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JCVB Blog

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

Ashby Brame is a Johnston County native who lived all over the state of North Carolina from mountains to coast, before settling back in JoCo. She loves sharing the ways in which this county is evolving into a fun visitor destination and an awesome place to call home. Ashby hopes her blogs about history, hospitality, delicious food, beer, and moonshine encourage people near and far to give JoCo a try.

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Step Aside Wine... We'll Take Beer with Our Chocolate

Step Aside Wine... We'll Take Beer with Our Chocolate

I love a lot of things in this world. But the short list includes books and chocolate and craft beverages. So, when I heard from Cheryl Lane of Double Barley Brewing that an award-winning chocolate company would be setting-up shop at the brewery, I was way more than excited. I’m sure almost everyone has had the pleasure of pairing chocolate and wine, but if you have not yet tried matching chocolate and beer then you’re just not living your best life. That’s my humble opinion.

I recently commented that Johnston County has an entrepreneurial spirit matched only be the spirit of partnership. You cannot take a tour at one location on the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail without hearing about at least one other location on the trail and beyond. Paul and Lynn Auclair of Deep River Brewing are friends with Jerry Stephenson over at Redneck BBQ Lab, who gets his cornbread mix from Atkinson’s Milling Co., who also sells grits to Double Barley Brewing for one of their seasonal beers. Bob Hinnant and Lane Gregory, the county’s two wine makers, share best practices… and everybody just loves Jeremy Norris’s Broadslab moonshine.

It is this spirit of sharing and of piecing together something to make a greater whole that lead Cheryl and Larry Lane to open their brewery, their kitchen, and their business to Geraldine and Dan Doren of GerDan chocolates. To figure how this tasty confection of a business came to be, and where it’s going, I interviewed Geraldine. Find out everything there is to know about GerDan by reading on.



How did GerDan start? Tell me a little about the history of the company.

We had friends who were chefs and owned catering companies and were always saying how difficult it was to work with chocolate.  Dan taught himself how to temper chocolate and started making bonbons for family gatherings and the holidays. Both family and friends urged us to start selling them and so we did. We formed GerDan in 2011 and would make our candies after work and then sell them at farmers' markets on the weekends. It just grew from there.

You won an award earlier this year. Tell me about that. How did it come about and what was it for?

Yes, indeed we did, we won a Good Food Award in the confections category for our Gingerbread Caramel which was made using NC cream and local ginger as well as organic sugar, molasses and cinnamon.  The inspiration for the caramel came from a cake my mother used to enjoy back in Ireland and so I transferred the flavors to a caramel. 

The Good Food Awards competition is held annually for outstanding American craft food producers who make tasty, authentic, and responsibly produced products.  Their focus in the confections category is "celebrating confections – whether chocolate covered bonbons or gloriously simple caramels – produced using locally grown, natural, minimally processed ingredients that celebrate regional culture and tradition, highlight American terroir, and exemplify excellence in the candy making craft.



You started out in Raleigh. Why move to Johnston County and Double Barley Brewing?

We were sharing a working space with a local winery in North Raleigh. When we came back from receiving our Good Food Award in January, the Winery decided they were not going to renew the lease and so we had to look for a new location to produce our confection.  Lucky for us, Cheryl and Larry offered us the use of their kitchen on Mondays and Tuesdays when the taproom is closed.

What are some of the items you make at GerDan with chocolate?

We have made various different confections over the years from nougat to ice pops.  We continue to add new flavors to our bonbon selection and our Brew Chews (beer caramels) are always popular.  Right now, our S'mores Toffee is our big seller.

What does the future hold for you? What plans do you have for the rest of 2017?

With both Dan and I making our candy full time now, we plan to continue expanding our bonbon and chocolate bar selection. Before the month is over we hope to have our website up and running.

Where can visitors experience/buy your chocolate?

We do pop-up events all over town so it is best to check our Facebook page and our website to see where we will be selling next.  In the near future, we hope to have a selection of our confections for sale at Double Barley Brewery.

Do you do special events, weddings, large orders?

We certainly do.  We are always willing to discuss what you would like to make your special day a little sweeter.

So, there you have it. A little more about the amazing GerDan chocolates… of which I have had a few. The Brew Chews are my new weakness. For the most up to date information on GerDan, like their Facebook page. We here at the Visitors Bureau will also keep everyone updated on when GerDan chocolates will be available “over the counter” at Double Barley Brewing.

 

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FAMiliarize Yourself with Johnston County

FAMiliarize Yourself with Johnston County

One of the absolute best parts of my job is hosting FAM Trips, or Familiarization Trips, where travel writers, bloggers, social influencers, and journalists visit my destination. The idea of a FAM Trip is that media guests will familiarize themselves with a destination and enjoy the trip so much that travel stories, articles, and social posts will be written and will attract others to visit the destination.

