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

JoCo Has Talent! - Young Abby Stephens

b2ap3_thumbnail_abby-guitar-pic.jpgJohnston County has a young aspiring talent in 11-year old Abby Stephens from Benson...maybe she'll be the next Carrie Underwood or even Taylor Swift.  Abby loves to perform country, Christian, classic rock and pop music too.  She is currently writing her own songs and she performs at area festivals and events.  Keep your eye on Abby, as she just recently appeared with Bob Dumas (and captured his heart!) on G105 Bob & the Showgram.  She is very poised and has a precocious personality and tons of Southern charm for such a young singer.

Abby discovered her love for music at the age of seven and began voice and piano lessons. Her music teacher encouraged her to audition for Clayton Idol Junior a local singing competition.  This was her first time singing for an audience and competing.  She will tell you when the lights hit her, "it was the best feeling ever" (her words). She went on to get first runner up and went back the next year and won! Winning Clayton Idol Jr. propelled Abby to continue to learn music through piano & guitar. She soon discovered she enjoyed putting her thoughts to music. With the help of her mom, she penned her first song, “Carolina Girl”.

At the age of eight, Abby began performing at various local sporting events. She is honored to have performed the National Anthem for the Durham Bulls, Carolina Mudcats, Southern National Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Blue Knights, and many other events.

Abby has performed at the Country Music Showcase at Johnston Community College in addition to many local festivals and other events. She opened for Amanda Daughtry this summer at Cary’s Booth Amphitheatre during the Raizin A Ruckus season.  In 2014 she auditioned for America’s Got Talent and received an initial call back, she is hoping to make it thru to the next round. She was honored to be nominated for Youth Artist of the year by the Carolina Music Awards and she was mentioned on the Bobby Bones Show, B93.9.

April Stephens, Abby's mom, doesns't call herself a soccer Mom, but a singer/songwriter's mom, and will continue to support Abby's dream as long as she loves it. Please feel free to contact her for future events at 919-625-0211 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

We hope she continues to love it and one day makes it to Nashville, TN.





Abby Stephens, William Byrd & Clae Wilson perform Wagon Wheel at the Country Bluegrass Show at Paul A. Johnston Auditorium. 












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JoCo Has Talent! - Meet Amanda Daughtry

JoCo Has Talent! - Meet Amanda Daughtry

For a series of BLOG articles, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau wants to introduce to our readers, a host of talented artists and performers from around the county.  First, we sat down with Benson's own, Amanda Daughtry, now living in Nashville, who is following her country roots to record, write, and sing her own songs. 

Amanda has been singing since she was 7 years old, and remembers singing along with the radio to Randy Travis (another North Carolina native).  Singing runs in Amanda's family, and she has been performing for many years in local theatres and country variety shows.  She was a regular on the Johnston Community College, Country Music Showcase hosted by another talented JoCo artist, Debbie Dunn.

Today, Amanda has a full-fledged band that travels the state, they are booked at festivals, private shows, bars and performance halls....putting over 5,000 miles a month on the touring van.  Life on the tour with the band is an adventure all its own, with many of these stories becoming the backdrop of Amanda's banter with her audience during shows.  Not only is she a talented vocalist, but she's a humorous story teller...we are guessing that talent makes for a great songwriter!

Amanda_DaughtryAmanda sings a vast array of current and classic country music, classic rock, and mainstream pop alongside songs of her own that she shares with those who are willing to listen. Any given night, there's not a chance that someone walks out of the show without having a great time. Amanda's success has been validated with opportunities to open for top country acts like Chris Young and Justin Moore.  On a recent late night at Double Barley Brewing, we had the chance to hear Amanda sing Brian Adams, Reba McEntire, Melissa Etheridge, and "Landslide" by Stevie Nicks, and loved it all! 

In Nashville, she's been writing new songs with a number of incredibly accomplished writers, all of whom have been linked to a number of the industry's best performers. Basing out of Nashville also gives Amanda the ability to book shows in a widening scope, branching into Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, and Texas, all while continuing to entertain a healthy fan base in North Carolina.  She's working on her next album which is expected out next April. She sent in an audition tape to The Voice a couple of years back and made it through several interview rounds, and she is considering another shot at the show. 

2014 Carolina Music Awards, Top Country Female Artist

Amanda was nominated in two categories, Country Female, and Female Artist and she was named the 2014 Carolina Music Awards, Top Country Female Artist, with 50% of votes coming from her fan base here in NC.

Amanda Gives Back to the Community

Along with her busy touring schedule, Amanda finds time to give back and coming up this December 6,  she will host a Toys for Tots Drive at the Country Connection, and on December 19, she will be at the Falcon's Children's Home.

And for the next generation of singing stars, she holds the Vocal Summer Camp which will be August 3-8, 2015.  Over 400 applications were submitted for the first camp held at the W.J. Barefoot Auditorium in Benson.  The camp will continue to be free offering an advanced and intermediate option where she hopes to give these budding singers encouragement, some voice instruction, and confidence to sing in front of audiences. Sign up for the camp will be open in April 2015.

Where to hear Amanda Play!

Hear a little taste of Amanda performing and follow her on social media so you can catch a show when she's back home in North Carolina.

Amanda Daughtry Original, "See Don't Look Like Me" -  An original song written by Amanda Daughtry and Rick Tiger.

















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


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!


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.


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.


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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Carolina Premium Outlets is "Extra Festive" This Thanksgiving Weekend

Carolina Premium Outlets is "Extra Festive" This Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks, spending time with friends and family, good food, and football (and lots of it, food, family and football!)  It has also become a holiday where, not long after leftovers are put away, people search for great deals on their Christmas shopping list. On Thanksgiving Day, November 27th, thousands of diehard shoppers will travel to Smithfield for “deals on top of deals” offered at Carolina Premium Outlets, which has stores opening their doors at 6pm this year.

