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JCVB Blog

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Up-coming Event Celebrates JoCo Art & Food

Up-coming Event Celebrates JoCo Art & Food


The Johnston County Arts Council will host its eighth Annual Art and Food Festival Gala on March 16, 2017 at the Paul A. Johnston Auditorium on the Johnston Community College Campus. The event is from 6:00-8:00PM and tickets can be purchased in advance by calling Executive Director of the Arts Council, Darlene Williford, at 919-738-9622; she noted that if she is unavailable when you call to be sure and leave a message stating you want tickets. Or you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Tickets are $40 each or 2 for $75.

The fundraiser will generate monies to assist the Arts Council with funding for the 2016-2017 Artists-in-the-Schools program, to provide scholarships for Johnston Community College students studying Fine Arts, and to fund free community programs including: visual artists paint-outs, Johnston Health art exhibits, and Music for the Lunch Bunch.


Showcasing Local Artists & Chefs


There will also be an art show for the event. Artwork will be on display and available for purchase from Johnston County’s most talented visual artists. There were over 50 pieces in the categories of painting, photography, and pottery in last year’s show.

In addition, attendees will be treated to delicious sample dishes from twelve to fifteen of Johnston County’s finest restaurants. And participating restaurants will compete for awards like Best Entrée, Best Dessert, Best Presentation, Best Side Dish, Most Original Dish, and Best Appetizer. Attendees will have the opportunity to vote for ‘People’s Choice Award’ of Best Restaurant.  Participating restaurants last year included Anthony’s Pizza and Pasta, Parkside Cafe, The Serving Spoon, Sherry’s Signature Cheesecakes, and Simple Twist.


Last Year’s Winners


Winners last year included artists Christer Berg, Mary Jones, Kyle Wilson, and Frank Grubbs while restaurant winners included Anthony’s Pizza & Pasta, The Serving Spoon, and Parkside Café. For the full list of 2016 winners please click here to view our blog on last year’s event.

The mission of the Johnston County Arts Council is to provide quality opportunities in the arts for every Johnston County resident. For more information on their events and initiatives please visit their Facebook page.

For a list of events happening in Johnston County, including arts and entertainment events like this one, please visit johnstoncountync.org/events.

 

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Meet Our 2017 Visitors Guide

Meet Our 2017 Visitors Guide

The ink has just finished drying on our brand new Visitors Guide, also known as the "be a tourist in your town" guide.

We here at the JCVB are certainly excited to be bringing you a wealth of information in this compact brochure. The Johnston County visitors guide includes where to stay, shop, dine, drink, explore, tour, and experience the best of JoCo. Also included in the guide is a list of annual events and the months in which they occur, a guide to recreation in the county, and a list of wedding and event venues.

Visitors can find the guide in welcome centers and visitors centers around North Carolina. If you're already in Johnston County then our guide can be found in your hotel, at the Carolina Premium Outlets, and in most of our tourism partners' businesses like museums and restaurants in the towns of Benson, Four Oaks, Selma, Smithfield, Clayton, Cleveland, and Kenly.

The guide is used by the JCVB through-out the year as a promotional tool at media events, trade shows, sales appointments, and industry events to showcase the best that Johnston County's business owners and locals have to offer visitors, groups, journalists, and brides!


You can click the photo below to access a PDF version of the 2017 Visitors Guide.

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Racing in Johnston County – 2017 GALOT Schedule

Racing in Johnston County – 2017 GALOT Schedule


Start Your Engines! Come out to GALOT Motorsports Park for an evening of fun for racers and spectators alike. GALOT will be hosting many different racing events throughout the year. There is something on the schedule for every type of racing fan.

At least three times throughout the year GALOT is very excited to present Mad Mule Pro Mod Shootout racing at GALOT. This is going to be a thrilling racing spectacle with regional racers bringing their own cars and going toe-to-toe in an eighth-mile drag race. The series will follow the same rules and points as Extreme Outlaw Pro Mod with the exception of limiting the field to 8 cars. If you're a fan of drag racing or looking for some fast-paced entertainment, these race events are for you.

New to GALOT this year is the MTC Drag Bike Nationals, a can’t-miss event for racers with a love of motorcycles. The supercharged, nitro burning Pingel Top Fuel machines will highlight the thirteen class, all motorcycle, drag racing weekend in July. Alongside the 200mph Top Fuel bikes, the ManCup Pro show will also feature pro action in Pro Fuel, Pro Mod, Pro Street, Pro Open and Real Street categories.

And back by popular demand this fall is the Monster Truck Throw-down. This is an especially great event for kids and families. The list below includes all currently planned events with more to be added. Mark your calendars for a fun year of racing at GALOT.

March 4th: Mad Mule Pro Mod Shootout

March 25th: Carolina N/T Small Tire Tour and Grudge Racing

March 30th - April 1st: PDRA

April 8th - 9th: NHRA Lucas Oil Divisional

April 22nd - 23rd: Get-A-Load-Of-This Car Show and Swap Meet

May 2nd - 6th: K&N Spring Fling

June 2nd - 3rd: Mule City 300 (NTPA Grand National Pull)

July 1st: Mad Mule Pro Mod Shootout

July 8th: Carolina N/T Small Tire Tour and Grudge Racing

July 15th - 16th: MTC Drag Bike Nationals

September 7th - 9th: PDRA         
          
September 16th: Carolina N/T Small Tire Tour and Grudge Racing

October 6th - 7th: Monster Truck Throw-down

November 4th: Mad Mule Pro Mod Shootout

For more details, and more events as they are added, visit GALOTmotorsportspark.com or call the track at 919-894-1662. GALOT Motorsports Park is located at 555 Dragstrip Road Benson, North Carolina 27504. Racers and spectators interested in over-night accommodations can look for special rates at area hotels, as well as local dining and shopping deals, by visiting johnstoncountync.org/GALOT.

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New, Renovated, and Unique – Meetings in JoCo

New, Renovated, and Unique – Meetings in JoCo

Updates and Renovations


Meet outside the city and outside the ordinary when you plan a conference, trade show, or other gathering in Johnston County. Our location next to the Triangle, 45 minutes from RDU International Airport, and at the convergence of I-95 and I-40 make Johnston County an ideal place to hold a meeting.

With historical downtown areas and rural farmland, meeting planners have a unique mix of urban, modern, and rustic locales to choose from. Venues and services are being added and expanded upon in the county all the time. In 2016 Brick & Mortar, downtown Clayton’s event space and catering company, announced it will remodel their interior to provide events for up to 220 people. Broadslab Distillery in Benson, NC announced plans to open a meeting and wedding venue by Summer of 2017 that will hold 330 people.


Secluded and Beautiful Venues 


Due to the number of beautiful scenic farms, Johnston County also offers off-the-beaten-path venues for meeting planners looking for an experience removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. Locations like Camp Nellie, Lazy-O Farms, and Portofino offer venues by ponds, in horse barns, and under the southern night sky stars.


