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JCVB Blog

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.
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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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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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Festival Celebrates Five Years of Making and Sharing Music

Festival Celebrates Five Years of Making and Sharing Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Shindig - It's Music for Your Beers!

The Shindig - It's Music for Your Beers!

UPDATE: Rescheduled to November 13th!

To better assist in the understanding of this blog for those not “in the know” and especially for those that “want to be in the know” I have decided to kick-off this week’s blog with a couple of definitions.

1. Shindig - a large, lively party, especially one celebrating something.
2. Americana - an amalgam of American folk music formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the musical ethos of the United States; specifically, those sounds that are merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and other external influences.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about The Shindig. 2016 marks year number five for this intrepid festival, held every October in downtown Clayton, NC. Be sure to get your tickets for this year’s Shindig held October 8th from noon to 10PM. The theme of this year’s event is “Music for Your Beers” because the organizers of the event want to highlight both the amazing bands the music festival is proud to host and the 7 craft breweries that will be on the scene for your enjoyment.

This year’s line-up includes over 10 bands and leads with American Aquarium (pictured below), The Black Lillies, and Yarn. Dave Brown, head of Earth Plow productions and one of the key organizers of Shindig, is very pleased with the line-up, “there isn’t another Americana music festival anywhere. The Shindig strives to bring you cutting-edge music by bands you’ve never seen or heard before in an intimate venue.” This goal is what drives the line-up every year and is why the festival has taken a turn towards the Americana genre recently while still having bluegrass bands on the schedule.
American Aquarium Comes to The Shindig
If you’ve never been to Shindig, or any music festival, this is the year to attend. Brown says that they’ve never had this many bands on the ticket with this much of a following. American Aquarium, the headlining band, is generating over 250 likes on their Facebook page daily. Festival organizers expect the popularity of the genre and the popularity of the bands to draw in attendees. As of now there are people coming from places all over NC and from surrounding states – SC, VA, TN, and even CO.

The growth of the festival year-over-year is exciting but Brown still calls it, “the best festival you’ve never heard of.” The Shindig isn’t on a national scale with music festivals like Moogfest or Bonaroo, but it wants to be. Right now though the smallness of the festival means you can experience the heart of what a music festival is supposed to be, with nationally recognized bands, at a reasonable ticket price, and without the crowds associated with larger festivals.

The other component of The Shindig is craft beer and food trucks. You can’t enjoy good music for hours on end without sustenance. West Johnston County has a great craft beer community with well-loved breweries Deep River and Double Barley, both of who will be on-tap on the 8th. But, sometimes you need a little more than 2 for a party. So, Shindig got Foothills Brewing, Bull City Cider Works, Fullsteam Brewing, Bombshell Brewing, and new-kid-in-town Yester Year Brewing out of Carrboro. So not only will there be music you’ve never heard before, but also beer you’ve never tasted! Plus, with multiple food trucks already confirmed and Zaxby’s sponsoring a chicken wing eating contest, you couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a Saturday.

I know what you’re asking yourself. How can this get any better? Well, hold on to your horses because there are still beer taster tickets with VIP line access available for purchase. General admission is $20 ahead online. But, for $35 ahead, and while they last, the UNLIMITED Beer Tasting Ticket gets you VIP "line-skip" service, a commemorative glass, and of course unlimited sampling of all of the craft breweries for 5 hours. Yes!!!

To find out more regarding sponsors, the line-up, tickets, or general information, visit www.theshindig.net. If you’re wondering what else there is to do while you’re in town for the Shindig, visit www.johnstoncountync.org. Lastly, if you want to keep up with other rad festivals and events happening in Clayton and Johnston County’s other towns visit www.johnstoncountync.org/events.

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Meet JoCo's 'Que Competition Master

Meet JoCo's 'Que Competition Master

In eastern North Carolina we like our barbeque simple. You could call us purist. Whole hog. Pulled. Splash of vinegar. But the great thing about barbeque is its tendency to be geographically dependent. If I say barbeque in Tennessee or in Texas or in Oklahoma, there's no telling what's gonna end up on my plate. It makes for some confusing moments, some great eatin', and some intense competitions.

Johnston County resident Jerry Stephenson Jr. knows all about intense competition, he enters about 17 to 24 KCBS competitions a year; for the un-indoctrinated that means the Kansas City Barbeque Society. The KCBS is the world's largest organization of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts to the tune of over 20,000 worldwide members. Jerry is one half of a winning barbeque cooking team called Redneck Scientific, the other half being his sister. They grew up on a farm in eastern NC and Jerry says he learned his 'que skills from watching others cook whole hogs, "I just watched and learned. Then I cooked pigs myself later in college for the fraternities, sororities, and the rugby team for extra spending money."

Jerry says that he loves the simplicity of the whole hog approach to barbeque, a man after my own heart, "Low and slow cooking over coals that are burned down from logs. The coals are shoveled into precise places to cook the hog perfectly." Although Jerry likes to tiptoe out of my simplicity circle, going one step above vinegar to put a little Texas Pete on his pulled pork sandwich. That, he says, is his favorite type of barbeque. Fair enough. Although the Oklahoma relatives on my mother's side politely disagree.


Going Whole Hog


But how does one go from being a barbeque enthusiast to a barbeque master? Well, you sign-up and then you hope for the best. Jerry started cooking competitions with homemade barrel smokers that he also sold. He eventually trademarked the name of the ovens to Redneck Convection Ovens or RCOs. The name of his team and business, Redneck Scientific, was derived from these homemade smokers. With the help of the RCOs Jerry won a top ten nod in ribs during his first KCBS competition. In the next competition Redneck Scientific got 2 top ten nods in pork and again in ribs. Jerry says he was hooked.

"I still remember the first Grand Championship we won in 2011 at Squealin' on the Square in Laurens, SC. We placed top ten in all 4 KCBS categories (chicken, ribs, pork butt, and beef brisket)." Though Jerry was raised on the whole hog life, he enters all categories when he cooks. And often wins at them. And he doesn't deviate from the process he has for cooking each type of barbeque, whether it's pulled pork or brisket.

"My competition starts on Wednesday night when I make sauces and rubs for that week’s competition. On Thursday night I trim all of our meats and load our trailer to leave the next day.  Typically, we like to arrive around noon on the day before a competition. Once we arrive, we have our meats inspected and then inject some of the meats. Around 10 pm that night, I light my smoker and go to bed.  I usually get up sometime between 2AM and 5AM and put my big meats on. My competition day then begins at 5AM with a schedule that I follow every single time."

Sorry folks, that's as detailed as you're gonna get. A magician never reveals his tricks. I can tell you that all of Redneck Scientific's meats are procured locally. But any good competitor knows that a certain amount of superstition goes into the process, "I wear the same Superman shirt that I wore at my first competition, but I'm not really superstitious beyond that. My sister is a whole other story."

The female 50% of Redneck Scientific maybe has some winning history behind the superstition. Jerry's sister, Roxanne Manley, uses the ancillary contests at the barbeque events to showcase her skills as well, beating out 350+ teams at last year's American Royal World Series of BBQ to win Side Dish Champion. You go girl!

