes something different away from their time with the goats.

Alison Phellups brought her three kids to the farm as part of their spring break shenanigans.

Lizzie, the oldest, explains that her third favorite animal is now goats, right behind dolphins and giraffes, of course.

Her younger sister, Lucy, didn’t seem to take to the goats as easily. She attached herself to her mother’s leg like a barnacle, warily observing the creatures that stood as tall as her.

Mocha came first, brushing her velvety nose against the toddler’s shoulder. Lucy didn’t pull away. She opened her pursed lips and began to slowly smile. That smile evolved into a giggle, until eventually, she was squealing in delight following her new friend around the pen.

“Oh, we’ll definitely be back,” Phellups said. “You just can’t replicate this sort of experience for a child.”

Edited by Karyn Hladik-Brown

Old-time fiddler follows his passion across decades and oceans

By Mary Glen Hatcher

The foreign fiddler

In the thick humidity of June, at a small-town North Carolina park, a few hundred locals gathered to celebrate the music of their mountains.

As the intercom static cleared, a voice announced the next competitor in the 54th Annual Mount Airy Blue Grass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention: a foreigner.

Shohei Tsutsumi from Osaka, Japan!

It was the 24-year-old’s first performance in America. He picked his favorite tune to play, a West Virginia reel called “Head of the Creek,” so his hands wouldn’t shake. Onstage, his mind raced.

He started thinking about his day: the generosity of strangers at the park who opened their campsites and coolers to him; the musicians who shared their songs and tunes; the Blue Ridge Mountains that called him away from home to join the chorus of Appalachia’s old-time music.

He picked up his fiddle, and paused.

The father-daughter duo that performed before him would go on to claim the convention’s grand prize.

But he’d already won.

Disney and Davy Crockett

Shohei Tsutsumi lived for the weekends he spent with his grandparents in Osaka, gathered around his grandad’s cassette player.

The compilation of Disney movie soundtracks was a family favorite. Tsutsumi would serenade his three sisters with whimsical songs from Snow White and Pinocchio, but one tune never left his mind: The Ballad of Davy Crockett.

“Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier!”

“I’m the only one from my family that really remembers that song, and can still remember the harmony and melody exactly how it goes,” Tsutsumi said, humming the cheerful refrain.

This was his first taste of a genre he’d spend the rest of his youth searching for, and the rest of his life trying to comprehend.

Playing it by ear

It was high school before Tsutsumi picked up an instrument. He wanted to learn piano when he was younger, like his sisters had, but his grandmother forbade it. It was a girl’s instrument, she said.

But he found his rhythm playing the guitar. Without formal lessons or instruction, he plunged into Japan’s rich musical subcultures: heavy metal, hard rock, Bosa Nova, Bollywood, and eventually, bluegrass and country.

He trained his ear to play by sound, replaying his favorite recordings until they echoed in his thoughts, and picked up a few other instruments — mandolin, fiddle, banjo and dulcimer — along the way.

“He’s such a quick study, musically, and learns how to play an instrument really, really quick,” Joe Thrift, an old-time musician from Surry County who played with Tsutsumi, said.

After settling into Japan’s bluegrass community, Tsutsumi felt like he’d finally found his niche. But his undergraduate program in Kyoto was coming to an end, and he needed to figure out his next steps. So, he did what he usually did when he needed space to think — he went to a jam session.

The beard behind the band

And there, he met Bosco.

With a handlebar moustache and a long, braided beard, Tsutsumi thought the fiddle player looked “very much like a foreigner,” in his native Kyoto because of the odd way he held his fiddle on his chest instead of under his chin.

In the late 1970s, Bosco Takaki traveled down South to learn deep-holler fiddle and banjo music from Appalachian legends Tommy Jarrell and the Hammond Family. He brought these lessons back to Japan, enchanting audiences with his eccentric fiddle playing.

For Tsutsumi, this introduction to old-time was eye-opening.

Bosco’s playing exposed an opportunity to sculpt his music obsession into more than a hobby. He became fascinated with the music’s roots, history and culture. He wanted to trace it, study it, master it.

“For the first time, I saw this contrast between old-time music and bluegrass, and it really took me,” Tsutsumi said. “I tried a lot of things, but it was this American folk music that took me. It grabbed me by my heart, actually.”