Amenities and Assistance

There are hotels with varying amenities and price-points spread throughout the county, many of which are close to meeting venues. In addition, locally-owned and chef-operated restaurants provide catering services that will wow your meeting guests with surprising twists on southern staples.

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau is a great resource during the initial stages of your meeting planning. We are ready to help with all your groups needs and can provide you a comprehensive view of the area and help you find the right fit for any size gathering.

Contact us for complimentary help with:
•    Securing accommodations for your attendees
•    Navigating through service provider options available
•    Providing your attendees local information to enhance their visit

For assistance planning your meeting in Johnston County, contact the JCVB at 919-989-8687. Our Sales Manager, Sarah Campbell will gladly assist you.

For a full list of Johnston County meeting venues please click here to download our Meetings and Facilities Guide.

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Trail Rides, Theater Dinners, and Tasting Tours

Trail Rides, Theater Dinners, and Tasting Tours

Celebrate Valentine’s Day in JoCo



Black Creek Hill Farms Valentine's Day Couples Trail Ride
February 14th by reservation only

Includes a 1-and-a-half-hour trail ride for two including a simple picnic lunch with beverage of choice. Information available by calling 919-524-5096.

Private Candle Light Valentine's Tasting & Tour
February 12th through the 26th by reservation only

This couples package includes a private candle lit guided wine tasting for two in one of our barrel gallery rooms, a selection of meats, cheeses, and chocolates to accompany your tasting, a private guided tour of the Winery, two souvenir stemless wine glasses, and a bottle of wine of your choice. Sit back, relax, and enjoy each other while savoring a variety of wines paired with a selection of tasty treats.

Tickets and information available here.

The Clayton Piano Festival presents the 5th Annual Valentine's Day Gala at the Wagner House
February 14th at 6:30PM

Internationally acclaimed husband and wife duo, Craig Ketter, piano and Valerie Gonzalez, soprano take listeners on a journey through some of the greatest solo piano and vocal works having to do with love of all kinds - successful, unsuccessful, dramatic or humorous.

Ticket price includes a four-course dinner, concert, and reception. Tickets and information available here.

The Good ‘Ol Girls Dinner Theater at Gregory Vineyards
February 11th at 5:00PM

Two of Nashville's leading singer/songwriters redefined the modern Southern woman in Good Ol' Girls, a musical about love, loss and laughter. The price includes the show and a prime rib dinner served with salad, baked potato, cheesecake, and tea. The evening begins between 5:00 and 5:30PM.

Please contact Gregory Vineyards at (919) 894-7700 to reserve your seat. More information is available here.

Valentine Food & Wine Tour
February 9th at 6:00PM

Eat, Drink & Fall in LOVE on our Valentine's Food Tour! More information is available here.

Harbor Valentine Ball 2017
February 11th at 7:00PM

Raise awareness and money for a fantastic local organization that aids survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault! Harbor's Valentine Ball will feature music from the Central Park Band, a silent auction, and great food! Attendees will receive two wine/beer tickets and there will also be a cash bar.

Call 919-938-3566 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to purchase tickets! Purchase tickets by February 8th. More information available here.


For an on-going list of events happening in Johnston County, including additional Valentine’s events that could be added as details are finalized, go to www.johnstoncountyevents.com.

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Read the JCVB 2015-16 Annual Report

Read the JCVB 2015-16 Annual Report

Click here to read the Johnston County Visitors Bureau’s 2015-16 Annual Report with financial statements and highlights from the activities of the staff.  The JCVB staff is engaged every day in promoting Johnston County, our hotels, shopping, attractions, and events to attract visitors to our county…who are leaving their dollars behind!!!  

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, Visit NC Team announced that domestic visitors to and within Johnston County spent $221.72 million in 2015, an increase of 3.2 percentage from 2014.  Tourism growth in the county continues to be strong and already in 2016 revenues are at record heights.

Our marketing and communication efforts are primarily focused outside the county and along our interstates to reach the traveler who has many choices on where to stop and stay along the way.  However, in 2017 we are committed to increasing the communication to our internal customers within Johnston County on the mission of the Bureau. This includes our continued partnerships with the tourism industry, non-profit organizations in the county, our town tourism marketing committees, the Johnston County Sports Council, and the Johnston County Hospitality Association.  

Our primary goal which is mandated by enabling legislation is to utilize the local room tax to market our tourism industry partners helping to bring economic prosperity to the county.  However, we also want you to know us as an agency and our vision for tourism in the county.  We invite you to connect to us on social media, visit our offices, or attend a board meeting... working together we will continue to see great things happen in Johnston County!

With warm regards,


Donna Bailey-Taylor, CDME
President/CEO

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Weddings in Johnston County - Expos and Expectations

Weddings in Johnston County - Expos and Expectations

Locals and visitors alike seek to make Johnston County their wedding destination. A JoCo wedding can be rustic, unique, elegant, outside in a vineyard, or inside a whimsical historic home. And with the right team, it can be all those things at once.

I have worked on the fringes of the wedding industry for years. Never as a planner, but as a provider of wedding services and a member of an association comprised of event planners. Weddings can be exceedingly elaborate or frugally modest. I have never been married, but I have lived through some weddings, let me tell you, and I have two pieces of advice.

The first tip is this: designate a wedding planner. Notice that I did not say hire. I said designate. Wedding planners are angels from God sent to organize chaos into control, cheer in your corner, wipe the sweat from your brow, fight some of the harder battles for you, and make it look like walking on air. This makes them exceedingly qualified to get you from "She said yes!" to the post-reception send-off with supreme grace. This can also make them expensive depending on the level of service you are asking of them. You certainly get what you pay for (in the best possible way). However, in the event that you cannot hire a wedding planner, designate a trusted friend or family-member (not an immediate family member) who you trust to be honest, organized, and un-biased. If it helps, call them a wedding coordinator. They will help you coordinate all the details that you can't quite accomplish on your own. After all, someone has to tell the wedding party when to walk down the aisle while you stand out of sight of your groom.  

The second piece of advice is this: go to a wedding show held within the geographical region that you wish to get married. This holds especially true for destination weddings. If you are not familiar with the area, a wedding show will introduce you to vendors within the local wedding industry. If you live in the area you want to be married in, you're not off the hook. Even if you have been planning your wedding since you were 5 years old (twice-over now that you have a Pinterest), you don't know what you don't know until you attend a local wedding expo. How many cake makers, reception venues, florists, transportation companies, caterers, and wedding planners are in your area? You don't know. Because even though you live here, you've never gotten married here. Or maybe you have... this is a judgment free zone.


The excellent news is that there are 2 up-coming wedding expos in Johnston County.


The 3rd Annual Bridal Expo is happening at The Farm January 29th from 11AM to 4PM. They will have several vendors from the wedding industry, including photographers, videographers, caterers, bakeries, florists, DJ's, travel agents and more! Advanced tickets are $7/person and tickets at the door will be $10 (cash only). The Farm also be giving tours of their venue throughout the day.