Travel writers are wonderful people who take joy in traveling and are always amazed at everything Johnston County has to offer. But the thing often talked about the most when I do FAM trips, and the thing I get most excited to share about Johnston County, are the wonderful people who live here. There is an entrepreneurial spirit in JoCo only matched by the spirit of collaboration. 

This week's blog will be a photo collection of the fun times had on the recent FAM trip that the Johnston County Visitors Bureau hosted in conjunction with the North American Travel Journalist Association Conference and all our participating tourism partners. 



Thanks to John at Shenanigans for your excellent transportation services from place to place. We couldn't have gotten there without you. 

 

Enjoying an impressive meal on the first night at Manning's in Downtown Clayton, NC.

 

Revival 1869 shaking-up some fun, original cocktails for a post-dinner nightcap. 

 

Taking a tour at Hinnant Vineyards with amazing weather.

 

Lunch catered by Redneck BBQ Lab at Broadslab Distillery. This stop and this lunch in particular was the subject of a lot of conversations the rest of the tour and conference.

 

Taking a group shot with Jeremy Norris and his still at Broadslab Distillery. 

 

Listening to Deep River owner and brewer Paul Auclair talk about his love of craft beer and the many different styles of beer available at Deep River. 

 

Simple Twist and Double Barley pulled out all the stops for the beer-pairing dinner on the last night of the trip. How amazing does this look? You can find it on the Simple Twist menu... the secret ingredient is Double Barley beer. Whoops! Not a secret anymore. 

 

The group wrapped-up their amazing experience with a tour of Gregory Vineyards.

 

Thank you to all the media who visited. I was honored to show you JoCo. Thank you also to all our wonderful partners who make FAM Trips possible and who make bragging about our destination so easy to do! 

 

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Nappy Roots to Headline Mondo Roots

Nappy Roots to Headline Mondo Roots

Mondo Roots is bringing art and music back to the streets of Clayton this summer. The festival is in its 2nd year, aiming to celebrate diversity and empower the community. On Saturday June 3rd, Main Street and will be full of local artists selling their art, and a select few will be doing live demonstrations. In addition, musical acts will be preforming throughout the day with a DJ spinning in between sets. This all culminates in the headlining act at 7:25 PM which this year will be Nappy Roots – a best-selling hip-hop group that emerged in the early 2000s and has been cranking out music ever since.

Craft beer, wine, and food truck vendors will be on-hand throughout the day. The event officially starts at noon and goes till around 8:00PM. Pets, children, and sundry are welcome. This is a not-to-be-missed festival drawing locals and visitors to Downtown Clayton. I spoke to one of Mondo’s organizers, Dave Brown, about the festival. Dave owns Earth Plow Productions and works to secure the bands for the event. Mondo Roots is a Clayton Visual Arts event.

Nappy Roots?! Amazing! How did such a headliner come about?

Nappy Roots was always who I envisioned headlining this festival from its inception.  The goal of Mondo Roots was always to help unify a community and be true to our “roots” here in this part of the state.  Nappy is such a great fit on all counts. They are humble, they rap about things that are very familiar to this area of the state, and they have a very positive message, and to boot, they are just all around great people.  


 
Shindig is another music-centric festival in Clayton in the Fall and has had Grammy-winning headliners. Do you feel that booking higher-caliber talent causes attendance growth or that organic festival growth allows for the attraction of big talent?

I believe they work hand in hand.  There is a balance that has to happen, we have always prided ourselves on getting the right headliner for the right crowd size estimation and genre.  Of course, we have been very fortunate with both of our festivals getting great talent that peaked at the right time.  We always have our eye on the “next big thing”.  
 
You work to blend musical genres at Mondo, what are you looking for when you start the signing process with the line-up every year?

Originality, relevance, and musicianship!  Mondo gives us the ability to really stretch the boundaries of genres, whereas the Shindig is Americana and Bluegrass, Mondo is about every culture and every genre so the canvas is blank so to speak for choosing the music.
 
Tell me a little bit about the VIP package this year.

Well, if you want to get a chance to meet and mingle with the bands, and if you like free beer samples provided by Foothills and most importantly if you like shade and comfort the VIP tent is for you.  There was a strong demand last year for a “next level” seating area with some amenities, we answered that call by providing the VIP tent.  $20 and you are in, best deal in town, AND the proceeds go to House of Hope – a local charity that helps abused and troubled girls.
 
