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

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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Tis' the Season & Snare

Tis' the Season & Snare

If you read my Journey blog or any of the JoCo Has Talent series blogs you'll already know two things. One, I love music on a very personal and visceral level. Two, Johnston County has some amazing and talented people trying to make it in the music business. In this week's blog I'm talking to Casey Austin Allen, a Four Oaks native and one half of the duo Season & Snare. The other half being Autumn Rose Brand. If you're wondering about the name of the band, Casey plays drums and Autumn is, well, named after a season. And it's always ladies first, so Season & Snare. The duo was formed in March of 2014, and yes, they are more Karmen than HoneyHoney. Which is a musical way of saying they are a couple. Below, Casey answers my questions about Season & Snare, the music industry, Johnston County, and dating your business partner.

As it turns out, musician was not Casey's first career choice, "I was actually gonna be a Power Ranger. But, it turns out, that's not really a job." I can sympathize, seeing as my Hogwarts letter is STILL lost in the owl mail somewhere.

Like many young kids whose parents aren't quite sure what to get their children for Christmas, Casey received a drum set one year, "I didn't ask for one, but I had fun banging on it randomly for a year until an older friend of mine came over one day and tapped out a beat on it. I just had this moment of epiphany, like, you can make purposeful noise with that?!"

He got lessons at 15 and became so good that he graduated high school early in order to tour with a metal band. He did that for four and half years, which isn't as weird as it sounds Casey says, "if you want to play at a very high technical level as a drummer you either need to play metal or jazz."


Casey at the Drums


He joined the band through a mutual friend and left when he realized he had a real passion for singing... not screaming. Along the way he picked up guitar, piano, and song writing. Then, in 2014 he met Autumn at a studio session in Raleigh that he had booked to play drums. They still do a lot of concerts in Raleigh, where they have ties to the music scene.

"Instead of going on a normal date we started writing music together and the connection was instant. We both have a love for pop and folk. Our sound inspiration comes from bands like the Civil Wars and Broods. We complement each other in what we bring to the music. I'm from Johnston County and so sometimes a little southern, country, rock sneaks in. Autumn is from Seattle so she sometimes tempers the songs with a soft, rainy day vibe."

I asked how their writing sessions go, "normally one of us gets an idea and then we bring it up to each other and continue together. I think the fact that we're dating makes our song writing better, it adds honesty. But, it can be difficult too. To set aside your relationship and make decisions as business partners."

Listening to Casey define their roles in the band, I get the feeling that having clearly defined tasks is what makes it work, "Autumn does a lot of the marketing and booking. She's great at it. And we've both become very savvy with social media, especially Periscope. That's where we caught our big break."

Periscope is a live-streaming service through Twitter. You jump on the app, start recording yourself, and Twitter let's people know that you're doing something cool on camera, giving your followers and other twitter members a chance to click a link and watch you. So, basically, Season & Snare can put on a concert in their living room whenever they want thanks to the internet.

"The unfortunate thing is that the music industry isn't just about talent and drive, it's about luck." But Casey says that a lot of talented and business-minded artists are turning to the rapid changes in technology and communication to gain an audience and following.

Season & Snare's big break (where talent, hard-work, internet savvy, and luck came together) took place during a Periscope session that started with 15 people logged-in to watch Autumn and Casey jam in their living room, per usual. Except that night they watched the hit count (the number of people currently watching them) jump from 15 to 100 to 1500. It turns out Aaron Paul, star of the hit TV show Breaking Bad, had stumbled upon their Periscope session and digged their music, tweeting out Season & Snare to his 2.5+ million followers.


Aaron Paul on Twitter

But, wait, it gets better. Because of that one session, Season & Snare ended up being the first live feed to go "viral" on Periscope. So the company contacted Casey and Autumn, congratulating them on their success and talent, thanking them for using the platform, and inviting them to play at one of the first Periscope Summits in NYC.

I asked Casey what that feels like, "It was crazy! We're performing and speaking at the next summit in San Francisco coming up soon. Our success with Periscope has given us a bigger following on the west coast than we have in our home state. That's the power of the internet."

I asked if he thought the internet would ever make labels obsolete, "I don't think they'll ever be obsolete, having a record deal can make a lot of things easier. But social media and crowd-sharing is making it easier for independent artists to compete in the market, to make it without a label. Ideally, Season & Snare would like to be an independent band with a good distribution company."

The bigger you get as a band, the more you travel. Both nationally and internationally. I wanted to know what Casey misses most about JoCo, "the first time I went to NYC was a little shocking. Everyone walks with their heads down, not making eye contact. In Johnston County, you can be a complete stranger but we make eye contact with you, we nod, we say hello. Southern hospitality is the best. It's nice to return and feel welcome."

Speaking of returning, Season & Snare will be making Four Oaks, NC their base of operations for a while. In between recording music and touring, Casey and Autumn will be opening up a music school in their home, his grandparents old home actually. Casey was very close to his grandparents, who lived next door to him growing up. In fact, he recently released a song he wrote about their love for each other. Called To Ann, With Love. You can listen to it and learn more about it here. Be prepared to cry. The song is absolutely beautiful both musically and lyrically.