The 2017 Clayton Wedding Expo is on Saturday, February 4th, from 10AM to 2PM at The Clayton Center. Discover the latest bridal trends as you chat with 35+ vendors about everything from venue selection to catering and from bridal fashions to honeymoon destinations. The event also will feature food tastings, giveaways, and door prizes. The Clayton Wedding Expo is free and open to anyone planning a very special event in the coming months. Pre-registration for the Expo is not required, but it is highly recommended. The first 100 pre-registered brides will receive a free gift bag. Pre-register here.

You can also browse a list of wedding venues in each town within the county at any time at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau website here. We are all here to help you say I Do in Johnston County.

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Ava’s London Comes to Smithfield in New Exhibit

Ava’s London Comes to Smithfield in New Exhibit


The Ava Gardner Museum in Downtown Smithfield, NC unveiled a new exhibit on the 10th of December last week. The museum has displays that change annually so that visitors to the museum can see new items from the vast collection the museum curates of Ava’s clothes, costumes, photos, personal mementos, art, letters, and props. This year’s exhibit is called Ava Living in London and highlights Ava’s life in London from the movies she filmed there to her time as a permanent resident starting in 1968 up to her death in 1990. Ava Living in London exhibit

Close to 100 people attended the unveiling and ribbon-cutting ceremony including Ava’s great-niece Ava Carol Thompson and family, Ava’s niece Mary Edna Grantham, Smithfield Mayor Andy Moore, Smithfield Town Manager Mike Scott, Executive Director of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau Donna Bailey-Taylor, as well as Teresa Grant from the Johnston County Board of Education. Many of these people assisted in cutting the ribbon to officially unveil the exhibit. During the ceremony, Ava Gardner Estate Trustee and Museum Director Deanna Brandenberger presented a framed photo of Ava, gifted to the estate from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences in London, to Ava Gardner Museum Board Chairman Rick Lotz in honor of this year’s international success. This aforementioned success stems from the recent honor Ava received as an English Heritage Blue Plaque recipient with multiple events in London surrounding the honor, which the Ava Gardner Trust and family members of Ava’s attended.


Ava Loved London and London Loved Her


Deanna Brandenberger, Director of the Ava Gardner Museum, states that, “The Ava Living in London exhibit is the grand finale of nearly three years of work to have Ava honored in London, to make connections in international communities, and to portray a side to her that people have rarely seen, because it was the most private time in her life. I am very grateful to have the chance to draw attention not only to Ava Gardner’s Museum & Estate, but also to the charities she still supports, and the communities of Smithfield, Johnston County, and North Carolina that she continues to promote as an ambassador of unique history and culture.”

The unveiling event even had a proper English tea, provided by local coffee shop Grapes & Grounds. The Ava Living in London exhibit is an avant-garde tableau which demonstrates digitally Ava’s prowess on the screen, but also portrays her at home and “out-and-about” in the city she loved so greatly! The museum has a great many items on loan just for this exhibit including a stunning evening gown from Harrod’s, personal make-up, and everyday items that carry the capricious charm with which Ava was recognized. Visitors to the Ava Gardner Museum will have the opportunity to view the Ava Living in London exhibit, included in the cost of admission, for the next year. 

Exterior to the Ava Gardner Museum
Johnston County Charm Meets London Chic


The new exhibit is the finishing touch on a whirl-wind Fall for Ava, her estate, and her museum. The trip to London involved events beyond the blue plaque dedication, including a collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum Clothworkers’ Centre to view their facility and the gifts Ava donated to them from her own collection – pieces that will more than likely be on display during the V&A museum’s 2017 fashion exhibit. Representatives of Ava’s trust also attended an evening banquet hosted by the state tourism team Visit North Carolina in downtown London and got to meet members of the film-making and tourism industry while representing Ava and North Carolina.

All these events created buzz for the opening of the exhibit, which Brandenberger said was apparent in the attendance at the unveiling, “The premiere exhibit had a wonderful turnout by our community. It was great to see people from different organizations, fans, partners in the business community, and people who work every day to bring Ava to life with their love and hard work come together for the event. We do it in the hopes that our visitors may continue to enjoy Ava for generations to come.”

Learn more about Ava and how to visit her museum at www.avagardner.org.  Make sure to follow the museum on Facebook and Twitter for current news.

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Rebekah Todd Brings the Hustle in New Album

Rebekah Todd Brings the Hustle in New Album

UPDATE: Since I spoke with her last, back in 2015, Rebekah Todd has been hard at work hustling her way to new music on a full-length studio album (her second). She has been meeting with people in the industry, executing a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of her album, writing, recording, and producing said album, planning an album release tour, and then after all that working to actually release the album. That’s where I found her when I reached out to catch-up.Rebekah Todd Drops New Single Called Hustle

I like to keep up with our Johnston County talent. There are crazy amazing people from this area making waves in all sorts of artistic mediums. Rebekah was born and raised in Benson, but she calls Wilmington home now. And she swears that even if Crooked Lines is a huge hit (it will be) she’s not feeling the NYC, Nasheville, or LA vibe. Maybe we’ll keep this North Carolina gem right here in North Carolina. Crooked Lines will debut on the 17th of February, only 9 weeks away. If you want a taste of what the album will sound like you can listen to the single “Hustle”, released today exclusively on Spotify. You can also pre-order the album on iTunes or Amazon.

If you want to hear Rebekah live – she often tours under Rebekah Todd and The Odyssey because that’s the name of her full band – stay tuned to her website and the soon to be released dates for that album release tour I spoke of above. The closest she’ll come to JoCo is The Pour House in Raleigh. Her live shows are much like her new album – groovy and complex.

I asked her how she was feeling post-production and pre-release, “It’s been a blur of a year, but the album sounds amazing! I’m so pleased with it!” If “Hustle” is any indication, this album is going to take Rebekah places, and I couldn’t be happier for her. This musical soul has a salt of the earth quality thanks to her raising, one that the music industry could use more of. For example, for the top donors to her Kickstarter campaign she hand-crafted works of art to send them, thanking them for their support. Stay classy Rebekah, and keep hustling.


Originally posted July 10th, 2015

As I move through the dim atmosphere of the bar I look around at the sparse crowd of early arrivals - it's barely 9:30PM - I know who I am looking for but not sure if I'll know when I find her. Some people look different in person than what you image from promo pictures and YouTube videos. But, as I look to my right and find Rebekah Todd sitting at a booth with her band I am pleased to find that she looks exactly as you imagine her. The long cotton fringe sleeveless vest and the brown wool felt panama-esque hat on her head make her look like the love child of Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith. Appropriate given her musical chops.