Rounding out the Redneck Scientific team are Jerry's wife Liz Stephenson and their two daughters Elle and Fiona. They all travel together to competitions as far away as Las Vegas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Redneck Scientific has been competing since 2011 and has had their name called in at least a top ten placement or higher over 200 times. That's a lot of wins, folks. Jerry creates his own sauces and cooks on Backwoods Smokers. The team is sponsored by Royal Oak Charcoal, BBQ Guru controllers, Oakridge BBQ rubs, Q Company Backwood Smokers, and Mojobricks.


Getting a Taste of Redneck Scientific


I know what you're thinking. How can I get my hands on some of this amazing barbeque? Well, I've helpfully posted up the Redneck Scientific schedule below. In addition, you can have them cater your next event. Yes, you can have Redneck Scientific personally feed up to 2,500 of your friends and family.

"We offer full service catering all over the Triangle area.  We have an established group of clients we feed each year.  We can cater for 25 or 2500+ people. Our catering menu can be found on our website. I’m also a 50% partner with a friend out of Charlotte and we vend up and down the East Coast at festivals.  Our vending company is called “The Redneck Bubba” after his BBQ team (BubbaJacks) and ours (Redneck Scientific) and you can find more information on that at www.RedneckBubba.com."

So, what is in the future for Jerry and his team? A restaurant perhaps? In Johnston County? He says that I, and everyone else, will have to wait and see, "I can't speak to a restaurant just yet, but the future of the competition team is my two little girls. They're already clambering to cook a meat or 2 in competition. Hopefully, they'll take over and I'll just get to watch like my Dad used to."

Well, if indeed a restaurant does happen I will be the first in line with a fork in my hand. In the meantime, Jerry has a ton of competitions lined up and a lot of cooking and winning to do this year still. While I would recommend a nice Double Barley or Deep River brew to go with your que', Jerry is ever the traditionalist, "I just think it goes really well with sweet tea." That's what I told my Oklahoma relatives about brisket and they almost made me sleep in the storm cellar. Just kiddin'.

Jerry is an eastern North Carolina traditionalist about another thing too, the bonds that keep him tied to barbeque and coming back to compete year after year, "Learning to cook whole hog at an early age left an appreciation in me for the unique taste of eastern NC pulled pork. But, more than that, it impressed upon me the camaraderie and fellowship that comes from standing around a pit."

Cheers to that and good luck this year!


Redneck Scientific Schedule


DC BBQ Battle  6/24 Washington, DC
Deep River Brewing vending 6/30 + 7/3
Festival of Discovery 7/8  Greenwood SC
Smoke in the Valley  7/22  Maggie Valley NC
Pigs and Pedals  8/5  Asheboro, NC
Sams Club Richmond VA  8/12
Sams Club Charleston SC  8/26
Low Country Fest 9/2 Charleston SC
Beak Week 9/9 Goldsboro NC
Tilley HD Bike Blues and BBQ  9/16 Salisbury NC
Butts and Beans  9/23  Newton NC
Squealin in the Square  9/30 Laurens SC
East Carolina BBQ Throwdown  10/7  Rocky Mount, NC
Smoking in the Foothills 10/14  Lenior NC
American Royal World Series of BBQ  10/28 Kansas City, MO
Hog Happenin  11/4  Shelby NC
World Food Championships  11/11 Orange Beach, AL

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New Mondo Roots Festival Grows Music Line-up

New Mondo Roots Festival Grows Music Line-up

 

 

Mondo Roots Cultural Arts and Music Festival is a celebration of diversity, art and music. It is a free to all ages event taking place in Downtown Clayton, NC on Saturday, June 4th starting at 1:00PM. Performances include The Lee Boys, Sol Driven Train, Black Masala, The Amateurs and many more.

According to Dave Brown, owner of EarthPlow Productions and event organizer, "Mondo Roots Cultural Arts Festival is the first festival of its kind on the eastern side of the state!  It is going to feature live music that is as inspirational as it is eclectic.  Our musical genres are going to span from Soul and R&B, to Reggae and Rap, to Blues and everything in between."

Brown has been steadily adding to the line-up and he's excited about the well-rounded mix of sound, "We have a true vinyl Dj that will be spinning old reggae with a new twist between sets. Black Masala (pictured below) is rooted in the second line tradition of New Orleans, this band  is going to make you feel like you are standing on Bourbon Street.  To round out the lineup we are going to have two of the most popular reggae bands in Raleigh, the Amateurs and Jamrock Reggae."


Brown is partnering with Clayton Visual Arts to create a festival that is inclusive of all cultures and walks of life. They felt it was time for something like that in Clayton, an event that can celebrate diversity and empower the community. For those visitors and locals who have attended Millstock Arts & Music Festival in the past, Brown says the only thing this event shares with that is the date, "When Millstock closed the curtain it opened an opportunity to create something special from scratch. We are very happy with our partnership with Clayton Visual Arts to create something this special and unique. Visitors would be hard pressed to find a lineup of music this strong that you can enjoy for free. The bands that will be performing have a long track record of packing venues up and down the eastern seaboard. This festival is not a Clayton festival, this festival is for the whole eastern part of the state, it just happens to be set in the heart of the great town of Clayton."

According to Brown the whole point of Mondo Roots is celebrating diversity and empowering the community.  It's powerful and simple, "Our vision on a more personal level is to grow this festival to expand the minds and hearts of everyone that is involved.  If you attend, you are part of this family and part of this movement.  We are going to see a lot of different cultures and some of the greatest artists that this state has to offer."


In addition to all the music there will be LIVE performing artists (like local Clark Hipolito, pictured above) painting murals, sculpting, and even doing chainsaw art.  The festival has over 70 tents spoken for by artists, vendors, and sponsors.  There will also be multiple food trucks set-up, as well as a beer tent, so bring your appetite!

If you're a lover of diverse music and art, be sure to travel to Clayton in a few weeks to experience this festival for yourself. There's plenty to do in Johnston County so make a weekend getaway out of it. You can also find more information about the Clayton area at the Visit Clayton website. Mondo Roots starts at 1:00PM on the 4th of June, rain or shine. For more information visit www.MondoRoots.com.

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S is for Spring and Strawberries

S is for Spring and Strawberries

I enjoy a good strawberry - perfectly ripe, red and sweet, but not too mushy. It's like biting into the sweet moment between Spring and Summer. All that aside, I don't think about strawberries much. And unless it's April in Johnston County, I don't write about them either. However, in the year that I have been writing and working for the Johnston County Visitors Bureau I have been astounded by the number of people who LOVE strawberries.

No other post on this blog or on the JCVB Facebook page amasses likes, loves, shares, and general interest like the one time of year I post about strawberries. What is it about this fruit? Is it their flexibility in cooking - good in anything from BBQ sauce to cupcake icing? Is it the idyllic picture they present of warm days during childhood spent in a berry patch? Could it be that the strawberry is the favorite fruit of most people, a hypothesis yet untested by science? I may never know. But, what I do know is that these delicious red berries are in season and it's time to celebrate.
Strawberries and Cream Scones
Lucky for you strawberry lovers, The Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce has been busy planning The Annual Strawberry Festival. The festival takes place Saturday, April 23rd from 9am – 4pm and is one of the biggest events in the Cleveland Township. This year's event will be even bigger. There will be an assortment of vendors, businesses, arts & crafts, face painting, games for all ages, and a ton of food including stuffed strawberries. Yum!