With their love and support of him, it feels right that the home his grandparents shared will be a place for making and sharing music. Johnston County doesn't have a lot of places that kids can go outside of school to learn music appreciation, especially early in life. Casey is hoping to change that, "we'll be teaching drums, guitar, piano, violin, and maybe a few more."

Best of all, Season & Snare have their very first EP debuting late this month. In conjunction with a TV show. Yes, you heard that right!  On December 22, ABC News is doing a special on new social media trends, and Periscope will be a part of that. One part of the special is about how new bands are using apps like Periscope to reach new, larger audiences, and Season & Snare will be featured in the segment which will air nationally. Be on the look-out for more news regarding the EP release date on the Season & Snare Facebook page - and LIKE them while you're there.

It was an incredible experience to sit down with Casey and talk music. As it always is when I speak with one of the many talented artists that come out of Johnston County. I get to play Rolling Stone reporter for a day. Hopefully soon, you'll see Season & Snare on the cover of Rolling Stone for real. I'm certainly glad that they're chasing their dreams and that they've decided to share their music and talent with Johnston County along the way. Casey is optimistic you'll be able to see them perform in the county at some local gigs they hope to book in 2016. And, if not, there's always Season & Snare on Periscope.

UPDATE: You can now listen to snippets of Season & Snare's new EP Seek here, and follow the link to purchase on iTunes! Happy Listening!


Casey & Autumn

*Blog Cover Photo Taken by Daniel Scheirer.

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A Potter. A Preacher. A Process.

A Potter. A Preacher. A Process.

"Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." Jeremiah 18:12

As a child in Duplin County, Frank Grubbs remembers digging in the clay at creek beds to mold little works of art. Of course, at the time, he didn't have a wheel or a kiln, but he was a persistent potter. His little hands would work the clay into what he imagined and then eventually the rain would wash it away. Grubbs has always been artistically inclined. But his art has evolved rather slowly in iterations that parallel the stages of his life. From his small creek-clay creations to his obsession with modeling clay in high school art class, to his senior year at Atlantic Christian College when he found himself in an Intro to Ceramics class.

A life-long career in the ministry has rivaled a life-long passion for pottery. The latter of which was truly sparked during a field trip during the Intro to Ceramics class, "it was a field trip to the studio of Dan Finch Pottery. He had a studio in an old converted tobacco barn. I knew one day I was gonna be a potter with an emphasis on wheel thrown pottery." This conviction led Grubbs to buy his first wheel and kiln in 1978, he still has both. After 41 years in the ministry, and counting, he is getting more serious about pottery. Not just about selling it or making a business out of it, serious about the art itself and the joy he finds in it.

"It's like Christmas morning every time I open the kiln, when that feeling goes away I'll quit." I asked him what he meant by that, "pottery is an ancient art that has evolved over time through wonderful accidents discovered by potters before me along the way. And yet no two pieces of pottery are ever truly identical. Even with all the controls and knowledge and experience, I have no idea what I'm gonna get when I open the kiln. Even if I repeat the process exactly, a piece of pottery can emerge different from the piece before it."

"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." Isaiah 64:8

What I took away from my time in Frank Grubb's studio, which exists between his home and a barn out back, is that pottery is in fact a process. It goes a little something like this: raw clay to some sort of formation, to a kiln firing to a glaze application, to a glaze firing and then finally any sealing or setting. But Grubbs says he has never been very comfortable with glazing, and a lot of the work he does, and continues to experiment with, is called alternative firing. This includes barrel firing, pit firing, and a method called raku. The last of which involves decorating the pot while it is still hot from the kiln (and when I say hot I mean over 1,000 degrees hot). Grubb's pottery is most known locally for his unique application of horse hair during the raku process but you can really add anything - other types of hair, sugar, alcohol, or even feathers.

Grubbs says that raku is about careful temperature regulation, "if the pot is too hot the horse hair bounces off and disintegrates. If the pot is too cold the hair simply melts into the pot without leaving a mark. I have found that the best temperature range is between 1150-1200 degrees."

Walking around the house and studio is an amazing experience, with so many different shapes, styles, and colors of pottery jumping out at you. You can actually see everything for yourself tomorrow, Saturday, December 5th. For the past 2-3 years Grubbs has done an Open House and this year it will be at his home. You can show up any time from 10:00AM to 9:00PM. The address is 101 Cobblestone Court Smithfield, NC 27577. And it's the perfect season to purchase pottery as a gift. You will be able to purchase a truly unique piece of art during the Open House to give a friend or family member. If you are reading this from another town or state and would like to purchase your very own piece of Frank Grubbs pottery, then good news... he ships! You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A preacher who is a potter. Or a potter who is a preacher? Both take patience. Both instill a sense of wonderment over works wrought.  Frank Grubbs is both talented and extremely passionate about his art. It was mesmerizing to hear him talk with such enthusiasm. It made me want to try pottery. To make something with my hands. Owning a piece of pottery, crafted with hands that pour love into its making, is probably as close as I'm going to get though. But you can get that close too. Tomorrow. At the Frank Grubbs' Pottery Open House.