Though many musicians can seem or actually are aloof, Rebekah is instantly warm and friendly while introducing me to her band and making me feel welcome in their circle. The noise of the bar fades to the background while we chat about music, muses, and Johnston County. For those of you not in the know, Rebekah Todd is from Benson, NC where she grew-up, in her own words, weird, "I was constantly trying to find ways to channel this creative energy I had." She admits that she had a few close friends but often preferred being alone with her latest project - painting, knitting, and papermaking to name a few. She recalls a funny story of using her mom's kitchen blenders in order to shred paper, adding water to make pulp, "she found me and her kitchen in a mess and was not any less mad when I simply explained that I was making my own paper".

It was this level of intense creativity that lead Rebekah to song-writing. She had been singing her whole life and writing music felt like an extension of that. It was her father who suggested a musical instrument, "he had a really good point," she says, "about having to rely on others to make the music, having to find a band or a partner. If I could play an instrument then I could be a singular act if I wanted to, it would lend me flexibility and autonomy. So he bought me a guitar." She was 16 at the time and her Dad's intuition paid off. By the time she went to college at East Carolina University she was able to make extra money playing gigs at local businesses - just her and her guitar.

While having an amazing repertoire of original songs - more on that in a minute - Rebekah's live shows include an impressive collection of covers. Songs like Superstition, and Rhiannon which is a tie for her favorite cover (the other favorite being The Thrill is Gone). I asked what sort of music had an early influence on her own sound, "classic rock, my Dad listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I also love soul, like Aretha Franklin, so my own style is sort of a blend of rock, soul, and folk."

 I ask her about her newest album Roots Bury Deep, out February of last year, and how writing is going for the next album, "I wish I could be like those artists who are disciplined enough to write an hour every day, but I have to wait until I really feel it. That might mean going days without anything and then spending hours writing when the right feeling and inspiration comes over me."

What was her favorite song off the last album? "Wishing Well is very meaningful to me even though it isn't the most popular on the album." I make a mental note to give it another few listens. You should too. The sultry tones of Rebekah's voice that make covers like Rhiannon feel so right in her capable hands elevates the haunting lyrics of Wishing Well and takes the song to a whole new level.

I asked about a manager and she just shakes her head, "I do it all on my own." This seems dubious to me, with my miniscule knowledge of the music industry. How do you know what to do and who to talk to and how to negotiate things? That's my true technical talk right there. She just laughs, "I taught myself.  When I started I was just working for tips and now I've done 100 gigs this year alone - it's only July! I've learned how to self-manage and the terrain that goes along with that." Rebekah has in fact turned herself into a booking agent as a side job. It evolved out of her knowledge in self-booking; she had so many gigs coming in that she was having to pass them up and she had the thought to start booking them for other artists and friends (and getting a small portion of the cut, as booking agents do). Truly entrepreneurial. But, then, that's the new music business... sports isn't the only industry moving slowly towards a free agent model. A lot of artists do it all on their own. Her latest album was financially supported by fans and sponsors through Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a website that allows artists and other individuals to raise money for social campaigns or creative endeavors.

Rebekah Todd is often a lone act, just her and her guitar, but she switches it up a lot. As a group act she is Rebekah Todd and The Odyssey - her band. However she is currently touring with The Oblations, a band out of Chapel Hill, making them Rebekah Todd and The Oblations. She confided in me her dream celebrity collaboration would be Neil Young. This just makes me want to ask her to sing Heart of Gold. But instead I ask her if she has anything else she wants to tell me about her music, "I think I'm going to switch my guitar out for electric soon, go less acoustic. I'm ready to be edgy, add more rock to my soul." That sounds like something I'm ready to hear.

I ask her if she gets back to Benson these days with all the touring and what she loves about it. Her answer is wonderfully honest, "If you had asked me this question 5 or 6 years ago I would have had a different answer, but what I like most now about my hometown is the comfort of returning to the familiar. Benson never changes, not where it counts, and it's nice to be able to come back to that."

I asked her what place or business she misses the most, "it's crazy, but, El Charro. I cannot get chicken quesadillas like that anywhere else."

The deliciousness of Johnston County's unique Latino restaurant options seems like as good a topic as any to end on. This further confirms my growing notion by this point that not only is Rebekah Todd one heck of a musician, but a funny, kind, southern soul. If you haven't given this JoCo talent a try, please do. You can listen to all her music here, catch her video performances here, and get info about her latest tour dates here. Rebekah plays festivals and events in Johnston County from time to time - for a full list of events visit www.johnstoncountyevents.com.

Thanks for taking the time Rebekah, you rock!

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Johnston County Hams and Christmas

Johnston County Hams and Christmas

Update: This blog was originally posted last year around this time. It remains an important statement about what Johnstonians hold dear during the holidays and at other time of strife and joy. The making and sharing of food is a language of its own. A Johnston County Ham on the table at Christmas is a gift that can be shared. Rufus Brown and his team's hard work paid off this year especially. The 2016 "Made in America: Gifts From Each of the 50 States" list in Parade Magazine has a Johnston County ham as the gift to get from North Carolina. Hams can be purchased from the Ham Shop in Smithfield or ordered online through the Johnston County Hams website

Blog Post Originally Titled As Long As There is You and Food

In a recent article published on the Southern Foodways Alliance website, Johnston County native Emily Wallace discussed the battle between Smithfield, VA and Smithfield, NC to be Ham Capital of the World. The article, called Ham to Ham Combat is both fascinating and funny. You can read it here.

More importantly, her interview with Johnston County Hams owner Rufus Brown produced quite the interesting quote, highlighted below.


Today, Brown says, the majority of local customers buy hams just once a year for their holiday tables. Folks call relentlessly. “I tell some of the people who work here, I say, ‘Listen. Their whole house could burn down, they could lose all their presents, but if their refrigerator made it through the fire with that ham in it, that Christmas would be fine,'” says Brown. “They say, ‘Nah, you’re crazy!’ But I say, ‘Once you get through one Christmas, you’ll see.'”


As a native of Johnston County myself, I can add validity to Brown's conviction that what matters most to locals around the holidays is food. It always seemed particularly cruel to me that the Grinch not only took presents and decorations, but emptied out the contents of all the kitchens in Whoville. What sort of monster takes the Roast Beast?! Johnston County Hams

This notion stems from a deep belief I have ingrained in me as a southerner that any obstacle, hardship, or unpleasantness we face shrinks to insignificance when we gather around a table filled with food and good company. And maybe that's not strictly southern, maybe it is simply human. But, our belief that presents and decorations are secondary to the tradition of a holiday meal shared with friends and family is not the only "food tradition" that southerners hold dear.

In fact, a good look at the history of southern hospitality reveals an unwavering notion that food is how you show that you care. When a family suffers a tragedy, when a new neighbor moves in, and on every major holiday, people provide food in support and in solidarity. As we mourn together and celebrate together, Johnstonians know that the best way to say 'I love you' or even 'Merry Christmas' is through providing nourishment - pies, cakes, casseroles, pudding, and, yes, ham. Below is a picture of the coveted Johnston County Christmas ham.