There is no admission charge to this event thanks to wonderful, local sponsors. So, if you're passing through make sure to stop in for red, ripe strawberries and fun! This event takes place right off of I-40 at exit 312. And let's not forget that the festival includes local farms selling strawberries - you can buy some to make the recipes provided below. Let us know how your strawberry and cream scones turn out, or share pictures of your other strawberry creations over at our Facebook page.

Strawberry Sangria

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Stout Brownies

Strawberries and Cream Scones

Strawberry Banana Popsicles


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JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week

JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week


 JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week


It is times like these that it is important to remember that Johnston County is part of the Triangle. We share news. We share an area code. And we now share events. If you've never heard of or participated in Triangle Restaurant Week, you're in for a delicious surprise. Restaurant Week celebrates the best culinary adventures to be found at Raleigh restaurants and other area dining establishments. Chefs serve up unique, creative menus offered at excitingly low prices. It's a great time to explore the amazing tastes that the Triangle area has to offer.

Triangle Restaurant Week

Don't just take my word for it. The Triangle Restaurant Week website declares, "Triangle Restaurant Week is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants. During TRW, participating restaurants offer special three-course menu options and fixed pricing, a great opportunity for residents and visitors alike to indulge in the area’s finest cuisine! No reservations, tickets, or passes required."

This year, Johnston County's own Manning's is taking on TRW. Located in downtown Clayton just 30 minutes from Raleigh. "Manning’s Restaurant offers a combination of both modern creative and traditional southern style dishes. Our southern regional themed restaurant portrays our Chef Howard Manning’s favorite dishes growing up in the Carolinas with a modern twist." Visit the Manning's website for more information, menus, and hours. Or give them a call at (919) 585-7005.

Restaurant Week is happening now! The last day to enjoy these amazing menus at these wallet-friendly prices is this Sunday, January 31st. The good news is that events in Raleigh like this happen every year. Triangle Restaurant Week will be back, and back in JoCo, next year!

Expanding the Triangle, Adding to the Plate

Manning's Cheesecake


Manning's is participating with a four-course meal priced at $30 per person, plus tax and gratuity. The menu includes: a crab cake appetizer, your choice of either a bowl of gumbo or a side salad (pro tip: the spicy avocado ranch dressing is to die for), a 1/2 rack of BBQ ribs with coleslaw and fries, finished off with a slice of cheesecake.


The prix fixe menu does not include drinks, but Manning's has a full-service bar with mixed drinks and wines that can be paired with your meal. They also have local craft beer on tap. Try a Double Barley or Deep River brew made right here in Johnston County. Finish your Manning's Restaurant Week experience by visiting these two breweries. Deep River is just a few miles down Main Street from Manning's and Double Barley is a quick 10 minute car ride away.

So, if you're visiting Raleigh, the Triangle area, or Johnston County this weekend, stop by Manning's for a southern style dinner at a great price. And be sure to check out all the other restaurants participating in Triangle Restaurant Week. Bring your appetite!

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

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Menacing, Melodious, Masterful

Menacing, Melodious, Masterful

Celebrate the timeless nature of classical music. Be thrilled by the haunting sounds of the season. Explore the collections of masterful composers. The 4th Annual Clayton Piano Festival will regale audiences with a week of expertly themed concerts starting on October 30th and going through November 7th.

Hometown classical musician, Jonathan Levin, started the festival in 2010 to give back to the community where he was raised. "As many may know, I grew up in the Clayton area and it was here that my musical education began as well," stated Levin. "Clayton Piano Festival (CPF) is my way of giving back to a community which gave much to me and to share my love and enthusiasm for great music with as many people as possible."

“Taking high art off of the top shelf” has been the mission of Clayton Piano Festival for the past four years as it has presented fun, family-oriented outreach shows, innovative classes for local music students and accessible, festive concert performances by world renowned guest artists from all across the globe throughout the Clayton area and beyond.

The festival returns this fall with another stellar line up of concerts in partnership with the Historic Wagner House to promote an intimate atmosphere where audiences can experience world class performances up close and personal.  “It’s almost like having a live concert in your own living room”, says Levin.  “There’s no need to know anything about the music before coming or to worry about uptight concert etiquette.  People will have fun and enjoy amazing music, guided through the experience by performers who are as communicative with their performances as they are presenting the music to new audiences.  The idea is for those who aren’t classical enthusiasts to be able to discover something incredible they weren’t sure they would enjoy, and for those who are, to be able to listen with a fresh perspective.” 

This season starts off with a special Halloween party and concert on October 30th called Night of the Living Composers.  The event includes dinner, the concert and a dessert reception afterwards.  Jonathan Levin will treat listeners to a rousing collection CPF Evening 1of some of the most horrible works for the piano, in the best sense of the word of course!   The program includes famous numbers CPF Evening 2 featured in horror movies and other pieces which have themes associated with menace in some way.  Come dressed for the occasion and participate in a costume contest to win free tickets to the concert on November 5th.

On Sunday afternoon, November 1st, Professor at Baylor University and expert on Spanish music, Dr. Paul Sanchez presents an evocative and thrilling collection of works from two of the most influential Spanish composers, Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados.   The only American pianist to be invited to study in Spain with the legendary Alicia de Larrocha, Paul will guide the audience through the rich and colorful music of this country.  The concert, called In the Gardens of Spain, explores the dances, tangos, folk influence and traditional melodies that make up the unique Spanish flavor.  

On Thursday November 5th, Russian-born pianist and producer/broadcaster, Yana Reznik presents an evening of Russian favorites titled, From Russia with Love.  The concert includes an exhilarating collection of works which everyone knows and loves like selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and famous preludes by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  You may choose to come early and have a full, wholesome Russian-style CPF Evening 3dinner, or just come later for the concert, which will again be followed by a dessert reception.
CPF Evening 4
The closing concert of the 2015 season is titled Beethoven and Why the Piano Matters, which will be held at Hopper Piano Company in Raleigh. Noted author, teacher, and broadcaster David Dubal hosts this unique look at the life and works of Ludwig van Beethoven through live performances of his piano music featuring the dynamic pianism of Russian born guest artist Michael Bulychev-Okser.  The program explores famous sonatas of his early middle and late periods, highlighting the evolution of his style, which was so inextricably linked to the composers' own life and inner journey.  Audiences will see how this titan rocked the music world, leaving an indelible mark on the history of music and the piano – a force of influence that is still felt strongly today.  

The Clayton Piano Festival is supported by grants, donations, and tickets sales. Ticket prices vary between performances and both a senior and child ticket price will be offered, with package deals as well including the three Wagner House performances. More information and to purchase tickets, visit www.claytonpianofestival.org.

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It's Fall Ya'll

It's Fall Ya'll

 

There is so much going on in Clayton this Fall that I might not fit it all into this one post. But, I will try. The season of crisp air, warm apple pies, plump pumpkins, and autumn leaves is a magnificent time to be in Johnston County. Festivals, concerts, spooky hay rides, 5K races, and pumpkin patches dappled with autumnal light are just a few highlights from what is unabashedly my favorite season.