It's quite the sight to see, lines in front of stores, waiting to get the best deal on items like Coach bags. We love that visitors travel here from all over the state and beyond making a weekend trip to Smithfield.  We wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving and that they get a great deal at Carolina Premium Outlets.

If you are coming shopping - here are the details!

Carolina Premium OutletsThe Extra Festive Weekend Sale featuring extended shopping hours are 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 27, 2014, through 10 p.m. on “Black Friday,” November 28, 2014.  On Saturday, November 29, the Center will open at 8 a.m. and close at 10 p.m., and will open on Sunday, November 30, at 10 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Carolina Premium Outlets is offering extra holiday hours to meet their customers’ needs - from the person looking for the latest fashion and styles of the season, to the family hunting for great deals, to the last-minute shopper in search of the perfect gift....with an impressive collection of fashion labels at savings of 25 to 65 percent every day for our shoppers during the holiday season.

Shoppers will enjoy exceptional holiday savings and extended shopping hours, plus, they will experience the biggest shopping event of the year.  Shopper appreciation programs will take place throughout the holiday season and include: random acts of gifting, holiday gift cards, holiday entertainment, and complimentary treats at Guest Services.

For the most up-to-date information, to check on store openings and special offers, visit the center’s website: www.premiumoutlets.com/carolina.  For hotel deals and places to rejuvenate and have a bite to eat, visit the official visitor website for Smithfield, www.visitsmithfield.org.



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"Benson Is A Rocking" Public Art Project

"Benson Is A Rocking" Public Art Project

JCVB Rocking ChairAfter three months on display the 14 rocking chairs of the “Benson Is A Rocking” public art campaign will be retired. Each chair was painted by a local artist and displayed in Downtown Benson. The last time to see the chairs will be at the Benson Harvest Festival on October 25th from 9am-2pm in the Benson Singing Grove. Those interested can also see the chairs online at www.bensonisarocking.com.

The “Benson Is A Rocking” public art campaign was a program initiated by the Benson Small Town Main Street Committee. The campaign was designed to bring attention to Downtown Benson while highlighting great local artist’s talents. Each of the 14 chairs were designed by different artists and showcase their unique talents.

“This public art campaign has been a great way for us to infuse locally created artwork in our downtown. Bringing local area artist, sponsors and store owners together to work on a project has been rewarding and shows the great sense of community that exists here in Benson.” said, Joe Stallings Economic Development and Media Coordinator.

After the Benson Harvest Festival those chairs that were purchased by their sponsors will go back to the purchasers. The remaining seven chairs will be auctioned off at the Benson Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet on January 22nd. If you are interested in bidding on a rocking chair please contract Joe Stallings at 919-894-1606. All proceeds from the chairs will go towards economic development and beautification efforts in Benson’s Downtown District.

Special thanks to our sponsors: Benton Card Company, Benson Museum of Local History, Benson Parks and Recreation Department, First Citizens Bank, Frugal Peacock, Hannah Creek Veterinary Hospital, Johnston County Visitors Bureau, Ken Tart Photography, Mary Duncan Public Library, Neighbors and Associates, Small World Travel, Sylvia Herring and William and Elaine Massengill.




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Manning's offers new dining experience in Clayton

Manning's offers new dining experience in Clayton


Downtown Clayton welcomes its newest restaurant, Manning's, this Friday. Joining Clayton Steakhouse (opened in 2008), Lucky Chicken's Peruvian Restaurant and Festejo's Mexican Bar & Grill, Manning's is a welcome addition in Clayton. Chef Manning, who trained at Johnson and Wales, has more than 20 years experience as a chef including McKinley's Pub here in Clayton. The menu pulls from Manning's extensive experience, resulting in a flavorful twist on his favorites. Diners can look forward to low country dishes like shrimp and grits, and gulf coast gumbo. The restaurant also offers two bar areas, one downstairs and one upstairs, and an open air deck for outdoor dining.


Who is Chef Howard Manning?

Chef Manning and his wife, Jennifer, are opening Manning's this weekend. Chef Manning was raised in Marion, South Carolina and his been cooking since age 3! To say cooking is his passion might be an understatement. His first "official" culinary position was at age 14 when he worked at Camp Carolina in Brevard, NC. While there, he met many culinary student interns from Johnson & Wales, so it is no surprise he chose to get his formal training there. He worked at a number of prestigious restaurants across the southeast from South Carolina to Florida before coming to Raleigh several years ago. 

When the Mannings decided to make the Raleigh area their permanent residence, they bought a home in Clayton. Chef Manning traveled to and from Raleigh for quite a while, but then had the opportunity to work with the team at McKinley's Pub on Highway 70. Passing through downtown Clayton, Jennifer saw a for sale sign in the storefront at 406 E. Main Street, and a dream took its first step toward reality. They look forward to serving great food and becoming another anchor in this growing foodie destination.

What makes this restaurant unique?

This address has been a pharmacy and an auction house. The transformation to restaurant required considerable enhancements, including raising the roof on the second floor to create a light, airy casual dining area and rooftop deck. The first floor offers comfortable seating in the dining room, a bar area with large screen TVs and a private dining room that seats up to 25 comfortably. Keeping with the local, small town feel, he commissioned local artist, Kimberly Tracy to create a mural that features long-time local businesses. Take a look and see if your favorite made the wall.


The rooftop deck offers a unique outdoor dining experience, and tables are available on a first come-first serve basis. While waiting for tables, guests can enjoy a drink from the upstairs bar and relax on the benches that wrap around the deck. Live entertainment will also be featured here. Because parking is limited on Main Street, the Mannings added well-lit alley access to the rooftop deck. Park in the new lot at the corner of Main and Lombard Streets, cross Lombard and you'll see the stairs at the far end of the building on your right hand side. 