Instead of attempting to describe how amazing this ham is, I'll let Johnston County Hams do it for me, "For over 60 years and across two generations of renowned curemasters, we at Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, North Carolina have hand crafted "cured" country hams inspired by the techniques used by America's early colonists."

Another family-owned Johnston County establishment catering to our obsession with food is Atkinson Milling Company. Open since 1757, no I did not type a number wrong, and owned by the Wheeler family going on three generations now.

I asked Andrew Wheeler, third generation Wheeler at Atkinson's, to share what Christmas means to his family. He said that Christmas for the Wheeler family is always celebrated on Christmas Eve at Grandma and Papa's house (that's Betty and Ray Wheeler, the first Wheelers to own Atkinson's Mill, pictured below), "Traditionally, Grandma cooked the whole spread. The foods that are Wheeler family traditions are fresh greens, Grandma's macaroni and cheese, a BIG pot of chicken pastry (Atkinson's of course) and hushpuppies (obviously Atkinson's as well!). The greens are always grown and delivered that week by Colon and Coy Batten, longtime Wheeler family friends."

Ray and Betty Wheeler
But he can't just list the food, because, as I have pointed out, food means more than something to eat, it means heritage and home, "Papa loves Grandma's homemade macaroni and cheese, so it is a staple. And Grandma always made the best pastry. It was perfectly seasoned and never stuck together. The hushpuppies are significant to our family because our Atkinson's Regular Hushpuppy Mix was Grandma's own personal recipe and the very first product our company ever made after plain cornmeal."

"After everyone eats, all 34 of us (yes there are 34 of us, hence the BIG pot of pastry) pile into the living room to open gifts. In recent years Papa has taken over the gifting from Grandma and it is always a lot of fun to see what he picked out for everyone. He gets all the grandchildren a gas card and a funny gift. For example, last year my wife received a bottle of aftershave and I got a can of soup. It is always a treat to laugh at everyone's crazy gifts and his unique spellings of all our names (Papa is known for his inventive spelling). While all the gifting is going on some of the children and grandchildren have a little wrapping paper fight. Grandma scolds everyone saying that she is going to take a switch to us all. In my 26 years she never has; we're all starting to think she's not entirely serious."

Atkinson offers a wide range of cornmeals, biscuit mixes, breaders, and grits. The best product for the holidays, in my opinion, is the Atkinson's Cinnamon Flake Biscuit Mix. Try using it to make the cinnamon roll recipe on our website here. You can get more Johnston County Christmas recipes here.

No matter your holiday tradition, favorite foods, or family recipes, I hope that you, like the Wheelers, are gathering together with those closest to you. Merry Christmas from Johnston County! May your new year be filled with more nourishment then a slice of Johnston County Ham on top of a warm, buttery Atkinson Milling Company biscuit.

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Celebrate New Year's Eve at The Farm

Celebrate New Year's Eve at The Farm

If you’ve been to, or heard of, Farm Fest then you know that The Farm in Semla, NC puts on one heck of a show. Last year, their first ever New Year’s Eve bash was a packed-house success. This year’s event will be no different. Dance and groove to the sounds of Jim Quick and Coastline. Enjoy small bites provided by Backyard Bistro catering. Cheers to the new year in style. And watch the ball drop on the big screen at midnight!

The Farm asks that you come dressed in your festive attire (no jeans please) and celebrate 2017 with wonderful music and great friends. Doors will open at 8:00PM and there will be a cash bar including beer, wine, and soft drinks.  You must be at least 18 years of age to join the party. Taxis will be available outside after the event for those that will need a ride home.

This year, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau has worked with area Smithfield hotels to offer an exclusive hotel rate for visitors that have tickets to The Farm event and need accommodations in the area. There is a link to purchase tickets on this page here. Participating hotels are located just miles from the venue and include Baymont, Best Western, Country Inn & Suites, Holidays Inn Express, Sleep Inn, and Super 8.

Trent Lassiter, General Manager at The Farm Entertainment Venue is ready to put on the event again, “We are excited to be ringing in 2017 at The Farm!  This is our second year hosting a New Year's Eve event like this and it's sure to be a good time.”  

The Farm’s other events like Farm Fest and Beach Fest draw hundreds of people from all around the eastern part of the state.  People are looking for unique events to attend and The Farm’s packed calendar proves that Lassiter is willing and ready to offer it, “Lots of people from our area, not to mention visitors and travelers on I-95, used to have to drive over to Raleigh and other places for a NYE party such as this. But now, they can toast the new year in Johnston County with a fun night of entertainment at a great venue.”

For more information on New Years at The Farm and hotel rates, visit our dedicated webpage. To find out more about The Farm’s events and concerts throughout the year, visit their Facebook page.

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Johnston County Holiday Celebrations

Johnston County Holiday Celebrations

The holidays in Johnston County brings to mind my childhood and a Christmas filled with twinkling lights, the sounds of the season, and my breath fogging up the cold air as I eagerly awaited Santa at the end of the town Christmas parade.

In the spirit of getting the most out of the holidays, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau has completed for the second year in a row a list of holiday events happening in all of Johnston County's towns - parades, light shows, tree lightings, and other special celebrations.

For more information on each listing visit www.johnstoncountyevents.com, a site provided by the JCVB that you can return to throughout the year for events and festivals happening each month around Johnston County.

I hope that you enjoy this magical time of year with family and friends and that these events give you the opportunity to spend time together celebrating the season.

You can also download this document here: 2016-joco-holiday-events.pdf

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Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday

Everyone has their own opinions surrounding Black Friday. Some would classify it an obsession. Some, a tradition. While others find it's slow erosion of Thanksgiving Day and family-time appalling. Whether you're spending Friday the 25th of November in front of the TV on the couch or in line at a store, you certainly have the next day, Saturday the 26th, to go shopping or shop some more. And the Saturday after Thanksgiving has, for the past 6 years, been known as Small Business Saturday.

Started in 2010 and championed by American Express, Small Business Saturday is one day out of the year where shoppers are encouraged to focus their attention and buying-power on small, locally-owned businesses. These are the shopkeepers on the corner, the chefs serving-up homegrown dishes in the kitchen, the artists and growers and merchants on main streets across the country. They have hand-made, hand-picked, and personally-selected items in their stores that would make the perfect Christmas gift for someone on your list. They can help you pick the most cheerful decorations, the perfectly-paired wine, or provide a warm meal to keep you going while you shop the day away.

The best part is that whether you're a local or a visitor to Johnston County this holiday season, small business shops and restaurants are all around. They're waiting to welcome you this Saturday. In fact, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau (JCVB) has been working on creating and posting videos that highlight all the many things to do along the main streets in Johnston County. You can view the Benson video here, the Clayton video here, and the Smithfield video here. Don't forget about Four Oaks' boutiques and general store and Selma's plethora of antique shops. Keep on the lookout for videos coming about these area's as well. This Saturday would be an excellent time to check out all these downtown areas for yourself.