Clayton Shindig

Clayton Shindig

If you haven't already circled October 10th on the calendar like we have, get a red pen out. In just two weeks the 4th Annual Clayton Shindig is bringing bands, beer, and BBQ to Johnston County. Running from 11:30AM till 9:00PM the line-up this year includes some heavy hitters, like Grammy nominated band The Steeldrivers and nationally recognized band The Black Lillies. The line-up also includes some of JoCo's own talented artist and you can see the full list at www.theshindigclayton.com. The link to purchase tickets for the event is on the site as well.

Moreover, the bands won't be the only thing on tap at the Shindig. Local breweries Deep River, Double Barley, Draft Line, Aviator, and Raleigh Brewing will be ready to quench your thirst as you rock out. And thanks to Squealin' on the Square there will be some good ole' eastern style BBQ being served up.

Squealin' on the Square

You might not want to get up quite as early as the Fifth Annual Clayton Chamber of Commerce BBQ Cookoff teams do. Squealin' on the Square teams are serious about cooking their pig to perfection, and some get started as early as 5:00AM. The good news for BBQ lovers and Shindig go-ers is all that hard work pays off Saturday evening.

BBQ plates will be available to the public on Saturday, October 10th for $8.00 per plate from 4:00PM to 7:00PM. Purchase your BBQ plates from the Clayton Chamber of Commerce tent set-up at the Shindig. Or purchase them ahead of time by contacting the Chamber offices at 919-553-6352.

Clayton Center Concert Series

From sweet American blue grass and Celtic folk tunes to wildly talented guitar playing, the Clayton Center kicks off their Palladian Series with 2 stellar acts in October and November respectively. On October 24th the Annie Moses BandAnnie Moses Band (pictured at right) takes the stage, bringing their effervescent harmony and blended instrumentation to popular folk tunes and classical compositions. On November 7th join Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo - a charismatic duo of guitar technique wonderment.

The season continues into December and well into 2016 with 4 other amazing acts: 3 Redneck Tenors Christmas Spec-Tac-Yule-Ar, Franc D'Ambrosio's Broadway performance, the rocking honky tonk sounds of Lee Roy Parnell, and lastly the swagger and soul of Grammy-winning Mike Farris. For more information on each artist, and to purchase tickets, visit www.theclaytoncenter.com.

That's just a sneak peek of Fall in Clayton. There's so much more to do and see in all the nooks and crannies of Johnston County. For more information on happenings over the next few months, visit www.johnstoncountyevents.com. And try not to overdo it on pumpkin spice everything. It's Fall Ya'll!

b2ap3_thumbnail_pumpkin-spice.jpg

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Family-owned Farm in Clayton Delivers Fear and Fun

Family-owned Farm in Clayton Delivers Fear and Fun

Boyette's Family Farms Inc. has farm fresh fun for the whole family and for all ages. Johnston County locals and visitors have been traveling to Clayton, NC to experience hayrides and haunted houses at Boyette's for many Autumns now. This year is no different.
Boyette Corn Maze
A recent conversation with owner Anna Boyette revealed all the things that the Clayton Fear Farm - Boyette's Halloween-esque business name for their Fall activities - has planned for the season, starting the first weekend in October, "The activities are split into daytime and nighttime with the more kid-friendly things taking place during the day. We have a pumpkin patch for kids to pick out their own pumpkin, a corn maze, and a hayride that transports you around the farm. In the evening, we have 7 spooky attractions." Not recommended for the faint of heart.

While there is no age restriction enforced at Clayton Fear Farm, Anna recommends the scarier stuff at night for 13 years old and up. That's not to say that the evening Fear Farm hours are for all adults. "We don't have a chicken refund," Anna says, mostly joking. Truthfully, she says that the fear factor of each part of the farm depends not on how scary Boyette's makes their haunted horror attractions, but how afraid you are of certain things. Clowns, zombies, ghosts, serial killers, darkness... you can pick your poison.
Fear Farm Slaughter House
A day time ticket gets you onto the farm for the day. Evening tickets can be purchased at $12 per attraction, or gain access to all 7 with a $25 all-inclusive tickets. You can learn more about all of Boyette's Fall activities by visiting their website; the site has links to the Facebook pages for each event the farm offers - the daytime and evening Fear Farm events have separate pages.

On October 10th, Boyette's will be having a Fall Festival complete with tractors for kids to explore and learn about. The Fall Festival would be an excellent time to explore the corn maze - don't worry, it's not haunted during the day.

Anna mentioned that the vineyards side of the Boyette operation is no longer offering pick-your-own or selling grapes to the public. However, Lights on the Neuse will still be happening this year starting the day after Thanksgiving and going through Christmas Eve. Lights on the Neuse includes beautiful holiday light extravaganza hayride, meeting Santa, and even cookie decorating.

It's a farm full of fun at Boyette's this time of year. Check it out for yourself. And for more holiday events in the area, visit www.johnstoncountyevents.com.

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River Deep, Tourism High

River Deep, Tourism High

River Deep, Tourism High

 

It is an exciting and profitable time for the beer, wine, and spirits industries in North Carolina. Not only do these booming industries create jobs and stimulate the economy, but they also boost adjacent industries like tourism. Studies show a precipitous rise in the last decade of travelers not only interested in touring and tasting local craft beer, wines, and spirits, but the actual willingness of a tourist to travel to a state or city with the explicit purpose of exploring tDeep River Canhese establishments.

This is great news for North Carolina, ranked 12th in volume of craft breweries per state by the Beer Association of the U.S. The number is 115 breweries as of 2014, with 58 more in the planning stage. What's the economic impact from that, you ask? About $1.2 billion in 2015; and those numbers are trending up. Plus, that's just the beer! North Carolina also has over 100 wineries and 25 distilleries.

The even better news for visitors is that all of these various industries converge in Johnston County which boasts 2 wineries, 2 craft breweries, and a moonshine distillery. Tourists can visit all 5 establishments on our Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail and many visitors are led to the county by other beer, wine, and spirit trails that extend across the state.

It is because of this growing relevance between beverage crafting and tourism that I am taking the opportunity to start a new blog series called Meet the Makers. In this series I will sit down with the owners, brewers, distillers, and vintners right here within Johnston County to discuss the hard work and the magic behind what they do every day.

We will start with Deep River Brewing Company located in Clayton, NC and owned by Lynn and Paul Auclair. Sitting down with Lynn and Paul in the office of Deep River, with their large Labrador pups trying to get my attention, I am struck by how welcome I always feel at Deep River. Lynn and Paul themselves are both funny and warm, so pleased with their job and proud of their brewery. Getting to spend time with them is like getting to hang with your really cool cousins. Except that I already have really cool cousins. But, Lynn and Paul own a brewery. It's different. It's also amazing how long a conversation can last that starts with, "tell me more about what you do every day."

 

Beer Makers Must be Masters of Test and Taste


In April of 2013 Deep River Brewing Co. opened 6 months later than planned. It's ok to talk about it now because the brewery has had such phenomenal success, but to Paul and Lynn it was a time of uncertainty. Not an uncertainty of vision, but at least one of gumption. As Lynn puts it, "there were a lot of sleepless nights - well, there still are - being an entrepreneur is a risky business. A lot of people thought we were crazy."