Bosco knew the feeling. His ensuing mentorship and friendship with Tsutsumi reminds him of falling in love with old-time traditions at the same age, 40 years ago.

A place for modern pilgrims 

Five years and two graduate programs later, Tsutsumi’s passion for old-time brought him to the foothills of North Carolina.

He’s the latest in a succession of musicians from around the world who, mesmerized by the music and traditions of Appalachia, have made a pilgrimage to this corner of the state to understand it.

After earning his Masters in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University in 2018 — the first non-American to do so in the program’s 45-year history — he moved with a friend to the quiet mountain town of West Jefferson and embedded himself in the old-time community.

He played at the community center’s Thursday night jam sessions, began taking a violin-making course under local old-time musician, Joe Thrift, and started teaching beginning banjo and fiddle at the local community college.

An outsider only on the outside

As one of the only Japanese people in the area, Tsutsumi said he’s lived a unique juxtaposition as a visible “outsider” researching and mastering an intimate part of the region’s culture.

“I’m in this place I’ve kind of dreamed of for a while, surrounded by people who are able to teach me about their local music and traditions, yet almost nobody who sees me on the street ever imagines that I am actually really good at playing music from this area, you know?” he said, laughing.

But, as his fellow musicians and the blue ribbons from local conventions will tell you, his talent speaks for itself. After a two-year hiatus from the dulcimer, Tsutsumi began practicing the instrument again for fun, and decided to enter a competition in Galax, Virginia to test his skills.

He walked away with first place after only a few days of practicing.

“I hope to go to the fiddler’s conventions to compete for personal growth,” he said “but also so I can get as many ribbons as I can before I go back to Japan.”

A link to the past 

Kilby Spencer, a fiddler with White Top Mountain Band who plays with Tsutsumi, noted that more than Tsutsumi’s meticulous style shines through when he performs.

“There’s a lot more to the music than just the notes,” Spencer said. “I think what makes him so special is he’s got a good grasp on and appreciation for the people behind the music.”

And that’s exactly what Tsutsumi wants his music to show.

As a self-proclaimed “ultra-traditionalist” in the old-time world, he strives to imitate the style of the legends he listened to and learned from — Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed and Fred Cockeram — so that their contributions are never forgotten.

So that others can find themselves in the music, just as he did.

“If someone mentions I sound like Tommy Jarrell, or I remind them of their grandpa or friend, that’s a huge compliment because they are not just listening to one person, not just to me, but many,” Tsutsumi said.

“If I can allow others to listen with their own memories and emotions, to go back to a time or place before, where I don’t belong to really, but I’m kind of part of…yeah, that would kind of be enough.”

Edited by Molly Sprecher





Local musician inspires listeners to think critically about the world

By Madeline Pennington

“Shoot it’s locked. I don’t have the keys to this place…yet,” Cassidy Goff said with a smirk as she tugged on the door to the independent record label, VibeHouse.

When she finally accepted the door wouldn’t budge, she headed down the street to a quaint coffee shop called Perennial. Surrounded by plants, Goff is in her element.

Goff, a UNC-Chapel Hill student and musician, uses the stage name Alo Ver when she performs. The name is a play on the Aloe Vera plant and the phrase “a lover.” She didn’t realize the latter meaning until she doodled the name on a piece of notebook paper on a whim.

Like much of her music career, Goff insists finding the double meaning for her stage name was fate.

She hopes her music sends messages of love and acceptance to her listeners. With songs typically incorporating nature imagery and philosophical musings, her music is a crash course on what it means to love every being on the earth.

The music isn’t just about what she can give to others, though that is a priority for Goff. She’s also learned the importance of independence from years of musical collaborations that didn’t work. Goff hopes to make her listeners think critically about the world, while she works to be less critical of herself.

Finding Her Sound

Growing up in small-town Davidson, North Carolina, Goff was surrounded by music from a young age. Her father had a college music career of his own, playing drums in a band called The Strugglers. He encouraged her to pursue music and gave her a banjo, her first instrument, at the age of 13.

The banjo attracted Goff because she loved the folk-band The Avett Brothers and cited them as one of her inspirations. As she explored her music more, she picked up guitar and piano along the way.