It is on days like Small Business Saturday that we can reflect on how important these businesses are to our local economy. And tourism, by definition, exists to support and sustain the success and growth of these businesses by bringing in visitors from outside the county to enjoy everything that JoCo has to offer. So this Saturday, thank a small business owner and get all your friends and family Christmas presents that have been "sourced-locally".

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Ava Gardner Museum to Unveil New Exhibit in December

Ava Gardner Museum to Unveil New Exhibit in December


The Ava Gardner Museum in Downtown Smithfield, NC will unveil a new exhibit on the 10th of December. The museum has displays that change annually so that visitors to the museum can see new items from the vast collection the museum curates of Ava’s clothes, costumes, photos, personal mementos, art, letters, and props. If you have yet to see last year’s exhibit you have a few more weeks before it comes down. The current exhibit includes artifacts and information associated with Ava's friend and costar Omar Sharif, who sadly passed away last year. The exhibit also includes a tribute to her husband Frank Sinatra in honor of his 100th birthday and a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Ava's death, both of which were observed last year.

This year’s exhibit will be titled “Ava Living in London” and will highlight Ava’s life in London from the movies she filmed there to her time as a permanent resident starting in 1968 up to her death in 1990. The unveiling event on the 10th will include a homage to a traditional English tea, sponsored by local business Grapes & Grounds and starting at 10am.

Though Ava is from Johnston County, she was also happy to call England home for many decades. She stated multiple times that it reminded her very much of North Carolina. “And strangely enough, England proved to be very much like North Carolina. The English use expressions I’ve never heard anyplace else but back home, so I felt comfortable with them right away,” quoted from Ava’s autobiography titled “Ava, My Story”.

The exhibit will include publicity shots from her time filming there, video from those films, and tableaus recreating iconic scenes from her life in London. Deanna Brandenberger, Director of the Ava Gardner Museum, states that it will be an exhibit like never before seen at the museum, “In conjunction with receiving the honor of the Blue Plaque in London, we have decided to uniquely portray Ava’s life in London where she lived 32 years.”

In Ava’s own words, traveling and living abroad had a profound effect on her life for the better, “Pandora [the film] got me outside these United States for the first time and introduced me to the two countries, England and Spain, where I was to spend much of the rest of my life. One trip abroad, honey, and I almost never looked back.”

The exhibit opening coincides with plans to recognize Ava at multiple events in London. As Brandenberger mentioned, The English Heritage will be dedicating a London Blue Plaque to Ava Gardner at her last home, 34 Ennismore Garden on November 4th, 2016 at 10am.  Last month the British Film Institute (BFI) honored Gardner at the famous London Film Festival during a screening of Seven Days in May in which she co-starred with Kirk Douglas, the BFI’s classical artist of the year. In addition, the renowned Victoria and Albert Museum’s Clothworkers’ Centre houses twelve of Ava’s couture fashions that were donated by Ava and her family. Some of the pieces are slated to become part of the Balenciaga exhibit that will be put on display for the public next Spring.

The Ava Gardner Museum is located at 325 E. Market Street, Smithfield, NC and additional announcement on events will be posted on social media as well as on the museum’s website, www.avagardner.org.  Make sure to follow the museum on Facebook and Twitter for current news.

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Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes

Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes


Fall is for cool weather and warm comforting food, which means we've added more recipes to our on-going, online collection. This Fall we've found 4 sweet potato recipes and one butternut squash bonus recipe. Johnston County is one of the top county's in North Carolina for sweet potato production. We have a long history of trying to work sweet potatoes into everything from a traditional casserole to the breakfast and dessert tables. The unique flavor of sweet potatoes makes them an idyllic ingredient that can be utilized in both sweet and savory ways. The butternut squash recipe is a twist on a classic pasta carbonara dish. Serve a steaming bowl of it at your next dinner party to bring Fall flavor and carbolicious comfort food together.

If you would like a recommendation on how to get a hold of some delicious, locally-grown, Johnston County sweet potatoes, look no further than the Clayton Farm and Community Market. Their winter hours are every other Saturday from 10AM to 1PM and this Saturday the 29th there will be free Halloween fun for families. Click on a recipe below to give it a try and let us know how it went on our Johnston County Visitors Bureau Facebook page here. Happy Fall Ya'll!

Leftover Sweet Potato Casserole, Brie and Bacon Grilled Cheese

Sweet Potato Tots

Baked Sweet Potato Donuts with Dark Chocolate with Coconut

Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs Recipe

Bonus: Butternut Squash Alfredo Pasta


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The Watermark of the Human Spirit

The Watermark of the Human Spirit


Sometimes in this blog I get to provide information, and sometimes I get to introduce interesting people. But better yet, every once in a while, I get to say something important.  This is one of those times. It is critical in the days and weeks to come that you shop local. And not just in your own community but in the communities you happen to visit, from Benson to Goldsboro to Fayetteville to Charleston to Savannah.

Hurricane Matthew damaged a lot of homes and businesses, some of which were shops, restaurants, hotels, museums, and historical sites. Visitation is their lifeblood. Being open to receive customers is critical. Not only are many of them facing repair costs with very little of the federal assistance afforded to residential property owners, but these local business owners take a loss every day they cannot open their doors. Please continue to support them. Make it a priority. Ask what you can do to help. When you see them reopen their doors, go make a purchase. From a tourism prospective “going local” has always been important to me. On a good day, shopping local provides you an opportunity to make a connection with someone who has ties to the place you’re visiting. It provides you with cultural context, a friendly face, and the sense of exploration you get from stepping outside your comfort zone to try the unknown and unique. But on a not-so-good day, shopping local provides you the opportunity to help someone with an entrepreneurial spirit continue to realize their dreams; your business is their key to recovery.

It’s going on two weeks now and the hurricane itself is a distant memory of the vast Atlantic Ocean. But from the Haitian villages all the way up to the small towns of eastern NC, the flood waters are only now receding and the destruction being accessed. There are still 18 shelters open in North Carolina housing displaced people. Yes, raging waters subside and we will rebuild our lives as generations of strong, stubborn Carolinians before us have done. But, help is needed. Much like currents can be both cruel and kind, humanity can also rise to the occasion. I’m asking you to choose kindness right now, as people return to homes and cars that are destroyed. As families deal with the loved ones they lost to the flood waters, let us band together to assist and to comfort.

A wonderful, digital publication Bit & Grain has provided a very thorough write-up on their website of how you can help Hurricane Matthew victims on a state-wide level and also by county. The contact and donation information listed includes Johnston County.

Don’t forget to thank a first responder or a utility worker. I would like to thank all of North Carolina and Johnston County’s first responders. You are the people who rush out to help while I stay hunkered down in my home. You are the boat in raging waters. You are the people on the frontlines putting yourself in harm’s way to help those in need. Even when flood waters recede and raging winds calm, you take a step forward every day when the rest of us take a step back. And to linemen, watermen, and public works people, who work ceaselessly to return our lives to normalcy, thank you.