But they had a vision. And a business plan. And a passion for beer acquired through home brewing. So how does one navigate the road from home brewing to a booming craft beer brewery? You get an engineering degree. Just kidding. Sort of. Both Paul and Lynn have engineering degrees that they were putting to good use with corporate jobs. Paul was at a small firm owned by awesome people, with an awesome culture, and by his own admission he might still be there, "but they were bought out and the corporate culture went downhill fast. I wanted to get out. I wanted to start my own venture."

Lynn adds, "the brewery wasn't the first idea to pop into our heads, but it was the only idea that we came up with that both of us really liked." So they took their passion for the craft beer scene and they started conversations with brewers that had come before them, "the craft beer community is full of giving and creative people who were willing to share their stories with us. Then we had to take our business plan to the bank."

In the spirit of not putting all your eggs in one basket - or all your beers in one case? - the plan was for the brewery to be a side-job and then as Deep River became more successful first Paul and then Lynn would leave their corporate jobs behind.

Lynn laughed, "do you know how long that lasted?"

Paul interjects, "two weeks. I quit my job two weeks after we opened. There was no way that running a brewery was going to be a side-job."

Both are now full-time brewery owners and happier for it. Paul brews and bottles. Lynn works the business side. They are both actively involved in every single aspect of the business, including naming the beers and designing the cans. But I wanted to dial in to the meat and potatoes of the operation... or, in this case, the beer.
Deep River at Festival
It turns out that brewing beer is at once super technical and super artistic. You have to have an analytical mind says Paul, "as an engineer I know that research and documentation is my friend. Delicious and consistent beer means getting every aspect of the process down to a science: record keeping, precise equipment, water consistency, yeast pitching rates, hop alpha acids, malt sugar levels."

If you're confused don't worry, I was too. Lynn laughed at my helpless look, "he reads books about water. Water! It's crazy."

Add to all of that the conundrum of producing at volume and it no longer seems laughable that an engineering degree is necessary to get from home brewing to a 10,000 barrels per year operation. Paul assures me it's all about understanding efficiency and ingredients.

But a good brew master is also one with the ability to create something mystical out of half-cocked ideas. A Leonardo da Vinci of beer, if you will, able to look at styles and ingredients and think, what would happen if? Both Paul and Lynn say you cannot be afraid to experiment. Lynn adds that, "Mango Tango Foxtrot happened because we were trying to get a mango taste out of an IPA without using actual mangos. On the other hand, we actually added real cookies to our holiday beer mash last year."

I asked Paul what he likes to dream up first, the beer style or the ingredients. He said it's a dance, "the craft beer aficionado wants variety. I want to always have a variety of styles on tap, and there are some ingredients and styles that just go together, like putting together great choreography. Right now I'm working on a Berlinerwiesse German-style beer flavored with rhubarb and soured in rum barrels."

To each their own, but I think that sounds amazing! Deep River is also aging beer in bourbon and whiskey barrels. It sometimes seems like their more daring adventures have been the most popular. In March of this year they launched Collaboration Without Representation with Bottle Revolution. It was a limited edition Barrel Aged Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout with Coffee using Raleigh Coffee Co beans. Genius.

 

Expand Your Circle, Deepen Your River



One thing is for sure, aside from awesome beer-making skills, a fledgling brewery needs the ability to grow uninhibited and the power of positive relationships, "we wouldn't be here now if people hadn't worked with us and believed in us," says Paul, "from the bank to contractors. We didn't want to have investors or a board to answer to and so, we had to amass all the start-up capital ourselves."

Lynn explains the lack of investors, "we didn't want that sort of oversight, people trying to turn a profit. We want to love what we're doing every day, not make a billion dollars." Deep River is proof that great things can happen when people follow passion instead of profit. Not that the brewery isn't doing well. Both Paul and Lynn expect to see continued positive growth moving into the future. They still plan to handle their own distribution in order to further solidify the relationships they have with their accounts.

Lynn had a great point, "nobody cares as much about your beer as you do." The fact that Deep River is continuing to grow in volume and popularity proves that the Auclair's certainly love their beer. As do their loyal customers and the many visitors who come from out of town to try Deep River for themselves. As of now the brewery is not permitted to distribute outside of North Carolina, but Lynn says that doesn't stop the calls from coming in, "I had a guy call me the other day from Georgia asking how he could get Deep River on tap in his bar."

 

Dive In!

Deep River Cans in Ice

Most nights that the brewery is open you can find both the inside and outside filled with people drinking beer, enjoying the food truck fair of the evening, listening to music, playing trivia, or any of the other many activities happening at Deep River. If you're in the area or visiting the area, next week is an excellent time to try Deep River. Their fall seasonal beer Pumpkin Pie Porter will hit stores and the tap room next Wednesday the 26th of August. In addition, if you plan on being at any of the festivals around the state look to see if Deep River will be there, they take their beer to over 50 events a year.

Establishments like Deep River provide a jolt to the social scene and provide a watering hole for local craft beer lovers. But, they also put Johnston County on the map for visitors to NC who seek out brewers, wineries, distillers, and the experiences and tastes they offer. Thank you to Lynn and Paul Auclair for taking a leap of faith. I can't wait to see how much deeper the river gets.

Catch you next time for Meet the Makers. Cheers!

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A Simple Twist of Fate

A Simple Twist of Fate

A Simple Twist of Fate     

People tell me it's a sin
To know and feel too much within
I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring
She was born in spring, but I was born too late
Blame it on a simple twist of fate.
-Bob Dylan

In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, blame it on a simple twist of fate. Nathan and Colleen Roby named their little-restaurant-that-could Simple Twist. And so it seems that the providence of that namesake has carried them into the present with not one, but two thriving locations.

The restaurant business is not for the faint of heart. It takes hard work and long hours. But Colleen credits their success to the locals for the passion they have shown for Simple Twist through their patronage, "we opened the first location in Garner in June 2014 and community support helped to make it an instant success."Simple Twist Burger

Both excellent service and fresh, unique cuisine choices help to set Simple Twist apart. Colleen and Nate - who runs the kitchen and sets the menu - have developed partnerships with local producers, "we have close relationships with farmers in the area that have brought us all kinds of locally grown produce. We only serve Certified Angus Beef, the best kind of beef you can get. We use high quality ingredients to create delicious meals."

It's this same dedication to sourcing that carries over into the quality of the food. Colleen stated that the restaurant also works hard to keep menu items homemade, "Everything is made from scratch, there is hardly anything in the freezer." She points out, "In fact, we converted a large 2 door freezer into a cooler when we first opened since we did not need the space for freezing product." Cool.

Customers can taste the love and passion that goes into every bite and they showed their appreciation by showing up. A lot. In June 2015 Simple Twist opened a second location here in Smithfield to keep up with demand. Smithfield's residents and workforce couldn't be happier.

And the restaurant's business keeps growing. Nathan and Colleen just recently decided to extend their hours at the Smithfield location, "we plan to open Sundays starting August 30th. We will have Bloody Marys and Mimosas served with our regular menu, and will be open from 11AM-4PM." Simple Twist is also working with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau on initiatives that will bring visitors into Johnston County and into Simple Twist. You can read about the Girlfriends Getaway Hotel Package here.

