This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

Tanya Yearick had been in downtown Hudson for hours when she realized she didn’t have her keys.

Yearick, the president of the Hudson Community Development Association, arrived before dawn Saturday morning to start setting up for the town’s Butterfly Festival. By the time she realized her things were missing, the sun was out and crowds were pouring in for the festival – which is the largest one in the county.

Yearick realized everything – her keys, her purse, her wallet – was in her unlocked car. She rushed out, not knowing what she’d find – and she found all of it sitting safely on the seat, undisturbed by the thousands of festival attendees who’d passed by.

“That’s just our little town,” said Rebecca Bentley, Hudson’s town manager, as she wrapped up the story.

And throughout the day, it was the town’s charms that were on display more than any wares or services set up by the vendors lining Hudson’s main thoroughfare.

Though around 3,000 people showed up, it wasn’t quite a banner year for the festival, Bentley said. Some may have been deterred by the weather – a brisk 45 degrees, cooled down further by a crisp wind.

“We’ve had this thing in scorching hot heat, we’ve had it in pouring rain, we’ve had it in wind so bad you can’t keep the tent down,” Bentley said. “But this is the first cold one.”

Still, vendors packed into downtown for the annual festival. Some were local – like Sonia Hartley of Gamewell, who sells rustic, Pinterest-style crafts like chalkboards and Mason jars to help subsidize the cost of having five kids in school.

Others came from further away, like Ritchie Robbins and his wife Joyce, who have come from Forest City to set up a booth at the Butterfly Festival for five years now.

“It’s a good town,” Robbins said as he wove strands of neon-pink parachute cord into a bracelet. “I like it.”

You could get everything from a painted canvas to a knitted dog sweater at this year’s festival. Country and blues bands strummed onstage. Boy Scouts flipped burgers and members of the American Legion slapped Polish sausages on buns.

Democratic congressional candidate Tom Hill shook hands and registered voters; his tent was emblazoned words like “moderate” and “support our troops” to soften the blow of the word “Democrat” in deep-red Caldwell County.

Others set up booths where no payment was required. First Baptist Hudson has offered free coffee and water at the festival for years – usually it’s the water that’s more welcome, but “coffee’s the choice of the day today,” volunteer Butch Houk said.

The chilly day and slightly slimmer turnout had an effect on sales, some vendors said. But it was still more about Hudson than it was about money.

“Artwork and craft shows, it’s a little bit of a hard sell,” said Earline Lovejoy, a Hudson resident there selling prints of her photographs. “The fun part is meeting the people.”

It all comes back to Yearick’s story. The whole point is to spend the day in a town where you can lock your keys and wallet in your car and retrieve them safely hours later, Bentley said.

“Three-thousand people here,” she said, “and her keys and purse and everything were sitting right there where she left them.”