Details indoors tell a story that complements the food. To your right as you enter, you can't miss the long bench, called a Joggling Board, that runs in front of the window. The Joggling Board brings back fond memories from Chef Manning's childhood, and he knew that when he opened his own restaurant one day, the Joggling Board must be part of the experience. Toward the back of the main dining room, the industrial stained glass windows come from the original building, preserved and repurposed in the restaurant. If you walk up the ramp toward the kitchen and turn left, you'll discover items reminiscent of Chef Manning's childhood in South Carolina and his new home here in North Carolina. 

Even the Manning's logo has meaning. The cross hatch and three lines above the Manning's name are suggestive of a roof and stairs, an artistic nod to the restaurant's unique rooftop space.

What makes Manning's food different?

Of course, Chef Manning's training and experience are a benefit to this new restaurant. His staff, many of whom have worked with him at other restaurants, are seasoned veterans of the restaurant industry. The southern menu is different from other restaurants in town, offering diners a unique choice not previously available downtown. Most items on the menu can be adapted for gluten-free and other dietary restrictions.

While the southern entrees caught my attention, the menu offers a variety of options including American dishes, burgers and sandwiches, Cajun/Creole and vegetarian items. The menu is not too large, but offers a sufficient variety to suit every taste.


What are the restaurant hours?

Manning's will open to the public this Friday, October 17. The restaurant will be open six days a week (closed on Tuesdays):

Mon11:30 am - 9:00 pm
Wed - Thu11:30 am - 9:00 pm
Fri11:30 am - 12:00 am
Sat12:00 pm - 12:00 am
Sun12:00 pm - 8:00 pm
For reservations, call 919-550-2433.
For directions to the restaurant at 406 E. Main Street, Clayton, click here
To learn more visit their website. You can also follow Manning's on Facebook and Twitter.

 **Photos provided by and used with the permission of Divine Marketing Group.


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JoCo Visitors Bureau Wins Four Destination Marketing Awards

Each year in the fall, the Destination Marketing Association of NC, the state's trade association for Convention & Visitor Bureaus, hosts an education conference and awards competition.  Statewide visitor bureaus submit works in marketing , printing, web based promotions, and tourism initiatives for their prospective communities and based on budget size they are judged by industry professionals.

This year's conference held in Winston-Salem concluded this week, and the Johnston County Visitors Bureau received four Destination Marketing Awards in the small bureau category. 

"To be recognized by our peers in the state is certainly an honor, and a confirmation for our staff's hard work promoting Johnston County, " stated Donna Bailey-Taylor, Executive Director.  The Johnston County Visitors Bureau is comprised of a staff of five and all marketing campaigns, design, websites, and special projects are handled in-house by the staff.

Awards won by the JCVB were;  Gold - 301 Endless Yard Sale, Gold - Johnston County Visitors Guide, Platinum - Beer, Wine, Shine Trail brochure, Platinum - Our State Magazine Campaign.

Destination Marketing Initiative – Web based, 301 Endless Yard Sale.

The 2nd Annual 301 Endless Yard Sale was twice as successful in 2014, as it expanded to 100-miles and four counties.  This campaign was national in scope and included publicity, website adword campaigns, social, radio, and print advertising.  The event FB page grew from 350 likes to over 5,000 during the promotional time frame of Jan-June.

The event was expanded this year to a 100-mile yard sale and brought in the CVBs from Halifax, Wilson, and Harnett counties as partners. The organizing committee coordinated the marketing through the JCVB and town officials handled issues like signage, parking, permits, and food vendors.  This year's event had over 500 vendors and more than 5,000 shoppers for the two day sale.  Vendors reported high sales, hotels reported overnight stays, and restaurants were very pleased with sales. The Bureau created a website, www.301endlessyardsale.com to be the centerpiece of event marketing; Google Analytics from May-June were 24,155 unique visitors and 90,476 page views. 

This year's event included a vendor survey with key results and points  noted by the committee were:  35% of  vendors heard about the event from WRAL,  followed by 30% website, 30% Facebook;  76% of vendors sold on both days with average sales of $500 each day; 81% of vendors found their spot because they knew the property owner;  79% of vendors sold yard sale items, 48% collectibles and 38% antiques; 83% of vendors plan to come back next year. 

Destination Publications – Johnston County Visitors Guide

The Johnston County Visitors Guide remains the primary marketing piece for the destination, and the bureau continues to print and distribute 90,000 guides each year. 

This year's visitors guide was redesigned to be more of a magazine format, and to cut back on alphabetical phonebook-style listings.  Our goal was to tell more stories and share experiences with visitors in the beginning of each section of the guide.  In addition, unique landing pages were developed to drive visitors to our websites pertaining to their special interests.  The visitors guide is a non-advertising piece that promotes hotels, dining, attractions, outlet shopping, antique shops, specialty retail, festivals/events, meeting venues, sports facilities and transportation services.  The main message or purpose of this brochure is to drive visitors to tourism-related businesses, therefore increasing visitor spending in the community.

The guide is the fulfillment piece for the bureau’s adverting efforts and is distributed in all NC Welcome Centers, visitor centers and local industry to use while assisting visitors.  The piece is highly used by local front desk staff as the most valuable piece the bureau produces.  The bureau has now hired a part-time staff person to distribute the guide to over 125 racks around the county to get brochures to all hotels, attractions, key restaurants, and high traffic locations.

Niche Marketing Piece – Beer, Wine, Shine Trail Brochure.

Three years ago, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau developed the Muscadine Heritage Wine Trail, and since then over 1,000 people have completed the trail.  Now with two breweries, and a distillery in the county, we have re-concepted the trail and re-branded the trail to include these new partners.