Beyond the music, Mondo is a celebration of the arts. What's happening this year at the festival as far as art goes?

We have so many artists there it is going to be pretty impressive for our town.  The CVA has done a great job jurying the artist row, and making sure that we have truly handcrafted original works of art.  We also have a feature artist area where some remarkable artists in the area are going to be performing live art demonstrations.  Those include Clark Hipolito, a Clayton-Raleigh area native. We’ll also have Victor Knight III out again, he is a very accomplished and well known graffiti artist in the area.  They will join 3 others on the main lawn for an all-day demo.


 
What's a good estimate for how attendance has grown from year to year? How many people came last year?

We estimated our attendance of just over 1,500 last year, we expect a fairly large jump this year as have added more to the musical lineup and plus the natural maturation process that happens with festivals.  
 
Do you know where attendees are coming from? Local? Regional? Out of state?

Everywhere, I would say that a large portion are local, but I know we have people coming from Virginia, South Carolina and even Tennessee this year.  That’s what happens when you put high grade talent on a stage for free and for a good cause.
 
What makes Clayton the perfect place to host festivals like this?

I think the biggest thing that makes it a good spot to throw festivals is its proximity to Raleigh and other surrounding areas.  Plus, since the beginning of our festival days Clayton as a community has been very supportive.  In addition, being tucked in a center of a town with historic buildings acting as a backdrop gives us a great canvas to paint this festival on!  

For more information visit www.mondoroots.com. The festival itself and all entertainment is free, but if you’re interested in the VIP experience go here.

 

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Johnston County Now Has an Official Geocaching Trail

Johnston County Now Has an Official Geocaching Trail



If you like exploring the great outdoors, visiting interesting places, and scavenger hunts then you’re going to love geocaching. For those who don’t know what this popular hobby is, geocaching is a family-friendly activity for people of all ages where participants find hidden containers using GPS coordinates.

These containers or “caches” can be hidden anywhere and in fact millions of them exist world-wide. You can find caches at attractions, restaurants, businesses, parks, monuments, downtown areas, and more. Many geocaching participants use a handheld GPS device or a mobile phone. Once the container is discovered a log book located inside is signed by the finders of that particular cache – almost like a guest book. The container can also include items placed there by other participants for gift or trade to other participants.

The coordinates will lead you to within about a 25-foot radius of a cache and then you will have to start searching. The container is never buried but may be hidden in, on, under, or on top of something. The look and size of a container can vary and could also be camouflaged or hidden somehow by leaves, bark, or other materials.


Visitors and Locals Alike are Encouraged to Geocache


Geocaching is a great activity to do as a group and especially as you travel around or through an area. The official geocaching trail in Johnston County, called the Johnston County Heritage GeoTrail, has 50 caches hidden throughout the county and creates a thematic trail that includes some of Johnston County’s most popular tourism stops encompassing history, culture, food, art, and more!

Fun Fact: apart from the strategically placed “official” geocaches along the Johnston County Heritage GeoTrail there are over 2,000 caches located around JoCo, hidden by other participants in the hobby.


Here’s how to participate in the official Johnston County Heritage GeoTrail:

  1. Create a free account on geocaching.com and then search for GC73Q1A which will bring you to the official listing for all the geocaches on our trail.
  2. Download and print your passport.
  3. Brochures on the trail with the 50+ coordinates listed can also be picked-up from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau office at 235A East Market   Street, Smithfield, NC 27577.
  4. Find all 50 caches on the trail & record the code words from each cache in your passport or on the official brochure mentioned above.
  5. Bring or mail your completed passport or brochure to the address above.
  6. Receive your free, trackable geocoin (while supplies last).


The Johnston County Heritage GeoTrail was organized and is managed by the Johnston County Visitors Bureau in partnership with local, avid geocache hobbyist.

For more information on our trail specifically and tips on how to geocache like a pro visit www.johnstoncountync.org/joco-geocaching-trail. For information on the phenomenon of geocaching worldwide visit www.geocaching.com.


Happy Hunting!

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Clayton Bootleggers Expanding Club with Professional Partnerships

Clayton Bootleggers Expanding Club with Professional Partnerships



Did you know that Johnston County has a Rugby team? Well, it does. The Bootleggers. Appropriate for this area, no? Established in 2013 the Clayton Rugby Football Club, or the Clayton RFC, is one of the fastest growing club teams in the USA. In fact, the Bootleggers just added a U20 squad (players between 18-22). This adds to a team roster that already includes men’s Division 3 and 4 teams and an Old Boys (35 & over) team. In addition, the club supplies coaching support for a youth rugby program called the Clayton Copperheads that offers playing opportunities from kids between the ages of 6 and 18 and is run by Pat & Becky Cunningham.