This Saturday the 22nd of October the Clayton Center is hosting the last concert event of the Clayton Piano Festival. It will be an amazing night – 5 artists with 5 pianos all playing together on one stage. To say thank you, the center and the festival have come together to offer up-to 4 free tickets for first responders to the event so that they and their families can enjoy a night of entertainment at no cost. It is the least we can do for all you have done for us. Each responder can receive the tickets by simply calling the box office at 919-553-1737 or stopping by The Clayton Center at 111 E. 2nd Street in Clayton.

A writer is a reader first. It is because of this elementary and important rule that a writer’s words are the product of everything they have ever read. So, I would like to end this blog post by borrowing from a writer I love to read (and by unabashedly mentioning how wonderful Our State magazine is and that you should subscribe to it as a local or lover of North Carolina).

In her most recent welcome letter in Our State magazine, Editor in Chief Elizabeth Hudson wrote about rivers, both the joyful distraction and sometimes terrible destruction they offer up. I was privileged at an event a few weeks ago to hear her read these words along with the rest of the letter out loud. She could not have known, nor could the rest of us in that room have known, how true these words would ring just a few weeks later. Nor could Our State, who plans its editorial calendar months and years in advance, have known that their Rivers issue would hit stands a week after the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.


“During Hurricane Floyd, when the Tar River swelled 20 feet above flood stage, we lowered our heads and prayed so hard for our friends in eastern North Carolina… places where the river is a part of everything. If you look, you can still see the waterlines on clapboard, an alluvial yardstick of our history. Raging waters subside, eventually. And I hope, then, we speak of better days – of the swimming holes and of tires swinging from overhanging branches; of beloved wet dogs shaking on the banks; of Sunday baptisms and church picnics and family reunions; of pointing the nose of a canoe downriver and paddling; of spending quiet, perfect, peaceful afternoons in search of smooth, flat stones to sling, popping the surface of the water and making ripples that seem to go on forever.”


The waterlines will indeed mark for years and decades to come how high the waters of Matthew got. We will be able to viscerally measure how hard nature pushed at us and in our recovery will be able to tell the story of how we pushed back.  It is the push back that is tougher to see and measure; the watermark of the human spirit that shows how high we are all willing to rise to help those around us rebuild their lives.

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American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here

American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here

 

I love fall. I love the changing of the seasons. The magic in nature’s unseen and unheard signal to turn down her thermostat, bringing relief to those of us in the South tired of sweat-breaking temperatures. The second that the air in eastern North Carolina drops below 65 degrees and the breeze starts stirring the leaves, I throw open my windows and turn the HVAC unit OFF. Hello chilly air, hello sweaters and blankets and warm cups of coffee.

Much sooner then I would like the orange glow of pumpkins and the scent of cinnamon apples will give way to all things red and green and the fresh, clean, biting scent of winter air will settle in. My love for fall is eclipsed only by my love for Christmas. I mean, I LOVE Christmas. If I have my iPod on shuffle in the car and a Christmas song comes on, I don’t care if it’s April, I’ll let it play. Sometimes it takes more than one month to contain all you love about the holidays.

Thankfully, that’s why there is the American Music Jubilee in Selma, NC. Their Down Home Christmas Show starts November 5th of this year and will run through December 21st, which gives you plenty of time to experience the joy of the holidays through music and laughter.

A show at the American Music Jubilee is an evening of southern hospitality, great American music, and side-splitting comedy that will delight audiences of every age. Add a couple of surprise guests, like Santa and his friends, and this show is guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit!  A touch of Branson and a touch of Myrtle Beach, American Music Jubilee includes a ten member cast that skillfully combine comedy skits with traditional and modern Christmas music.  

The show normally begins at 1:40pm and 7:40pm, but we suggest checking the calendar and booking in advance to reserve your seat. Admission charges are $28.50 for adults with special pricing available for children, balcony seating, and groups of 20 or more. Groups should call ahead.

The reason the Jubilee starts their Christmas show in November is because so many people want to see it, and because some people like me want to experience a little Christmas before December 1st. Just remember to make the most out of your Down Home Christmas Show experience by exploring Selma before or after the show. Selma has 14 antique and specialty stores as well as outlet shopping – so you can get that Christmas shopping done a little early too.

Selma, NC is located along the I-95 Corridor at exit 97.  For more information and for tickets call 1-877-843-7839 or (919) 202-9927. You can also visit the website at www.amjubilee.com.

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Fear and Fun can be Found in Johnston County this October

Fear and Fun can be Found in Johnston County this October


The Clayton Fear Farm has been run by Boyette Family Farms for years and is the Triangle area's only scream park. This means that the Fear Farm isn't just a haunted house or maze, but a spooky destination with 7 uniquely terrifying haunted attractions. You could spend hours being scared to death!

This year’s frightening features offer the opportunity to pick your scare. Will it be the dark corn maze, the spooky woods, the terrifying school house, or a trip into a black hole? Be sure to bring your friends along, if you bring enough there’s a group rate. Ticket pricing lets you pick a little scare or a whole lot of terror; tickets are available for all attractions or on a per attraction basis. Check out the Clayton Fear Farm schedule on their website for dates and times.

Night time scare attractions are recommended for kids ages 12 and up. However, you can also visit Boyette’s during the day for non-scary Halloween fun with younger kids. There are hayrides, a playground, a corn maze, pumpkin picking, games, and other activities. Open through October on Saturdays from 10:00AM to 5:00PM and Sundays 1:00PM to 5:00PM.


New to Johnston County, in Kenly, is Sonlight Farms, offering a corn maze as well as bounce houses, hayrides, fall games, and fun props for family photo ops. There is even a smaller maze for the little ones to have fun in. Open every weekend in October on Fridays from 5PM to 9PM and Saturdays 3PM to 9PM.

Visit the Sonlight Farms website for more information and location. Sonlight is owned and operated by locals Joshua and April Phillips, who love the fall and wanted to create a place on their farm that family, friends, and visitors could enjoy everything the season has to offer. They hope you make a Sonlight visit a part of your family’s fall traditions.


Smith's Nursery and Produce Farm runs a pumpkin patch every October on their sprawling family farm. Not only can you get a pumpkin for carving but you can explore the farm which has hayrides, animals, a sunflower field, a pond, and even bee hives. Be sure to take the family to the Smith’s Fall Festival on October 22nd from 10:00AM to 3:00PM. There will be all the usual fall activities listed above plus horseback rides, music, bbq, a firetruck demo, face painting, and more. Visit their Facebook event page for more information.

Lazy O Farm in Smithfield also offers fall fun on the farm experiences for kids and families. The best time to go is Saturday October 29th from 2:00PM to 5:00PM for their Trick or Treating in the Maze event. This is a non-scary event for the little ones with animals, hayrides, a playground, and even a new Fairy Tale Trail offered this year. For more information on the event like location and cost, visit the Facebook event page.