One thing I suggest you don't leave up to a simple twist of fate is a visit to this restaurant. Click here to print a coupon for your first visit. I absolutely love the twisted guacamole. It includes three of my favorite things - avocados, bacon, and bleu cheese. Yum! Click on the video below to watch Chef Nathan Roby whip up this amazing appetizer.

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Local Artist Conspires to Take Clayton on a JOURNEY

Local Artist Conspires to Take Clayton on a JOURNEY

Local Artist Conspires to Take Clayton on a JOURNEY

 

Anyone venturing down Main Street in Clayton, NC last Wednesday night, June 24th, would have heard the familiar notes of an iconic rock song. A song that stretches across generations and genres with a message, Don't Stop Believing. The music was coming from the front lawn of a unique and chic newcomer to downtown Clayton called Wine on Main. But anyone not in attendance at the event would have never known that the music cutting through the sultry southern night and spilling out into the street was not a recording, nor was it the easily recognizable tones of singer and one time Journey front-man Steve Perry. It was the mellow tones of the songs creator, a talented musician and lyricist, and a founding member of Journey, Jonathan Cain. A god of classic rock sitting in a small spot light in the front lawn of a wine shop, playing to an intimate crowd of lucky and enthralled attendees.
Jonathan Cain
As one of those lucky attendees I had to take a moment to pinch myself as I sat less than 6 feet away from a member of one of my favorite bands of all time. My body feeling the minute vibrations as the piano notes spilled forth from the singular amplifier sitting on the porch beside where I had perched to watch Mr. Cain's set. But he wasn't just there to play, he was there to sign bottles of wine from his own label - a collaboration with De La Montanya Winery. As I listened to the melody of Open Arms wash over me I wondered how this event has all come together.

Since that magical night last week I have discovered that the answer to my question is Clark Hipolito. Clark is a local Clayton artist and part owner of Wine on Main, along with Mandy Tamplin and Temple Phipps. His story is an interesting one that inexplicably brings together art, guitars, wine, and Journey.

Evolution of the Artist

Clark Hipolito grew up in New Jersey, but his career as an artist really started when  he went to work at MTV in New York. Clark said, "working at MTV was pretty much the beginning of it all. Every single day I would meet a new rockstar and being around that kind of environment, it only was natural that I’d never be able to work a normal job ever again." He started out working on the sets at MTV- first doing graphics, then painting murals, and later having fine art shows featuring his paintings. Clark's work has been featured on the set of shows like Sex in the City and Dawson's Creek.

Living up in NYC was great, but very intense and fast paced, and in 1994 Clark was ready for a change. He considered moving to Atlanta or Charleston, but after doing some research and looking at the growth trends of the time he ended up in downtown Raleigh. Upon moving to Raleigh he started spending lots of time in Wrightsville Beach to blow off steam. At the time Wilmington was still a big hub for the film industry,and he made lots of great connections there as well.

"The evolution of my career has been very unique," Clark says. As unique as the evolving use of materials he uses as his canvas. Clark renders amazing works of art on surfboards, guitars, and even skateboards. When asked about the evolutionary process of moving from an aesthetic canvas to a practical one, he said it happened because of a personal interest he took in surfing, "at some point after I moved to North Carolina I went on a business trip to Charleston - and I came across Folly Beach and saw the waves there. I went to the local surf shop and bought a cheap used surfboard, that was covered in dings and duck tape, and I went surfing."  

When he returned to Raleigh he took it upon himself to restore the board and in the process he ended up putting a wood grained faux finish on it as well as some decorative scroll work. From that moment on every time he'd take it out to the beach people would ask him about it, "a lot of them wanted me to paint their own board and then things just snowballed from there." Journey Guitar

As Clark remembers it, "I started doing art shows using surfboards and skateboards as my canvas. I garnered lots of national recognition and great press from around the world for my work. I was getting lots of high profile clients- like Pink, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, and pro athletes like Mario Williams. At one point my friends from Line Up Magazine commissioned me to paint a guitar that they wanted signed by all the rockstars performing at the Bonaroo Music Festival. I painted it, then went to the festival and met with so many awesome performers like Robert Plant, Ben Folds, Phil Lesh, and Jack Johnson."

He adds, "We ended up taking the guitar to San Diego for a fundraiser sponsored by Line UP Magazine and Fuel TV at the Hard Rock Hotel and got even more recognition. I started getting commissions left and right for the guitars and surfboards, and I haven’t slowed down since."

Indeed that sounds like quite the whirlwind. Clark was introduced to Clayton when he started dating his friend and business partner, Temple Phipps, who owns a dog grooming business, Doggy Do’z, located in downtown. This was the catalyst for his interest in the area. He speaks fondly of this little piece of Johnston County, "after spending time here I’ve really fallen in love with the people and the amazing sense of community in Clayton. Main Street reminds me of how downtown Raleigh made me feel 20 years ago. We ended up opening Wine on Main a few months ago, and haven’t looked back.  Clayton just keeps getting better and better every day."

Wine, Art, and Music Meet in Clayton


And so we have come to the part in the story that wine, and specifically Wine on Main, enters in. This classy little wine shop did in fact burst onto the downtown business scene a few months ago. They offer tastings, classes, musical events, trunk shows, and all other manner of unique happenings. I asked Clark how Jonathan Cain ended up being one of those musical events.

It turns out, that's a rather short story. Clark has been the featured artist for The Triangle Wine Experience for the last 15 years. Along the way he's met lots of great wine makers and other people associated with the wine industry. A few months ago Clark got a call from a good friend, "Ziggy Eschilman, who’s a  radio personality in Napa, called me and told me someone wanted to meet me because they really liked my work, and that this person was coming to North Carolina to meet with me."

It turned out to be Jonathan Cain from Journey. Jonathan has his own wine label - Finale Wines - and he had heard of Clark's talent. Jonathan ended up giving Clark a couple of guitars to paint and in return, Clark asked him to come back for a visit and do an event at Wine On Main. The idea was to unveil one of the painted guitars and do a bottle signing, and possibly a performance. "He actually said yes and I was elated," said Clark. Who wouldn't be?!

As a Journey fan, I of course wanted to know what working with Jonathan Cain was like. Clark said, "meeting him was incredible, we hit it off right away! He’s a really cool guy and filled with cool stories about his life, music, and song writing.  After our original meeting here in NC, I flew out to Las Vegas to talk to him more about the project, and after spending more quality time with he and his wife, Paula White Cain, we decided that one of the guitars would end up in a glass display case at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas." Wow! From a wine shop in Clayton, NC all the way to Las Vegas, Nevada. What a heck of a journey. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Wine on Main Group Shot

Clark wasn't wrong about Cain having some amazing stories. During his 30 minute or so set at Wine on Main he reminisced about his inspiration when writing iconic songs like Don't Stop Believing, Open Arms, and Faithfully.

I asked Clark about his own inspiration when it comes to his art. As someone who has had a career spanning various forms of artistic expression, what is his favorite? He gives an unbiased answer, "I honestly love it all! Designing nightclubs and restaurants can be very gratifying because it can encompasses all aspects of art and design. I get to create my dream environments and as part of that interior landscape I’ll usually incorporate a mural I've painted or use my surfboard and guitar art as part of the decor. But if I had to really narrow it down- I think I like painting surfboards and guitars most… at least for now." You can see some examples of Clark's art in Wine on Main.