The Clayton RFC practices twice weekly at East Clayton Community Park and that’s also where they host home games. The club is very proud of their growth. They’ll be hosting their 2nd tournament in Clayton this coming July. It’s called the CottonTown 7s Rugby Festival. And it brings in visitors from out of town as well as giving the Bootleggers and the community a chance to showcase their talent as a team and their organization as a club. A win/win.

I spoke to club President Ted Hardy about how far the club has come and about the serious (dare we say professional?) goals they have for the future.  


Clayton Rugby Football Club Dreams Big


Let’s talk first about the major news coming out of the club in the last few months. You guys have been working on an impressive partnership with the Glasgow Warriors. That’s a professional European rugby team. That’s incredible! There can’t be too many small-town USA club teams that can boast that sort of network?

“Our relationship with the Glasgow Warriors is quite unique. There are a few other relationships between European professional rugby clubs and American clubs, but the American clubs involved are from major markets, field elite squads, and have been around for 30-40 years. The fact that our club is young, just starting to climb the competitive ranks, and from rural North Carolina makes our relationship that much more interesting and special. Our experience with them has been flattering, humbling, and extremely important to our growth. There are cultural, administrative, and marketing structures that we are using right now with the Clayton RFC that are scaled versions of what is being done by Glasgow. We have truly been blessed, but at the same time we went out and worked for it.”

 So, what are the logistics of this partnership?

“Technically speaking, we are referring to our agreement as a Developmental Relationship with Nathan Bombrys, whom is the Managing Director of the Glasgow Warriors. Through him we are gaining access to the Warriors, but we do not have a formal agreement in place with the club. We hope to see this relationship continue to grow to the point where we can create a formal partnership with the Warriors down the road. The current relationship in place provides our club quarterly teleconferences with either Nathan or one of his administrative/marketing staff or coaches depending on the topic we're interested in discussing. Nathan has also helped provide administrative support to our club through his mentoring and advice. He has been instrumental in opening multiple doors for our club in Scotland where we have quietly created a strong network of professional contacts and resources. This relationship led to a group of our Board Members making a development trip to Scotland in February of this year which was an amazing experience. During our stay we spent time with the Warriors as well as staff from the Scottish Rugby Union and multiple clubs in Scotland. All of which was facilitated through our relationship with Nathan. There is a keen interest overseas in the development of rugby in the USA and they were incredibly gracious with their time and information. The hospitality we were shown rivaled our very own Southern hospitality.”

 


What does your partnership with clubs abroad, that aren’t professional teams, look like?

“One club that we have aligned with is Ayr RFC. They are one of the top clubs in Scotland and a model organization with teams in every age group from U6 through Premier Adult Men and Women. We are in ongoing talks with them on a variety of topics. Our goal is to set up an exchange program between our clubs where we have yearly player and coach exchanges. This will allow promising players that come through our club, as well as coaches, to experience true immersion in a rugby culture. This will benefit our players and coaches by improving their knowledge and skill set, and will ultimately help our club continue to rise up the ladder in American rugby as they bring that experience back to Clayton. On the flip side, their coaches and players get to experience rugby in a developing rugby country and bring their experience to our club to help us improve. Our club is also heavily involved in working within the community and developing non-rugby events. Ayr is a leader in this area and their expertise in community events is one of the reasons that Nathan opened their doors for us.”

I don’t know much about rugby but it seems like the momentum that Clayton RFC is building is lightyears beyond what I’d except from a rural club just a few years old.

“We have taken an aggressive approach to our club's development. Instead of focusing solely on wins and losses, we have instead placed an emphasis on building the administrative and operational foundation that will be the platform for sustainable success, on and off the field, for many years to come. Having been around rugby for a very long time, I can say that what is happening with our club is very special in American rugby. There aren't many clubs operating at the organizational level we're delivering, certainly not in the Carolinas.”

So, you’re starting a U20 team. How do you decide when to add teams or program options in the club?

“The U20 team has been in the works for about a year. Jumping from high school to men's rugby is tough physically and mentally. USA Rugby, our governing body, is soon to start pushing U20 as a bridge to help with the transition. We're hoping to get ahead of the curve. We have some really neat ideas for the group that will help those involved and help our club as they develop into men's players. One idea on the table is to take local kids that may have not otherwise gone to college and give them scholarships to JCC so they can get a 2-year degree and play rugby for our U20s while in school. We're also hoping to send some overseas.”

Aside from the growth in teams and participants, what else is on the horizon for the club?