Wilson’s Mills Pumpkin Festival will take place on October 8th from 10:00AM to 4:00PM at the Wilson’s Mills Town Hall. This is a family friendly event with vendors, children's activities, dunking booth, music, food, and much more! There will be a 5k Run/Walk for the Sue Daniels Memorial and Backpack Buddies, as well as a charity car show. A day of fun for everyone and admission is free!


For the lovers of fall who are over 21, plan to hang out at a local brewery, beer store, or your own back yard with a cold one in hand this October. Our Johnston County craft breweries have you covered. Deep River Brewing is known for their Fall and Winter seasonals, one of which is a Pumpkin Pie Porter with all the spices you associate with Fall. The other is a show-stopper brewed in the style of a Belgian Dubbel with local Johnston County sweet potatoes and toasted marshmallows going into the brew. It's called the JoCo White Winter. Yum! Double Barley Brewing has put some rock n' roll into their seasonal beer called Gourd Rocker Imperial Pumpkin Porter. This is a rich, creamy, nicely spiced beer like many other delicious fall seasonal beers. Except that in true Double Barley fashion this craft brew comes in at a 9.4% ABV. That's why it's called gourd rocker!

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Festival Celebrates Five Years of Making and Sharing Music

Festival Celebrates Five Years of Making and Sharing Music

 
The Clayton Piano Festival is celebrating their 5th season this Fall with an astounding line-up of artists. The season schedule of concerts will run October 14th through October 22nd. Organizers are expanding the festival to reach a larger community and have added additional events to celebrate this important anniversary. This year there will be six concerts with one at the Cary Arts Center and another at the Preston Woodall House in Benson, with the remaining events to be held in Clayton.

Both the Creative Director of the festival and a performer every year, Johnston County local Jonathan Levin is excited to showcase the growth of the festival as it enters year five, “Our goal over the years has been to share the joy and exhilaration that great music can bring in a fresh, new way each year, presenting a variety of top level classical artists from around the world.  I think at this point it’s become an anticipated cultural event in the area and we’re very pleased about that.”

The format of the Clayton Piano Festival is built on the premise of accessibility and interaction with the artist. As in past years, there will be intimate dinner concerts at smaller venues, and social “meet the artist” receptions following the concerts to enhance the experience for attendees.  There will be outreach programs to area schools to share the importance of music education and bring concert quality performances to more than 1,000 students.
Clayton Piano Festival Year Five Poster
This year’s concerts include a variety of music genres such as Ragtime and progressive rock.  Levin explains that “the idea is to show the full extent of what the piano can do, not just one discipline.” Performances this year include Rachael Flowers, a multi-talented instrumentalist and composer who lost her sight as an infant. According to Levin the festival is happy to have booked her, “we’re getting her right before she becomes famous. Racheal just had a Hollywood documentary made about her that is already making the film festival circuit.”

Levin, himself always modest, will be a can’t miss performance as well. Just last week he performed a solo recital debut at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Rorianne Schrade reviewed the performance for New York Concert Review and had this to say, “Showmanship, intelligence, more than ample pianism, and sensitive musicality are all wrapped up in one package in this young artist, so he should do quite well in his career.” This year’s festival line-up offers a unique chance to catch Jonathan in his hometown of Clayton.

Along with returning performers Jonathan Levin and Angelo Rondello, newcomer and renown ragtime pianist and composer Mill McNally at the Preston Woodall House and Russian pianist Azamat Sydykov at the Wagner House will be charming audiences with their performances. Which include dinner provided by the venue, and each will also include a reception to meet the artist.

The final gala will truly be a show stopper.  Hear five CPF artists perform, each sharing inspiring insights into a work with special personal significance for them.  Special guest, Mary Prescott, an adventurous, multi-genre artist, joins the others as she shares her unique voyage into learning the art of improvisation. To conclude the concert and the 5th season, all 5 artists will perform together on stage at the same time…on 5 pianos! With six hundred seats to fill, the organizers of the final concert are offering FREE tickets for children up to age 18, one for each paid adult ticket.

General ticket prices for Concerts with Dinner at The Wagner House and Preston Woodall House are $45.00 adult, $35.00 seniors, $25.00 students, concerts only $15.00 for adults and $5.00 students.  For the Sunday performance by Jonathan Levin at the Wagner House, tickets are $15.00 adults and $5.00 students/children.  The final concert performance featuring all five pianos will be $20.00 adults, $15.00 for seniors and military, and FREE for children under 18 years old. Tickets for the event are available at www.claytonpianofestival.org/schedule-tickets and tickets for the final performance may be purchased directly with The Clayton Center at www.theclaytoncenter.com.

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Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Copied with permissions By Keith Barnes and the Kenly News

Joyce Jenkins of The Serving Spoon in Pine Level appeared as assistant to her daughter, Charlise Johnson, a Smithfield native who now lives in Atlanta, on Food Network’s “Cake Wars” last week making it to the final round of the high-profile competition.

“Cake Wars” episode, which aired on Monday evening, Sept. 5, featured the Johnston County team and followed four bakers competing in two timed elimination-style rounds. Each baker was vying for a chance at a $10,000 prize but only one master cake artist got the chance to walk away with the top prize. The team of Jenkins and Johnson County beat out two other baking teams before being eliminated in the final round of competition.

Jenkins is owner of The Serving Spoon located at 212 N. Peedin Ave. in Pine Level and has been a caterer in Johnston County for 13 years. Johnson graduated from Smithfield-Selma High School and now lives in the Atlanta area where she launched her custom cake-baking business in 2013.

“She’s been cooking with me since she was three years old and she’s 36 now,” said Jenkins. To get on the show Charlise Johnson sent in a video and her entry was selected by the judges leading to an invitation to come to California and compete.

“For the show the contestants each were allowed to get an assistant,” said Jenkins. “She asked me if I’d help her because she felt the most confident with me.”

“One contestant was from Pennsylvania, one was from New Jersey and the other was from California,” said Jenkins. “They were pretty formidable opponents.”

“They give you a list of ingredients that you have to choose from,” said Jenkins. “We made a lemon basil cake with tomato jam and used ricotta cream cheese icing and a sweet potato cake and whipped cream icing.”

Jenkins said every bit had to be prepared from scratch and they were given no hints or clues prior to the competition of what they would be doing. “It was an enjoyable experience,” said Jenkins. “We had fun and enjoyed meeting the other bakers who we became very good friends with before we left. I’m so happy Charlise took me along for the ride.”

“The biggest thing I got out of it was that I got to help my daughter grow her brand,” said Jenkins. “Anytime I can help my children succeed in life I’ll be there 100 percent.”

Earlier this year at the Johnston County Arts and Food Festival Gala held at Johnston Community College The Serving Spoon took home two top prizes winning in the most original dish and best appetizer categories.

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

beer wine and shine trail logo

Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.

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Meeting Planners

meeting venue with presentation screen

Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?

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Group Tour Operators

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Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.

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Hotel Packages

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We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.

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FREE TRAINING

 

Check out what other travelers say about Johnston County, North Carolina on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor
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