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"Video" Proof that Downtown Clayton is the Perfect Getaway!

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Kaylin Roberson Talks About Her Message and Her Music

Kaylin Roberson Talks About Her Message and Her Music

In this JoCo Has Talent Blog I sit down with local artist Kaylin Roberson to discuss her message and her music...

It's pretty hard to imagine having a life-altering experience at 9 years-old. At that age I was still struggling to decide which Backstreet Boy was cuter and how I could convince my parents to let me have a kitten. Kaylin Roberson however, was dealing with a traumatizing dog attack and having an epiphany regarding her place in the world.
"I was 9 and I was visiting my grandparents in Virginia. We had just gotten back from the fair and I went into the living room to pet their black lab who was sleeping. He woke up and he bit my face. I was in the hospital for 3 days and I was on life support for about 4 hours."

It's hard to believe that a child at such a young and venerable stage in life could take something inspiring away from that sort of incident, but Kaylin did. It was a wake-up call. In her more than 2 weeks recovery process Kaylin spent a lot of time making videos. She had always enjoyed dancing, acting, and singing; she can also play the heck outta a piano. But, those 14 days allowed her to reflect on her passion for music and her current circumstances.

"I knew that I would have to go back to school and my face was still swollen. I had to have over 200 stitches. I wondered if my friends would ridicule me. I thought about what I had been through and what I would have to go through and music really helped me. I thought, what if I can help other kids."

Sharing Her Music

And so, eight years later, that's what Kaylin Roberson is doing. Using music to inspire and help others. You may have seen her at JCC performing in the Country Music Showcase, or more recently out at The Farm Food Truck Festival as one of the local acts. She also travels around with One Voice Project (an anti-bullying tour) and Doggone Safe (a dog safety and bite prevention non-profit) in order to use her story and her music to inspire and comfort. She has sung for orphanages, schools, and dog attack victims.
Kaylin Singing
Once Kaylin realized what she wanted to do with her music, she got serious about it. She started taking lessons and also committed to other talents she had previously dabbled in. She is what the industry calls a triple threat - trained in singing, acting, and dancing.

For an artist who has taken voice lessons with Clay Aiken and shared a stage with Jason Michael Carroll, it's humbling to hear her talk about the highlight of her career so far, "I love seeing the reaction other kids have to my music. A lot of kids I've visited with and played for still follow me, still ask when I'm coming back to perform near them. The other day a lady called my Mom to tell her that her children had started a Kaylin Task Force at their school to combat bullying."

At 16 Kaylin is well on her way to the big stage, but she says that she doesn't mind if she has to play a thousand little gigs to get there. It's all part of working your way up. She shared with me her thoughts on making it big, "you have to be the background music before you can be the main act." Sage advice. A young lady very mature for her age, I often forgot that I was sitting with someone more than a decade my junior.

When she isn't performing Kaylin is busy song-writing, something she finds more of a relaxing hobby than a chore. It is important in the music industry to build a catalogue of solid, original songs and she is well on her way. She has two new songs dropping very soon, one is called Sad But True. She also has a music video out for her song Life Must Go On.


Her Inspiring Message

I asked her where she draws her inspiration from when writing lyrics, "the best songs come from personal experiences, but I also listen to the cool things that other artists are doing. I steal experiences from my friends sometimes. Writing songs is about really emotional moments - joy and sadness."

Who's her dream collaboration? Sam Hunt. Excellent choice. She also says that she has a real respect for singer/songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Birdy. Her favorite song to cover recently has been Cam's Burning House. Kaylin's next big step is going to be getting signed by a record label... hopefully! But you can still catch her around the county from time to time. She played the Ham & Yam festival a few months ago and she loves performing in JoCo.

When she's not working on or performing music Kaylin likes to dance, shop, hang with friends, and go to country concerts. She also plays with her dog, a chocolate lab who's older now but who came to her and her family as a puppy... a few weeks before the dog attack that changed Kaylin's life. She said she wouldn't let her parents get rid of the dog and she didn't want the dog that bit her put down either - he was saved thanks to Virginia's first bite forgiveness rule.

"I'm not afraid of dogs. It's not the dogs fault. But, dog attacks do happen and much more often than you think. That's why I work with Doggone Safe. They educate adults and children on how to interact with dogs and it allows me to work with victims to share my own story and share my music."

Check out Kaylin's music at the provided links, and if you have a chance check her out in concert (she performs at a lot of events in Raleigh, the Triangle, and Johnston County). She is one talented teen and one incredibly thoughtful soul. I certainly wish her the best on her musical journey.

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

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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.


Meeting Planners

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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?


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.


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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