(25,000) Beer, Wine and Shine Trail Brochures were printed   Trail brochures were distributed to NC Welcome Centers, area Visitor Centers, hotels, attractions, and other high traffic areas in the county.  PDF versions were placed on websites as well, with a new www.beerwineshinetrail.com website launched to support the trail

Cost of the trail brochure, $4,500, was completely covered by the six partners and the response from new breweries has been very positive to date as a way for their business to stand out and cross promote with the wineries in the county.  The website has an incentive to join our email marketing list, with a monthly drawing for a mason jar mug with a trail graphic logo.

Destination Print Advertising – Leisure, Our State Magazine Campaign.

This campaign was targeted to individual leisure visitors in the North Carolina market with an added twist for readers to receive a free gift offer.  Our State Magazine does not offer reader cards, so our campaign was designed to measure response to the ad in addition to phone inquiries.

This print advertising campaign was themed based on the top travel generators for Johnston County -- Fall festivals, Holiday Shopping, History/Civil War events, and Spring Festivals.  Each ad campaign had a unique landing page on our www.johnstoncountync.org website, so performance could be tracked, as well as, the request for FREE gift.

The tracking methodology was especially telling as to what Our State Readers responded to the most.  This type of data on visitor interest is tremendously helpful in planning ad campaigns in the future to deliver content of interest to Our State readers.  The response for the FREE gift was consistent throughout the campaign generating approximately 100 requests each.

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau is funded by the county-wide 3% room tax paid by visitors to the county.  For more information on the bureau's activities visit the website, www.johnstoncountync.org or call 919-989-8687.


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Get Tickets Early for the 150th Bentonville Battlefield Event

150th Anniversary Reenactment, 2015For more than 18 months, staff, volunteers, and board members of the Friends of Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site have been planning for the largest event ever expected for the community.  Nearly 5,000 re-enactors are expected from around the country to participate in the March 21-22, 2015 Civil War 150th anniversary commemoration.  They will re-create the last major battle and the largest land battle fought on North Carolina soil as the end of the war drew near.  The public is invited to watch the action!  Expectations are more than 60,000 will travel to the site over the weekend! 

In addition to the daily battles, the weekend will feature free lectures, 19th century medical displays, period music, and dozens of "sutlers", selling Civil War related items.  Advanced tickets for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity are now on sale online at www.150thbentonville.com, at the site via the gift shop, or by calling (910) 594-0789.  Checks can be mailed to:  Bentonville 150th Event Tickets, P.O. Box 211, Newton Grove, NC  28366.

Important information to know about the event:

  • Tickets for the re-enactment are limited and advance purchase is strongly encouraged.  Fewer tickets are available in 2015 as event organizers are trying to maximize the visitor's viewing opportunities.  Battles take place on large open fields, and not all aspects of the battle are viewable by all visitors.
  • Advanced tickets are $12.00 for adults and $6.00 for children 9 to 12. After March 15 and at the gate, tickets are $15 adults and $10 children 9 to 12.
  • The battle scenarios Saturday and Sunday are the only events that require tickets.  All other activities at the 150th Anniversary Event (lectures, house tours, music, demonstrations) are FREE to the public
  • Saturday's Battle, "The Fight for Morris Farm" will take place at 3pm.  Visitors are encouraged to be at the battle location by 2pm, as sections for ground seating, chairs and standing room only will fill up fast.  Please note that battles will not begin until those seated on the ground are in place.
  • Sunday's Battle, "Last Grand Charge of the Army of Tennessee and Morgan's Stand" will begin at 1:30pm.  Visitors are encouraged to be at the battle location by 12N as seating will fill up fast.

The 2015 event is sponsored by the Friends of Bentonville Battlefield, NC Historic Sites and Properties, the NC Department of Cultural Resources and the Johnston County Visitors Bureau.  Bentonville's re-enactment is part of North Carolina's Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration.  All proceeds from the event support Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site with a percentage to be used for improvements of the site's visitors center. 

Address:  5466 Harper House Road, Four Oaks, NC  27524
Phone:    910-595-0789
website:  www.nchistoricsites.org/bentonvi/bentonvi.htm













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Benson Guitarist Earns N.C. honor

Jimmy CappsLong before Jimmy Capps was an accomplished guitarist and staple performer at the Grand Ole Opry, he was a kid in Benson who listened to the Opry over the radio with his father on Saturday nights.

“There was a certain magic about the guitar that drew me to it,” Capps said. “I knew I had to figure out a way to learn how to play.”

Since he began playing guitar at age 12, Capps has performed on thousands of country music tracks, and he has long been a member of the house band at the Grand Ole Opry. It’s a resume that has earned him a place in the N.C. Music Hall of Fame. His induction will take place Oct. 16 at the Gem Theater in Kannapolis.

Born in Fayetteville in 1939 and reared in Benson, Capps began playing guitar and performing professionally before he was a teenager. His first gig was at radio station WCKB in Dunn, where he played for free but didn’t care.

“I was in show business,” he said.

That gig led to a series of television and radio engagements across North Carolina and, at one point, in Florence in neighboring South Carolina.

Then, at 19, Capps got his big break. The Louvin Brothers hired him as a guitarist, and he moved to Nashville, where he later became a session musician and Grand Ole Opry band member.

Capps’ guitar work has appeared on such country music recordings as Alan Jackson’s “Here in the Real World,” Conway Twitty’s “Red Neckin’ Love Makin’ Night” and John Deniver’s “Some Days Are Diamonds.” He has appeared on TV in the People’s Choice Awards, “That Good Ole Nashville Music” and on “Larry’s Country Diner.”

Since 1967, Capps has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry staff band, and he plays there every week, with no signs of stopping.

“It’s like a country club,” said his wife, Michele Voan Capps. “You get to play music with all of your friends.”