“We have some very exciting prospects on the horizon for our club. At the top of that list is our new rugby facility which we hope to break ground on this Summer. We have recently worked out an agreement with the Town of Wilson's Mills. They have a Community Park project that has been in the works for quite some time. Last year they approached us about getting involved in the project. Almost a year later we have an agreement in place that was unanimously approved by their Town Council. The Town is going to put in a playground, bathrooms, parking and some support structures at the park and then provide us space to develop a multi-field complex. We intend to install 3-4 fields at the park. At least two of the fields will be multi-purpose in nature and one will be what we're referring to currently as a ‘Championship Field’. The Championship Field is going to have permanent professional grade rugby goal posts, a manicured playing surface, team sideline shelters, and raised bleacher seating for 500-1000 fans initially. Essentially a mini rugby stadium. Right here in Johnston County... who would have ever thought?”



This project seems like an excellent opportunity for all involved. We here at the Visitors Bureau of course love it when something brings in tourists (like visiting sports teams and fans). But, this partnership will also be about what the Bootleggers can bring to your community. What’s the ultimate goal in regards to that?

“While we're keeping close tabs on the Championship Field, all of the other fields that we install will be made available to the town and community. This was a win-win for everyone involved. We get much needed land without the expense of purchasing and in return we provide recreational space for the Town. We are also launching a new youth rugby program through the Town of Wilson's Mills next Spring that will be open to kids in Wilson's Mills, Smithfield, and Selma. We have also received permission to construct a full-service clubhouse on the grounds. We expect that to come a few years down the road, but once it is complete it will include banquet space, locker rooms for teams, meeting rooms, a kitchen, and more. We are hoping to team up with the town on that project and allow the facility to be used as a community center as well.”

On the flipside of that, it seems like the ultimate goal of Clayton RFC is to make your home turf an attractive and professional location to play rugby. What could this new facility mean for hosting major rugby events?

“When the facility is complete it will make us an extremely attractive option for hosting rugby events in the Eastern USA. There is very little competition for elite rugby events in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast and we expect our facility to bring in a number of teams and events to Johnston County in the coming years. Our weather profile also makes us an excellent Winter destination option for clubs from the Midwest and Northeast. We've completed some rough economic impact studies and our facility could be the cornerstone for sports tourism for the county. We also intend to use the facility to host non-rugby community events throughout the year like movie nights, concerts, kids events, and more.”

As a club, do you think your ultimate dream is to be North Carolina’s first professional rugby team?

“The fact that there isn't a major sports team in Johnston County is something we are keeping in mind. Another reason why it is important that we lay down a solid foundation first – administrative, financial, coaching, and facilities. While we may not be professional in the sense that we are paying staff, we can certainly take a professional approach to how we operate our club and provide services and entertainment to the community. We aim to continue to grow and improve our teams, which will improve us as a product worth viewing. Rugby has received such a warm welcome here in Johnston County already. I think there is so much potential for the sport here. We, as a community, have a very interesting opportunity to get on board at the ground level with rugby as it begins to explode across the United States. Johnston County could never get a Major League Baseball team or an NFL franchise, but rugby is on the verge of professionalizing in the USA and there is a very real opportunity to bring it to us.”



See It All for Yourself – Catch a Bootleggers Rugby Match


Where can people interested in watching the Bootleggers play see you next?

“Best place to see us next is at our 2nd Annual CottonTown 7s tournament on July 15th. We're hoping to have 30 teams playing in four divisions this year. There should be 2-3 teams of Clayton players in the tourney. That is 7 v 7 rugby like what is played in the Olympics. It is our big event for the year. The season just wrapped up and will start again in September.”

Any last comments?

“I'd be remiss if I didn't take this chance to highlight our many wonderful local partners and sponsors: Deep River Brewing Company, Clayton Chiropractic, Crossfit Clayton, Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina, Sheetz, World Rugby Shop, and TanseyReviews.com. Without their support, we wouldn't be able to deliver rugby to the community like we do.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Clayton Rugby Football Club, or maybe becoming a Bootlegger yourself, visit their website - www.claytonrfc.com.

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Ham & Yam Time Again

Ham & Yam Time Again


It's time for the Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival in Downtown Smithfield, scheduled for May 6th with a wealth of activities for the entire family.  For the complete schedule of events and all things Ham & Yam, visit the official visitor website for the festival, www.hamandyam.com.