 
To bring it full circle, I asked Clark what his favorite Journey song was. The answer - Stone in Love. An excellent choice, though he mentioned it was a tough call. I prefer Separate Ways myself. Speaking of going separate ways, I was buzzing with energy when I left Wine on Main last week after personally thanking Mr. Cain for visiting and sharing with him a story about my love for Journey music. Walking to my car I was again struck by the hidden gems that can exist in the fabric of small town life. The music of Journey on a quiet evening. The passion and drive behind Clark Hipolito's art. The realization that small, growing towns like Clayton, and others in Johnston County, sometimes surprise us with what they have to offer. And, like Clark said, things are getting better and better every day. Hey, don't stop believing.

Photo Captions in Order of Appearance:
1. Jonathan Cain plays piano while discussing his lyrical
inspirations. Photo courtesy of Krisp Photography.
2. The guitar Clark painted for Jonathan, photo courtesy of Clark.
3. Clark Hipolito pictured holding the painted guitar accompanied by Temple Phipps, Mandy Tamplin,
   Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod and wife, with Jonathan Cain and his wife Paula.  Photo courtesy of Krisp Photography.

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Tis the Season... for Strawberries

Tis the Season... for Strawberries

Tis the Season... for Strawberries

There is a festive time of year when a southerner can dig out the ole family recipes, stock up on ingredients of red and green, and roll up their sleeves in the kitchen. No, it's not Christmas! It's strawberry season!

The Greater Cleveland Area Strawberry Festival is this Saturday, April 25th from 9am to 4pm and we hope you all will make time to join in the festivities! There will be Games, Entertainment, Vendors, Arts and Crafts, Pony Rides, Camel Rides, and Food. It's fun for the whole family and you can find out more by visiting the festival's Facebook page here.

Strawberry Pickin' Fun for the Family

A good southern knows the value of hard work and that doesn't start in the kitchen. It starts in the field, where you pick the strawberries you'll later whip into delicious dishes. Dishes that will certainly taste even better after the experience of strolling rows of lush green strawberry-laden plants. With the warm sun on your skin you'll pick only the best berries for your kitchen, like the most discerning of professional chefs. Below we have provided the information of two places in Johnston County where you can go pick your own strawberries.

Smith's Nursery
443 Sanders Rd. Benson, NC 27504
T 919-934-1700 | smithsnurseryinc.com

Beasley's Berries
428 Peele Rd. Clayton, NC 27520
919-553-6928

Enjoy Your Strawberries Sweet or Spicy

You've no doubt noticed the berry, berry strawberriness of our Facebook posts this week. Just in case you lost those family recipes mentioned at the top, we wanted to provide you with some fun and fruity recipes. From a crisp, to a poptart, to donuts, to BBQ sauce, we think we did a pretty great job picking simple and unique ideas. If you missed them on social media, click the links below for these recipes and a ton of others. And if you feel so inclined, we'd love it berry much if you'd share pictures of your strawberry concoctions on our Facebook page here.

Krispy Kreme Strawberry Shortcake

Glazed Donut Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Strawberry Crisp

Strawberry Nutella Poptarts

strawberry nutella poptarts

Roasted Strawberry BBQ Sauce

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Think Clayton - Think Valentine's Day

Think Clayton - Think Valentine's Day

Love is in the air in Clayton at area restaurants and special event venues where couples will have several choices for an evening out on Saturday, February 14th.  And not to forget our friends east on I-40 in Benson, the Preston Woodall House is holding a special event too!

From classical music to the Beatles and wine tastings....choose from the following events:

Jonathan LevinClassical pianist Jonathan Levin, will be hosting the 3rd Annual Valentine's Day Gala at the Historic Wagner House beginning at 6pm.  

Titled “Tales of Love from Beethoven to Broadway”, the concert will feature music based in some way on a little thing called…yes you guessed it – Love! There will be a fun mix of classical and some music from the golden age of American songwriting including CPF’s own Jonathan Levin premiering some of his own virtuosic piano arrangements of Broadway favorites by Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers.  Jonathan will be joined by two world-class artists, violinist Michael Danchi and mezzo-soprano Nora Graham-Smith.  For the past few years Ms. Graham-Smith has sung roles in operas the world over, as well as in America. She is currently a resident artist at Opera Memphis in Tennessee.  Michael Danchi is no stranger to the triangle area, and has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as a violinist, composer, ballet dancer, sound engineer, and screenwriter.  In addition to performances nationwide, has performed locally as a soloist with the Raleigh and Durham Symphonies and with the Carolina Ballet both as violinist and dancer. 

After the concert there will be a reception where you will be able to mingle with the performers.  For more information and to purchase tickets which are $60.00 per person, contact Paul Black at 919-585-1221

Brick and Mortar  

Save the date for a romantic evening of food & wine! The menu posted below will be paired with wonderful wines from around the world! Taste 6 wines served at 6 different stations paired with fabulous food!
    
     Cheese & Fruit Display
     Italian Wedding Soup with Crostini
     Grilled Shrimp & Grilled Chicken
     Pizza display - variety of our homemade, hand tossed pizzas
     Filet Mignon with rich balsamic glaze
     Chocolate Extravaganza (variety of decadent desserts)
Party begins at 6:30 pm
Tickets:  $40.00
For ticket requests call 919-616-8995

Manning's on Main

Chef Howard Manning, who worked in Raleigh for several years, opened Manning's on Main in August of 2014 to rave reviews and a consistently packed restaurant. His elevated southern menu is flavorful and rich. The restaurant is preparing a memorable Valentine's Day experience with carriage rides, for more information visit the website for hours, location and to review the regular menu.  919-585-7005

The Preston Woodall House

The Preston Woodall House has booked the Todd Montgomery Duo to play at their Valentine's Dinner, Saturday February 14th, playing during both the 6:00pm and 8:30pm seatings! Enjoy this dynamic duo as they play great songs coming from these artists plus many more...Billy Joel, Elton John, Ray Charles, Cole Porter, and Sam Cooke.

The extensive dinner menu includes Prime Rib and Roasted Chicken with hors d'oeuvres, salads, sides and desserts for $80.00 per person (includes tax and gratuity). All meals served with one complimentary glass of champagne.  A cash bar will be available throughout the evening.  Call 919-894-7025 for reservations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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JoCo Has Talent - A Classical Jonathan Levin

JoCo Has Talent - A Classical Jonathan Levin

Getting to work with talented and truly gifted artists like Jonathan Levin, a native of Clayton, is just one of the greatest perks of this job.  It's not very hard to write a few words in a blog or send out press releases to help our local artists. In comparison, concert pianists like Jonathan have literally invested thousands of hours of practice to bring us, the audience, a touch of classical music.

When interviewing Jonathan recently, I asked how do your fingers move so fast along the piano keys, and he replied "it's sometimes just muscle memory and they may move faster than my brain can remember the notes".  How scary, but that's when he relies on those thousands of hours of practice to come through for him and us.

This February 14th, for the third year, the Clayton Piano Festival will give a concert at the Historic Wagner House.  This year's performance is entitled, "Tales of Love from Beethoven to Broadway" and it will expand to include Violinist Michael Danchi and Mezzo Soprano Nora Graham-Smith.  Jonathan will himself perform this year and bring his own piano transcriptions of songs from the Great American Songbook.  Dinner will be served with a reception following the concert to meet the performers.  Tickets are $60.00 per person and available by calling 919-585-1221.