The N.C. Music Hall of Fame induction is the latest of many honors for Capps. In 1998, he came to Benson for a special performance where state Sen. Charlie Albertson proclaimed May 25 “Jimmy Capps Appreciation Day.” Eleven years later, Benson Mayor William Massengill declared Feb. 25, 2009, “Jimmy Capps Day” in front of a crowd gathered to celebrate Capps’ long run at the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1996, he was named to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor. Capps has also been inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Fame, both in Nashville.

Capps learned of the N.C. Music Hall of Fame and Musicians Hall of Fame honors in the same week. His wife said he was speechless.

“They actually brought him out on the front stage, and they told him about this induction (into the N.C. Music Hall of Fame),” Michelle said. “His mouth just flew open. They said, ‘Would you like to make a speech?’ And he said, ‘Oh, that was it!’ ”

Capps said the hall of fame honors mean a lot to him. “I feel like I’m in pretty high cotton in both halls of fame,” he said. “The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame has some very important people in there – Andy Griffith, Don Gibson – tons of people who are famous.

“For your home state to [recognize you], that’s really the high rung on that ladder.”

In North Carolina, Capps will be inducted alongside several other artists, including 2004 “American Idol” winner Fantasia, “The Loco Motion” singer Little Eva and 2003 “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken.

Above all else, Capps said, he prides himself on loyalty to his employers and his work ethic.

“There could be an artist that’s recording and he’s brand new and he’s trying to get a chance – I would work just as hard for him as I would Conway Twitty. I see no difference,” Capps said. “It’s my work that’s going to be put down on that track. I want it to be as good as it can be for that person or that company.”

Reprinted from The Smithfield Herald,
By Laura Finaldi
September 22, 2014 





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Part I - JoCo Sports Council Develops Four New Bike Routes

Part I - JoCo Sports Council Develops Four New Bike Routes

Part One in a four part series on the new JoCo Bike Routes

One of the first county-wide projects the Johnston County Sports Council tackled was developing new on-road routes for biking enthusiasts.  Currently along the country roads of the Johnston, residents may spot individual riders and club rides biking almost every morning and especially on Saturdays.

The Selma Cyclepaths have a loyal team of riders in the county, however, visitors and bikers from Wake County are now making trips over to enjoy our wide open spaces.  With these new approved bike routes, the Visitors Bureau will have established routes to market via brochures, online biking sites, hotel packages, and our county websites.

There will be four NCDOT adopted bike routes which will cover most all areas east, west, north and south.  The routes have been vetted by the NC Department of Transportation Bike and Ped Division and each local planning department has reviewed and provided a resolution of support for the routes.  The Visitors Bureau is currently designing the new JoCo Bike Route Brochure to be printed in December...interested riders can call and we will mail out brochures or printer-friendly versions will be on our website.

Through a series of BLOG posts we will take you through each new bike ride in the county.

Smithfield, Bentonville, Four Oaks Route

Bike Routes SmithfieldStart Here:  Rider's begin their trek at the Smithfield Town Commons located in the heart of Downtown Smithfield along the Neuse River. 

Historic Downtown Smithfield is the site of the 3-mile Buffalo Creek Greenway and the Smithfield Town Commons park.  There is street parking on Front St., a boat ramp for river access, and visitors are within walking distance to the Ava Gardner Museum, Neuse Little Theatre, Johnston County Heritage Center and several local restaurants for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Smithfield is home to the Ham & Yam Festival the first weekend in May, where concerts are held at the Town Commons.

Head out of town:  Take the neighborhood ride out on Third Street to Brogden Road, the birthplace of Ava Gardner 'til you reach the Richardson Bridge Rd. Boat Ramp.

Start your ride through the historic Brooklyn neighborhood to Brogden Road, and you will find yourself in the countryside in no time.  Travel seven miles east to the crossroads community known as Grabtown or Brogden.  Ava Gardner's childhood home, "The Teacherage" is located on the corner of Brogden and Grabtown Rd.  Continue along Brogden Road until a right on Richardson Bridge will take you over the Neuse River.  Richardson Bridge Rd. offers boating access to the Neuse River for fishing, canoeing and kayaking trips. 

It's a history lesson:  Cross over the Neuse River into the Bentonville Community, site of the last major Confederate offensive of the Civil War.  Bike along the Carolina's Campaign Civil War Driving Trail which takes you by the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site. 

The village of Bentonville was the site of the largest Civil War battle and last major Confederate offensive fought in North Carolina.  There are more than six driving pull-offs for an interesting explanation of the battle throughout this 6,000 acre battlefield.  If time permits, stop by the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site for a tour of the museum and Historic Harper House.

Howell WoodsRecreational trip for another visit:  Leaving this area's rich history travel by Howell Woods, a recreation destination for another visit for hiking, biking, bird-watching and more. 

As the route makes a turn back, you will pass by the entrance to Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center, which has 25-miles of hiking and biking trails to explore.  This recreational venue is known for exceptional trails, birding, hunting, canoeing, hiking and fishing.  We hope you will visit us again for this and other hidden gems in the county for a day trip, or you can opt to stay on site at their eco-friendly cabins.

Need a shopping basket:  Travel on to the quaint community of Four Oaks then head back to Smithfield along US Highway 301. 

As you enter the community of Four Oaks, and you might want to take a break, the local honey produced here is a available for sale at the Shamrock Buzzy Bee in Downtown Four Oaks.  They have honey, soaps, homemade breads, cookies, candles and more.

Day trip bike ride or overnight visit?

We hope you will enjoy exploring Smithfield's bike route, the countryside, the history, and the community of Four Oaks!  Smithfield is home to Carolina Premium Outlet where you can do some serious shopping.  Several hotels are located near the outlet center for your visit....we suggest you make it a weekend.  We have much to offer those wishing to explore....add on a visit to one of our wineries or breweries too!  Find our more on our website, www.johnstoncountync.org













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Part II - Clayton Bike Route

Part II - Clayton Bike Route

Part Two in a four part series on the new JoCo Bike Routes

One of the first county-wide projects the Johnston County Sports Council tackled was developing new on-road routes for biking enthusiasts.  Currently along the country roads of the Johnston, residents may spot individual riders and club rides biking almost every morning and especially on Saturdays.