Ham History


The Ham & Yam Festival is a celebration of the agricultural history of Johnston County. The area was once a rural farmland where ham producers and sweet potato growers made a living. Because of this, the focus of the festival remains food. Attendees can find many varieties of hams and yams at the festival – barbecue from the cook-off, country ham biscuits, sweet potato cheesecake pies, country ham pimento cheese, sweet potato smoothies, sweet potato lemonade, baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato funnel cake, and more! If you don’t know the history of the Ham & Yam festival you should read an older, but still relevant article, by Smithfield native Emily Wallace. You can access it here. If you do know the history of the Ham & Yam festival, then you know that this will be the 33rd year.

A lady doesn’t divulge her age, but I will say that the Ham & Yam Festival has been going on longer than I’ve been alive, which means the Ham & Yam festival has been a staple of my life as a Johnston County native. I can see in my interest and anticipation for the festival how I’ve aged over the years. As a child, my joy in attending the festival was an impending glee regarding what wonders I could persuade my mother to buy me: sand art, a princess ribbon crown, possibly something I could have monogramed. As an adult, I take pleasure in a slow perusal of the vendors, looking for locally-crafted things I could use in my house: oh, look, handmade kitchen towels… I’ll take 8, thanks. Growing up has some hard truths to it. Maybe this year I’ll buy a flowing, sparkly ribbon crown just to prove a point to myself.


Family Fun in the Triangle


Ham & Yam is also about arts and entertainment. There are craft vendors, as well as games and rides, a 5K race, a What’s That Yam Thing? Contest, pig races, and more. Three stages include performances throughout the day, including performances by Nantucket at 2:30 p.m. and The Ultimate Eagles Tribute – On The Border at 7:00 p.m.

See you soon in Downtown Smithfield! conveniently located near I-95 and Highway 70, just 30 minutes from downtown Raleigh.

 

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Howell Woodstock Celebrating Earth Day

Howell Woodstock Celebrating Earth Day


If you’d like a way to celebrate Earth Day this year, the annual Howell Woodstock will take place on Saturday the 22nd of April. The event goes from 1:00PM to 5:00PM and is located at Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center in Four Oaks. Take the kids for nature hikes, browse food and craft vendors, and enjoy educational displays. The Tobacco Farm Life Museum will be joining the festivities this year as well as the Science Club from Clayton Elementary. In addition, Jeremy Stroud will be demonstrating Wilderness Survival and Howell Woods will also be partnering with the JCC Science Dept. and the NC Science Festival to offer some hands-on activities.

“This year’s Howell Woodstock is shaping up to be another great event,” said Jordan Astoske, Director of Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center

Howell Woodstock offers many free, fun activities for the family including fishing, mule wagon rides, astronomy, and reptile displays. Kids can enjoy recreational activities like a rock climbing wall and inflatables.

“We are excited to once again be offering this family-fun day out at Howell Woods,” says Astoske. “This is such a beautiful time of year on the Howell Woods property, and we hope folks will come out and bring their families and have a great time with us.”

Visitors to the area the weekend of the 22nd are encouraged to attend. Howell Woods is located a few miles off of Exit 90 on I-95. Whether you're looking for a day trip opportunity or a family excursion, put Howell Woodstock on your calendar. 

Howell Woods is a unique 2,800-acre natural resource located at 6601 Devil’s Racetrack Road in the southeastern part of Johnston County. Programs, activities, and other recreation experiences like bird watching are offered at Howell Woods at other times of the year during spring, summer, and fall. Continue to check their website below for additional information regarding everything they have to offer both locals and visitors to Johnston County.

Howell Woodstock will be held rain or shine. For more information about the event and Howell Woods, please call (919) 938-0115 or visit www.johnstoncc.edu/howellwoods.

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NC Beer Month is Full of Beer and Cheer

NC Beer Month is Full of Beer and Cheer

It’s the time of year again! NC Beer Month is in April! Our JoCo brewers are ready to welcome you with cheers and beers!

When Deep River’s Paul and Lynn Auclair set out to open Johnston County’s first legal brewery in 2013 they had a vision for an award-winning brewery that would have a beer for every type of craft beer lover and would strive to use locally grown ingredients whenever possible. A short time later, Double Barley Brewing came on the scene making Johnston County an even more enticing place for beer-lovers to visit. Double Barley also uses local ingredients and packs a punch, with a tendency towards dark, strong beers.

Both brewers have expanded production and distribution since they opened. Johnston-County-made beers also win awards. In 2016 Deep River took home Silver at the NC Brewers Cup for their Munich Dunkel – “I Think I Left My Shorts in Munich”. They also took home a Bronze for their Barrel Aged Imperial Milk Stout. Double Barley’s “Double Dubbel” Belgian Style Ale won Gold at the NC Brewers Cup and their “Touché” IPA won Silver at Summertime Brews.