Before discovering Alo Ver, Goff formed a musical duo with her friend in high school. The two recorded and distributed a CD together.

However, she and her music partner parted ways before the end of high school. Her friend felt Goff was more serious about the project than she was. What was a hobby for most freshmen in high school was Goff’s passion.

When she began college at UNC-Chapel Hill, Goff again sought out music collaborators. She landed in the popular campus band, Web Threats. Still, she didn’t feel inspired by the jazz-influenced music.

She sang. She performed. But she waited for something more.

The day she found her footing as Alo Ver, she’d been walking home with her friend Ethan Taylor. The two had been working on more experimental tunes, and Goff was enjoying the electronic sound and collaborative process.

On their way home, Goff and Taylor threw around band names until Taylor threw out Alo Ver. It stuck.

But yet again, the partnership didn’t last. Taylor wanted to be a front man more than he wanted to produce Goff’s music, so the two split.

Though it was difficult at the time, Goff is grateful for the splits she has gone through. It has taught her how to rely on herself and trust her own creative voice.

Goff’s silky soprano tone lilts over layers of ambient noise to create a full-bodied soundscape. In her most popular single, “Planet Earth,” her voice soars through the bridge of the song in a melodic, bird-like caw.

She builds worlds with her music and wants people to access deeper questions through nature. It is as if she becomes a modern Thoreau, if he had been interested in avant-garde music, encouraging her listeners to find themselves away from the bustle of daily life.

Finding VibeHouse

Her mission was amplified when she joined the VibeHouse 405 team during her sophomore year of college. After splitting with Taylor, she was directed to VibeHouse by “a friend of a friend of a friend,” as she puts it.

It was at VibeHouse that Goff shifted from a solo student to an on-the-rise artist recording a full-length, professionally produced album.

She started at VibeHouse as an intern, helping out when needed and occasionally snagging studio time when she could. The owner of the recording studio, Kevin “Kaze” Thomas saw something special in Goff and gradually gave her more studio time.

Thomas mentored Goff in all things from music to spiritual guidance. Goff laughs calling him her “manager and guru.”

She can’t recall the moment when she became an official VibeHouse recording artist. Thomas just began calling himself her manager, helping her record her new singles. By the end of the summer of her junior year, she had a contract signed.

Practically unparalleled ambition combined with a natural empathy make Goff an unstoppable force. The cheers from the crowd of her 2018 album release concert ring in her ears as inspiration to work harder. More than that, her need to question things drives her to create.

What’s next?

So what’s next for Goff: A 20-year-old who casually reads philosophy books like “The Power of Now” in her free time and who buys clothes for herself and her performing alter ego?

To start, she’s adding a full band to the Alo Ver project. Though she’s enjoyed playing her songs with backtracking, she thinks a band could give her the same layered sound she has in her recordings live. Chapel Hill musicians Knox Engler, Tommy Vaughn and Patrick Lydon will add their instrumental talent to Goff’s singing. They plan to start rehearsals in late April.

She has a much larger stage on the books this summer. She’ll be joining rapper Rakeem Miles for a song during his set at the Firefly Music Festival in June. The Delaware-based festival is the East Coast’s largest music and camping festival with headliners that grow in acclaim each summer.

It is clear Goff’s hectic life won’t be slowing down any time soon. She fears losing motivation and settling for the traditional job market that she sees her peers applying to enter. Yet, she also can’t ever see herself giving up on her dreams.

She’s willing to trade it all for the ability to create music, and because of that drive, Goff is confident she’ll succeed. Mostly though, she views her pursuit of music as a spiritual journey and is excited to learn about all the universe can offer her.

Edited by Bailey Aldridge

Carolina Vibe dancer reminisces during “bittersweet” final show

By Jamey Cross

This was it.

Twelve years of practice. Twelve years of sweat and tears. Twelve years of passion.

Abby Britt’s 12 years of competition dance was coming to a close. She walked on stage and felt ready to dance with some of her closest friends for the last time. Trying to stop her emotions from overshadowing her performance, she took a calming breath.

Breathe in. Out. Dance.