There will be four NCDOT adopted bike routes which will cover most all areas east, west, north and south.  The routes have been vetted by the NC Department of Transportation Bike and Ped Division and each local planning department has reviewed and provided a resolution of support for the routes.  The Visitors Bureau is currently designing the new JoCo Bike Route Brochure to be printed in December...interested riders can call and we will mail out brochures or printer-friendly versions will be on our website.

Through a series of BLOG posts we will take you through each new bike ride in the county.

Clayton, Archer Lodge, Wilson's Mill Route

Morning Glory Inn

Start Here:  Horne Plaza or Deep River Brewing are the jumping off spots for this bike trail which takes you along the trail heads for the Clayton River Walk Greenway. 

Why not stay overnight either at the Morning Glory Inn or Comfort Suites, then spend the next day exploring the communities along this bike route.  Downtown Clayton is a sweet destination and you will find an itinerary just for your sweet tooth on www.johnstoncountync.org.

You will find Clayton one of the more challenging rides in the series with hills you might not expect in the Piedmont area.  Just a short distance out of downtown, discover the trail heads for the Sam's Branch Greenway Trail and Clayton River Walk which connects to Wake County.  If you want to add an excursion to the bike route, feel free to ride along these trails.

Head out of Clayton: Travel north out of town to the growing community of Archer Lodge through rolling terrain and beautiful farm lands.   Bikers will also find golf courses and fun adventures for the whole family at Boyette Family Farms. 

Loop Southeast and cross the Neuse:  Head southeast towards the Town of Wilson's Mills, crossing over the Neuse River. Nearby on US 70, you will find Double Barley Brewing, where award-winning craft beers are waiting. But for now head back to Clayton to finish up this ride.

More to do in Clayton:  Check the community calendar for the latest events in Clayton, www.johnstoncountyevents.com

Clayton_ClaytonCenter.jpgThe Town of Clayton offers visitors to the area several things to do, whether walking or riding you may enjoy the public arts projects in Downtown, head back to Deep River Brewing for a tasting, live music at The Flip Side or you may plan your visit to coincide with a performance at The Clayton Center.  Downtown offers several dining experiences as well from the unique Peruvian Lucky Chicken to fine dining at the Clayton Steak House or the new Mannings Restaurant.

For the official visitor information site for the Clayton area, visit www.visitclayton.org






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Part III - Pine Level, Micro, Kenly Bike Route

Part III - Pine Level, Micro, Kenly Bike Route

Part Three in a four part series on the new JoCo Bike Routes

One of the first county-wide projects the Johnston County Sports Council tackled was developing new on-road routes for biking enthusiasts.  Currently along the country roads of the county, residents may spot individual riders and club rides biking almost every morning and especially on Saturdays.

The Selma Cyclepaths have a loyal team of riders in the county, however, visitors and bikers from Wake County are now making trips over to enjoy our wide open spaces.  With these new approved bike routes, the Visitors Bureau will have established routes to market via brochures, online biking sites, hotel packages, and our county websites.

There are four NCDOT adopted bike routes which cover most all areas east, west, north and south.  Both the Smithfield and Clayton routes have been discussed in detail in the two previous blog posts. This blog will explore the loop from Pine Level, to Kenly, to Micro, and back to Pine Level. The routes have been vetted by the NC Department of Transportation Bike and Ped Division and each local planning department has reviewed and provided a resolution of support for the routes.  The Visitors Bureau currently has a new JoCo Bike Route Brochure... interested riders can call and we will mail out brochures or printer-friendly versions will be on our website soon.

Through a series of BLOG posts we will take you through each new bike ride in the county.

Pine Level, Micro, Kenly Route

Start here:  Great parking is available at the Sam Godwin Park in Pine Level to begin your bike ride, with a great stop just minutes down the road at Hinnant Family Vineyard and Winery. 

Hinnant's Vineyard is the largest muscadine vineyard in the state with more than 75 acres of grapes. This award-wining winery has a tasting room with a variety of muscadine wines, Norton reds, specialty wines like the Ava Gardner "Barefoot Beauty" dry Blanc Du Bois, and fruit wines like strawberry, blackberry, peach, and pomegranate.

Hinnant Winery

Head northeast out of Pine Level: through beautiful farmland and find out more about our agricultural heritage.

Travel through rich farm lands all the way to the Town of Kenly, home to the Tobacco Farm Life Museum that offers weekly heritage events every Saturday showcasing farm heritage, crafts, and farm life. The Tobacco Farm Life Museum has been serving visitors an agritourism experience for more than 25 years with a 6,000 square foot museum, reconstructed farmstead dwellings, and special events held throughout the year.

Tobaccon Farm Life Museum

Head back to vineyards:  Once you travel through Friendly Kenly, return back to Pine Level along Lowell Mill Road, which will take you back by the winery. The Selma/Pine Level loop is perfect for a return trip for shopping for antiques, DeWaynes, or great bargains at JR Outlet. Just minutes from Pine Level, outlet shoppers and lovers of antiques will enjoy Selma. Home to the entertaining and family-friendly American Music Jubilee country music variety show.

For more information - lodging, food, activities - click on Pine Level, Kenly, or Selma.


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Part Four - Benson Bike Route

Part Four - Benson Bike Route

Part Four is the final installment in this series on the new JoCo Bike Routes

One of the first county-wide projects the Johnston County Sports Council tackled was developing new on-road routes for biking enthusiasts.  Currently along the country roads of the Johnston, residents may spot individual riders and club rides biking almost every morning and especially on Saturdays.