This April, for NC Beer Month, you can expect small batch beers from Double Barley, as well as a BBQ Cook-off at the brewery on April 14th. Deep River will be celebrating with its 4 Year Anniversary Party, April 7th-9th, and is releasing a collaboration with another award-winning brewery, Mother Earth out of Kinston. The collaboration will be a hoppy, Australian-style IPA.

Johnston County is part of the Triangle beer scene and conveniently located just minutes from Raleigh, which makes it a perfect craft beer day trip destination. Visitors can also make a weekend out of their visit with the Sip & Stay package. It’s a wonderful weekend itinerary for couples, girlfriends, craft beer & wine enthusiasts and visitors that enjoy spirits and local foods.

Included among the many deals in the package are coupons to Deep River Brewing Company and Double Barley Brewing. The package also includes a special offer room rate, as well as deals on area shopping, dining, and attractions. For more information visit www.johnstoncountync.org/sipandstay.



To learn more about Deep River and Double Barley visit www.deepriverbrewing.com and www.doublebarleybrewing.com. Both breweries will also be participating in state-wide events and festivals for NC Beer Month. For all things #NCBeerMonth related visit www.ncbeermonth.com.

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The Art of the Cocktail is Being Revived in Clayton

The Art of the Cocktail is Being Revived in Clayton

When you think of a bartender in these modern times you probably imagine a harassed, busy, maybe friendly person hastily taking orders and doling out drinks behind the counter in any given restaurant, tavern, or club. At their best bartenders are welcoming, knowledgeable about the drink menu, and attentive. At their worst, they are rude, short, apathetic and happy to serve you a hastily-mixed version of whatever you ordered.

We can blame this iteration of the bartender on prohibition (like so many other things). But before prohibition a bartender was a sort of Renaissance man, able to expertly serve his bar patrons a concoction fit for their preferences and tastes while understanding enough about each of them to know where along the bar to linger, to listen, or to avoid. He was an artist who knew enough about his craft to make the best popular drinks of that era and to even create his own recipes.

“An excellent bartender can read their customers – they recognize what they want, when they need space or when they need attention. Beyond detailed service, bartending means a deep understanding of ingredients combined with proper execution.”

That definition comes straight from Zack Thomas, bartender and Renaissance man himself. Zack is the Bar Manager and Beverage Director at Clayton’s brand new jazz-influenced cocktail lounge Revival 1869. Revival will be opening the 24th of this month and is the culmination of more than a year’s hard work on the part of owners and entrepreneurs Mike Stojic and Maleah Christie. Both of them immediately knew Zach would the perfect person to be the face of their lounge.



Zack’s background includes work at Foundation, a popular Raleigh nightlife spot. Born in Boston, Zack moved to Raleigh in the early 90s and then back to Boston for college where he started bartending. When asked why he then moved back to Raleigh again, he said it was because he missed it too much.

“I felt at the time that Raleigh was experiencing a cultural revolution, which is also sort of the same feeling that’s led me to Clayton and to Revival. There is a feeling here of being on the cusp of something. The idea that Clayton could have a true nightlife scene is something people are excited for, and I think that what Mike and Maleah are doing with Revival is going to be the moment that kicks it all into full gear.”

So, what will visitors to Revival 1869 experience? Well, excellently crafted cocktails for one. And hot jazz music for another. The bar will feature classic cocktails like the Sazerac, the Old Fashioned, and the Hemingway Daiquiri. A seasonal menu will also feature all original cocktails created in-house. Limited beer, wine, and food items will be available, all with trends towards local and regional sourcing. For example, you’ll certainly be able to find Broadslab Distillery products on the menu. Music will also be a huge focus at Revival. There will be live jazz music every Saturday night and alternating Thursday nights will feature jazz jam sessions and solo pianists and vocalists.



Mike is excited for what Zack and Revival can bring to Clayton’s downtown scene, “We want to go back to the visionary aspects of what cocktail making was 80 to 100 years ago, and get back to treating it like an art.”

Which brings us back to the resurgence of the career bartender. The best our modern-day vernacular can muster up is mixologist. Which makes them sound like alcohol chemists. Which they are. But, they are also so much more. The bartenders you’ll find at Revival, including Zack, will be passionate and meticulous.

According to Zack, his vision for Revival is, “to reintroduce the cocktail culture to Johnston County, which has a long history of spirits. I want Revival to be an interpersonal place of great cocktails shared among people who have a love for good drinks, community, and history. I also want our service to be on-point every single time – fresh ingredients, fresh juices squeezed in-house daily, and a knowledgeable staff.”

Finally, the most important question. What is Zack’s favorite drink? A Rum Manhattan, as it turns out, for its rich, decadent, funky vibe. This could also easily describe the atmosphere at Revival. It’s soon to be one of your favorite places to visit in Johnston County.