Jonathan is Artistic Director and Founder of the Clayton Piano Festival which seeks to create accessible, educational, world-class concerts and music presentations that uniquely enrich the cultural life of the area. The festival, which presented its first season of concerts, public classes, school outreach and other community events in February, 2012, aims to bridge the gap between performer and audience, bringing classical piano music to people of all ages and levels of exposure to the arts.  For the past three years, he has been Musical Director of Natchez Festival of Music's Educational Outreach Program and is also on the faculty of Remarkable Theater Brigade's Summer Young Artists Program for vocalists.  A sought after collaborative pianist, Jonathan has appeared on the Vox Novus/RTB Composers Voice Concert Series and has worked closely with respected voice teachers Paul Sperry and Monica Harte. 

Jonathan hopes to give that feeling of magic of live performance through interaction with his audience -- how lucky we are his wish and mission is to create magic!  Don't miss an opportunity to hear Jonathan play, or to engage him in conversation about music, photography (another of his passions)....his sense of humor is truly charming and his love for Clayton very obvious!

Jonathan, please don't stop bringing us a touch of magic to Clayton! 

 

 Jonathan Levin plays Gershwin/Wild Virtuoso Etude No. 4 "Embraceable You"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Halloween Bash at Brick & Mortar: Clayton's newest event venue

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Pirates and zombies descended on Clayton, NC… and no, not for trick or treat. These characters gathered for dinner and dancing at Brick & Mortar, the newest events venue in town which features rustic brick walls and 30’ ceilings in a wide open space with bar, dining area and dance floor. Cozy nooks are built in, too, allowing for more intimate conversation. It’s a great addition to Johnston County’s ever expanding entertainment options.

My husband and I donned our pirate gear and headed out for the fun. We enjoyed an incredible buffet dinner, dancing and drinks. We both highly recommend this as a group night on the town!

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A group from Riverwood enjoying the Halloween Bash

The location was once home to Mulberry on Main, one of the town’s premier independent restaurants. The owners, Jerry and Bernadette, enjoyed serving their customers through the years, but they recently closed the restaurant to focus on the catering side of the business. 

After a major remodel, Brick & Mortar Events began hosting weddings, corporate meetings and other special events. Desiring to remain connected to the community as a whole, they also offer public events for adults. The Clayton community can continue to enjoy the superior hospitality and great cuisine they’ve come to love from Mulberry on Main, in a new and memorable way.

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About Jerry and Bernadette Gubitosi

Jerry was inspired to cook from a young age by helping his mom in the kitchen, preparing meals for their large, close-knit family. It’s no surprise that his career took him into restaurant kitchens from a young age. He learned from every chef he worked under, whether the pizzeria or the 4-star Italian restaurant. 

After he and Bernadette married, they opened their first restaurant in New Jersey in 1986. Their success is due, in part, to their family’s commitment to helping them. At that first restaurant, Jerry’s younger sisters would work weekends alongside Jerry and his parents. They were only 12 and 13 at the time, but they worked hard, earned their money and saved enough to buy their own cars at age 16. That’s a solid work ethic!

When Jerry and Bernadette moved their family to North Carolina, his extended family followed to support their dream. His mom still works Fridays, making her famous lasagna for the catering business. At Brick & Mortar, Jerry continues to run the kitchen. Bernadette and a couple of their adult daughters work front of house. Other family members work the bar and behind the scenes. This family’s commitment to a dream -- and to Clayton -- is evident in everything they do.

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Welcome the New Year at Brick & Mortar

Brick & Mortar’s next event is coming up on New Year’s Eve, where you can welcome the new year with dining and dancing. Leave the cooking and planning to Brick & Mortar and invite your friends to join you! Ticket information will be available later this week at their website.

Events at Brick & Mortar

Advanced reservations are encouraged, though limited tickets may be available at the door.

Evening events are geared for adults.

A cash bar is available.

Parking is plentiful, whether in the side lot next to the building, on the street or in the main parking area at the corner of Main and Lombard streets. 

Certainly, the addition of Brick & Mortar to Clayton gives Johnston County residents (and our friends from the Raleigh area) a great opportunity to enjoy a night out on the town, without having to drive into the big city.

 

 

 

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Clayton River Walk: A little bit country, a little bit art

Clayton River Walk: A little bit country, a little bit art

Living in Johnston County means we have ample opportunity to explore the great outdoors. Whether playing at a local park, kayaking on the river, or reliving history at Bentonville Battlegrounds, we've certainly got options. Our favorite outdoor adventure, though, is the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse. The trail is part of the Mountain-to-Sea trail of North Carolina, and because it's paved, everyone can enjoy it. 

Sam's Branch Greenway at the Clayton River Walk

Connected to the River Walk is Sam's Branch Greenway, which is equally maintained. Sam's Branch Greenway is 1.25 miles long (2.5 miles round trip), providing a 10-foot-wide paved trail, a butterfly art project and an accessible picnic area. We like Sam's Branch Greenway because of its gently rolling pathway -- bikes can soar down the "hill" but it's not too long to pedal up in the opposite direction. We also like the ever-changing landscape from season to season. Of course, it's at its best in October when trees display gold and red foliage, the field grasses wave a toasty brown and the grass is still green.

Nature and art come together at the Clayton River Walk

Beyond the natural beauty of this country trail along the Neuse, the public art display along the bridge by the butterfly park offers changing exhibits throughout the year. We ventured out early one morning this week (trying to beat the heat), to see the newest display, just installed in May. The new installation, Whimsical Birds, is sponsored in part by a grant from the Johnston County Arts Council to promote art projects on the trail. This art was created by local students from Clayton High School, Clayton Middle School, Cooper and Powhatan Elementary Schools. 

When we rounded a bend in the trail to reveal the bridge, my daughter instantly responded with a loud, "Oooooh!" as she ran ahead to look at all the birds on the bridge. My son, the dog and I (we will blame the heat), took a bit longer to arrive at the bridge. Still, broad smiles spread across our faces as we took in the colorful display. 

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Clayton River Walk: Know before you go

 Three parking areas offer easy access to the Clayton River Walk:

  • 2928 Horseshoe Farm Road (2928 Horseshoe Farm Road)
  • Buffaloe Road Athletic Park (5812 Buffaloe Road)
  • Anderson Point Park (20 Anderson Point Drive)

The address to park at Sam's Branch Greenway trailhead (about 1 mile from the butterfly and art exhibit) is 1358 N. O'Neil Street, Clayton, NC. 

Drinking fountains and restrooms are available at the Buffaloe Road Athletic Park and Anderson Point Park. Doggie bags and garbage cans are located along the trail for the benefit of all guests.

 Please note:

  • Pets must be leashed
  • No motorized vehicles are allowed
  • Bicyclists are welcome!
  • Bring water bottles and sunscreen
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes!

 

 

 

 

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

beer wine and shine trail logo

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

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Meeting Planners

meeting venue with presentation screen

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

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Group Tour Operators

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

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Hotel Packages

hotel bed and pillow with johnston county logo

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

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FREE TRAINING

 

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