The Selma Cyclepaths have a loyal team of riders in the county, however, visitors and bikers from Wake County are now making trips over to enjoy our wide open spaces.  With these new approved bike routes, the Visitors Bureau will have established routes to market via brochures, online biking sites, hotel packages, and our county websites.

There will be four NCDOT adopted bike routes which will cover most all areas east, west, north and south.  The routes have been vetted by the NC Department of Transportation Bike and Ped Division and each local planning department has reviewed and provided a resolution of support for the routes.  The Visitors Bureau is currently designing the new JoCo Bike Route Brochure to be printed in October...interested riders can call and we will mail out brochures, or printer-friendly versions will be on our website.

Through a series of BLOG posts we will take you through each new bike ride in the county.

Benson, McGee's Crossroads Route

Benson Singing GroveA great place to start this bike trail is the Benson Singing Grove in the heart of Downtown Benson, and travel north out of town on Main Street/Hwy 50 to Benson Hardee Rd.  This farming community has been producing tobacco and sweet potatoes for over 250 years and remains predominantly agricultural. 

Travel out to the Gregory Vineyards & Winery and enjoy the scenic vineyards and farm...just a lovely spot to rest if you have some time.  Sip some wine and fuel up at the restaurant attached to the winery.

Continue west to the community known as Elevation, heart of sweet potato country and then loop back south towards Benson.  This route will take you near Tucker Lake, and Enoch Winery which are two great stops for another visit to the area as well. This region, known as Broadslab, has a Moonshine legacy and now offers a legal establishment aptly names Broadslab Distillery. The tasting room is nearby on Hwy 50, and worthy of a return visit... it's the real deal.

Back in Benson, rest at the Grove and take a stroll along the charming Main Street for a bit of shopping and a great meal at Miss Maude's Cafe. Or for a sweet treat stop by Warren Drug Store at the soda fountain for a Lemonade or ice cream cone, and for some chocolate visit Jenny's Sweet Creations. You deserve it after your ride! Benson also offers several parks for a stroll and the Benson Museum of Local History is like stepping back in time with extensive displays on the history of Benson, farming, business, and local artists.

Find out more by visiting the Benson website.





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Day Tripping Ideas - FALL in Johnston County

Day Tripping Ideas - FALL in Johnston County

We all live very busy lives and just keeping the family organized, the house cleaned, the kids to practice or dance, and a hundred other things that fill up our day -- it all can be overwhelming.  That's why when you think about entertainment, outings with the children or family visiting for the weekend, we suggest you rely on your local Convention & Visitors Bureau for ideas, deals, and suggested itineraries.  That's what we spend our days doing to help visitors, local residents, and day trippers.  If you live within an hour's drive of Johnston County, we have several ideas for day trips for you to consider.

Fall is all about Festivals!

Benson Mule DaysIt's fall and that means football, fall leaves, the State Fair, and a host of festivals throughout North Carolina.  Johnston County has a long history of agricultural related venues and events with several festivals to choose from, the Clayton Harvest Festival is held the third weekend of September, the Farm Fest concert brings country music's best to Selma the first weekend in October.  Spend that Saturday strolling the streets of Selma's Railroad Festival and the evening singing along with your favorite country star. 

If you have done the State Fair year after year, and want to try a smaller version (less people, better parking), the Benson Mule Days Festival is as close to a county fair that Johnston County has to offer.  They have the midway with games, fair food, and vendors, as well as, carnival rides, concerts, parades, and rodeos.  Get the full details on their website, www.bensonmuledays.com  For a day trip, we suggest coming Saturday for the full experience...the parade, free Bluegrass in the Grove, carnival rides and BBQ by White Swan BBQ.

Like to get out on the farm for some pumpkin pickin', corn mazes, and grape stomping?  Visit the Boyette Family Farm near Clayton, or schedule a visit to the Lazy O Farm or Smith's Farm near Smithfield, or for something different, our wineries offer events in the fall, like the Grape Stomp at Gregory Vineyards or the Harvest Ball at Hinnants Family Vineyard and Winery.

Holiday time is for Outlet Shopping and Christmas Music!

AMJ Christmas ShowStarting in early November the traffic at Carolina Premium Outlet increases as we all start working checking off items on our Christmas List...check the deals we find at the outlets, including JR Outlets in Selma too!  Sign up for the VIP Club with Carolina Premium Outlets and get emails on special events and sales.  A day trip for shopping works any time of the year or if you need to get away, our Girlfriends Getaway package offers deals on hotels, area attractions, and is great for a weekend with your BFF. 

For some family fun, the American Music Jubilee Theatre is perfect for all generations.  This musical variety show for the Holidays begins the first week of November and runs through the week of Christmas.  It's fun and will keep everyone in the holiday spirit -- add a visit to an area restaurant for the family, or if you have a church group that loves to get out for a day trip...this a very popular trip.  Dates and tickets are available on their website, www.amjubilee.com

Love to explore the arts in Johnston County?

The Clayton CenterJust within the Triangle area, there are hundreds of options for art museums, concerts, art shows and more...but Johnston County has much to offer too!  There are three performing arts auditoriums with regular season shows, The Clayton Center, the Paul A. Johnston Auditorium and the W.J. Barefoot Auditorium.  Visitors will find local talent providing theatre productions to national acts touring the country.  Dinner and the theatre in our neck of the woods is very affordable compared to prices in the Triangle -- and just as much fun!  Check out the event calendar on our website for the most up to date concerts and art show schedules.

For a touch of Hollywood, visitors that love the Golden Age will enjoy a day visit to the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield which houses a vast collection of movie memorabilia on local girl, Ava Gardner.  Walk the streets of this historic downtown, enjoy lunch at an area restaurant, walk along the Buffalo Creek Greenway.  Check out what's happening at the museum, www.avagardner.org

For the details on times, themes, and contacts for several Day Trip Ideas for Johnston County, CLICK HERE.  Check our events calendar often for something new to do in Johnston County!