Carolina Vibe, a contemporary dance group of about 30 young women at UNC-Chapel Hill, put on their spring showcase Saturday, March 30. The group worked on the number all year, perfecting and choreographing. It all came to life in Memorial Hall for hundreds of audience members.

Whispers filled the auditorium in the minutes before the lights lowered, signaling the recital was about to start.

Adorned in springtime dresses and collared shirts, friends, family members and dance fans came together for the performance. Store-bought flowers were sprinkled throughout the audience, ready to congratulate the dancers.

The support of friends

UNC-CH student Alexandra Smith rested a bundle of daisies in her lap. She was in the audience to support her friend and co-worker Hannah Snow.

Snow introduced Smith to Carolina Vibe, but Smith knew little about the group before meeting Snow at work. They work at the Target Starbucks on Franklin Street.

This was Smith’s first time attending one of the group’s showcases, and she was excited to see Snow dance. Snow is passionate about dance and uses it to work through her emotions and channel her creative energy, Smith said.

“She’s got such a bubbly, fun personality, so I’m really excited to see how that personality shows in her performance,” Smith said.

The curtain raised

Four silhouettes sat on stage. Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’” blared through the auditorium. The stage was dark, but their figures were backlit. They began to dance. 

The team took the stage for a sultry routine, wearing white button-down dress shirts and black undergarments.

Song after song, more dancers joined the performance. Applause and shouts separated each routine — jazz, ballet, hip-hop.

Kelly Davis, a Carolina Vibe alumna, served as the master of ceremonies. Carolina Vibe is an organization that brings students together through dance, she said. The group hosts monthly social events for members to connect.

“These young women are truly very exceptional, and the bond they share through dance is powerful,” Davis said. “But also the friendships and support along the way make this group just really outstanding.”

Brandon Britt, Abby Britt’s father, sat with his wife and daughter, ready for the show to begin.

“I’m always excited to see her dance,” he said.

The last performance

But this performance is different, and he had thought about that simple fact on the hour-long drive from their hometown, Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. This would be Abby Britt’s last performance with the group she’d grown close with over her undergraduate career at UNC-CH.

“This showcase is a little more special since she’s a senior and this is kind of our last opportunity to see her dancing in a group,” Brandon Britt said.

Since she was 5 years old, Abby Britt danced competitively. She began dancing at a studio in her hometown. Through elementary and middle school, she took lessons, participating in recitals and some competition dances.

In high school, Abby Britt began taking dance seriously. She joined her high school dance team and found a larger studio. She danced competitively with both teams. When she came to UNC-CH in 2015, she knew she wanted to dance on campus so she could continue to grow as a dancer.

Carolina Vibe holds hour-long practices twice a week during the year. But as they get closer to a performance date, they add an hour to each practice. In four practices, the dancers learn an entire routine and move on to another. The group performed 21 routines at Saturday’s showcase.

After auditioning for a spot on the Carolina Vibe team four years ago, Abby Britt said there was one way to describe her final showcase: “It’s bittersweet.”

For the final group dance, the six graduating seniors took the stage one last time.

Dancers express their different styles

Abby Britt said the group’s president, Hailey Blair, had the idea to have each of the seniors perform a solo in the group dance. Each of the seniors performed her solo while her five teammates watched from the stage, arms intertwined.

“We all come from different dance backgrounds,” Abby Britt said. “And we wanted to show that and highlight that. We’re individuals, but we have all come together in this collective group.”

Abby Britt said the seniors had been on the Carolina Vibe team for at least three years, so they spent lots of time together. Getting to dance with them one final time was special to Abby Britt.

“We’re all just really proud of each other,” Abby Britt said

Abby Britt walked off the stage with her fellow dancers with nothing but pride in her heart. While her dance career was coming to an end, her connection with these women wouldn’t go anywhere.

“Dancers just have a unique bond that I can’t describe,” Abby Britt said. “We all just get each other, and that’s what’s kept me going.”

For four years, she’s grown as a dancer and woman with the support of her Carolina Vibe team. Abby Britt said that being able to share her passion for dance with others has been a blessing.

“As much as we are a team, we’re a family, too,” she said. “I’m very lucky to have been able to be a part of that.”

Edited by Victoria Young and Erica Johnson