There used to places you could go to relax and unwind. Where you could lounge with friends and discuss important or whimsical things. Where the bartender was a magician and every glass full of his own special brand of magic. Where the gin was cold and the piano hot.

And now, in downtown Clayton, there will be again. You could call it a revival.

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Stay tuned-in to everything going on at Revival 1869 by following their Facebook page. Revival will open its doors to the public on Friday and Saturday evening March 24th and 25th. They will be closed Sunday the 26th. After that, regular hours will be Thursday through Sunday with exact times to be announced.

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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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Looking Forward to Spring in JoCo

Looking Forward to Spring in JoCo

 

 

 

 

 

 


1. Picking strawberries. This activity is perfect for families with little ones. Johnston County has a few working farms that open their fields to pickers, or just show up and buy them pre-picked by the bucket. Click here for a list of berry farms and farmer's markets sure to have this sweet, red fruit.

 

2. With the weather turning warm and breezy, Spring is a great time to enjoy the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail. In the Spring months our family-owned, award-winning vineyards are green with grapes growing on the vine and waiting for the late Summer harvest. Sit on the porch and enjoy a chilled glass of wine and take home a bottle of your favorite. Don't forget that April is NC Beer Month. Johnston County's breweries will have special release beers and great weekend events happening in celebration. Visit the Beer, Wine, Shine Trail website to learn how to travel along the trail and then click on each trail location's website for more information on events and products.

 

3. For parents of young, energetic kids it's been a long winter of being cooped-up indoors due to the weather. Take the family outside to explore, play, and learn. The Neuse River also offers an excellent opportunity for canoers and kayakers. For a list of places in Johnston County to hike, bike, and play visit our Nature & Recreation page.




4. Explore Johnston County's Downtown areas. All of our historic downtowns are very walk-able with shops, restaurants, and museums. You never know what sort of unique treats your might find, like the Hills of Snow snow cone which is a local, seasonal favorite - opening in March. Spring also starts our festival season. You can learn more about all our events here.




 

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301 Endless Yard Sale Works to Add Participants in 5th Year

301 Endless Yard Sale Works to Add Participants in 5th Year

A variety of towns located along US 301 in the counties of Johnston, Halifax, Wilson, Nash, and Harnett are planning for this year's 5th Annual 301 Endless Yard Sale, taking place Friday and Saturday of June 16-17, 2017. Along the 100-mile stretch of highway, the communities join together with vendors offering deals, antiques, collectibles and more.

Organizers of the sale this year are focused on further community involvement up and down the sale to increase vendor and shopper attendance. Reports from townships and vendors who participated in last year's 301 Endless Yard Sale show that the event continues to grow. However, there are still sparse sections along the 100 plus mile event and town leaders are looking to change that. A trend organizers are hoping continues this year is the participation of non-profits and private residences. Local businesses aren’t the only ones who can capitalize on sale traffic by setting-up yard sales and vendor booth spots in their parking lots and on their lawns.

“Here in Johnston County businesses along 301 have been selling vendor spaces in their parking lots and having sidewalk sales for the last 4 years,” stated Ashby Brame, who works for the Johnston County Visitors Bureau and helps organize the sale. “Where we’ve seen the sale grow is that now schools, like South Johnston’s Booster Club, and churches have started opening their parking lots to vendors. In addition, residential stretches of country road outside the major towns that used to be blank now have more and more private residences working together with neighbors to offer very robust yard sales along 301.”

The planning of this event also continues to grow in scope as participation and attendance increases. Town managers, tourism representatives, health department officials, and employees with emergency services all remain an integral part of the planning process. In addition, this year organizers hope to work with NCDOT to set-up a system along the route to track increased car volume the weekend of the sale to get the most accurate count of how many people attend the 301 Endless Yard Sale.

Preparations are underway for welcoming tons of visitors who are invited to explore the country roads of Halifax, Nash, Wilson, Johnston and Harnett Counties to look for that unique collectible along the 301 Endless Yard Sale. Towns are working on providing additional events and amenities for vendors and shoppers. Downtown Smithfield will be having a concert event Friday night the 16th. The Wilson Fairgrounds will be offering on-site spaces for vendors wishing to camp-out with their booth. Smaller towns like Micro, Lucama, Elm City, and Enfield hope to have an increased vendor showing this year.

It officially starts Friday, June 16th and runs through Saturday beginning at 7am and ending at 5pm daily. For more information on the event and contacts in each town's vendor locations, visit the official website, www.301endlessyardsale.com.

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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

Follow Us on Social Media






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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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