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The Hottest Tickets In Town Go On Sale Monday At The Clayton Center

The Hottest Tickets In Town Go On Sale Monday At The Clayton Center

Audiences To Enjoy Fun Favorites and Welcome New Faces to Local Stage

Single tickets to performances in The Clayton Center’s 2014-15 performing arts season go on sale Monday, Aug. 25, at 10 am.  The Palladian Series opens on Friday, Oct. 17, with the irreverent and irrepressible political satire of The Capitol Steps. A Clayton favorite, the Capitol Steps return with their newest production How To Succeed In Congress Without Really Lying. Tickets are $35.

Groucho MarxOn Saturday, Nov. 1, The Clayton Center presents An Evening With Groucho, featuring award-winning actor, director and playwright Frank Ferrante. Ferrante recreates his PBS, New York and London acclaimed portrayal of legendary comedian Groucho Marx in this fast paced 90 minutes of hilarity. Tickets are $25.

The Palladian Series continues on Saturday, Dec. 6, with Riders In The Sky, and Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, with the Grande Dame of storytelling, Jeanne Robertson. Tickets are $28 and $30, respectively.

The Center heads into spring of 2015 with Yesterday & Today: The Interactive Beatles’ Experience on Friday, March 20.  Tickets to this all-request concert are $25. The final show of the Palladian Series features the music of Jeremy Davis & The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra on Saturday, April 11. Tickets for this show are $30.

The Clayton Center also will present native sons The Malpass Brothers, who hail from Goldsboro, NC, in a special event on Saturday, Feb. 7. Fans can see these incredibly talented musicians for just $20 per ticket.

Information on purchasing tickets

All events presented by The Clayton Center begin at 8 pm. For ticket prices and for more information on these shows, contact the Clayton Center box office by phone at 919-553-1737, or visit theclaytoncenter.com online. The Clayton Center is located at 111 E. Second St. in historic downtown Clayton. Box office hours are 10 am until noon and from 1 until 5 pm Monday through Friday.

Other popular artists presented in past seasons at The Clayton Center include Kathy Mattea, Dianne Reeves, Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Winter, Jesse Cook, Doc Watson, Eileen Ivers, Tommy Emmanuel, Colin Hay, the Harlem Gospel Choir and David Sedaris.

Jean Robertson video -- she is so funny....please don't miss her at The Clayton Center.


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Meet Project Runway's Designer Justin LeBlanc at the Ava Gardner Festival Oct. 4th

Ava Gardner Museum celebrates Ava as a fashion icon with new exhibits and special guest Justin LeBlanc.

Each year the Ava Gardner Museum celebrates the opening of the permanent home for the museum in Downtown Smithfield.  This year’s festival will showcase new exhibits on the legacy of Ava Gardner's fashion style with the opening of the "Ava's Closet" exhibit with music, films, fashion, food and local designer, Justin LeBlanc.   To connect to the fashion industry in North Carolina, festival organizers invited Project Runway's Justin LeBlanc to attend the event.  Justin will be at the festival Saturday, October 4, from 9-11am to host a talk on his signature 3D printing process for fabrics and to discuss his fashion line with visitors to the museum.

 “We are thrill to have Justin LeBlanc visit this year's festival, we are big fans of his work," said Deanna Brandenberger, Museum Director, “Ava's popularity and influence on today's designers like Justin remains strong and we wanted to contrast modern design with the Golden Age of Hollywood's designs worn by Ava.  It was clear he was well-liked as a contestant on Project Runway, and we feel visitors will enjoy meeting him."

Justin LeBlanc DesignJustin’s 2014 Spring/Summer collection shown in New York was entitled “Sound Waves.” It reflected his journey from deafness, represented by pure and simple white garments, to the chaos of sound, represented by garments accentuated with depictions of sound waves, random splashes of white, and elaborate 3-D printed belts, to his ultimate reconciliation with sound, dramatically depicted by a Gown made from Pipette Tips that sounded like rain as the model walked.  Justin will be bringing this piece to the museum and visitors will have a chance to see this gown and learn more about the process of constructing this one-of-a-kind design.

Justin has a degree in Architecture from North Carolina State University where he was a Caldwell Fellow. Towards the end of his architecture studies Justin developed his passion for fashion design during his participation in NCSU’s annual Art2Wear competition.  Following his graduation from NCSU Justin attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he received a Master of Design in Fashion, Body, and Garment in 2012. While a student at the Art Institute, Mr. LeBlanc interned in London at Alexander McQueen’s fashion studio. He was mentored by Nick Cave, a design professor at the Art Institute and a celebrated fabric sculptor.  Justin currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina where he is an assistant professor at North Carolina State University in the College of Design.  Justin also is actively involved in fashion design and he is a frequent guest speaker and volunteers his time for various charitable causes. 

To make the weekend's event a complete package individuals may purchase passes to all events for $75.00 which includes the Friday night Fashion Fling reception, admission to the museum Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Saturday night Clayton Piano Festival and one heritage tour on Saturday.  Advanced reservations required by September 26 to schedule the package. 

For more information about the festival and to purchase the "Ava's Closet" Festival Package, please call the museum at 919-934-5830.  The Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield, at 325 E. Market Street and more information may be found on the museum website, www.avagardner.org.  The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm and Sunday 2pm-5pm with admission of $8.00 adults, $7.00 seniors and groups and $6.00 children.

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Wine Trail Expands in Johnston County

Wine Trail Expands in Johnston County

After three years and over 1,000 people completing the Muscadine Heritage Wine Trail, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau has expanded the trail to include two new breweries and a distillery in the county.  In 2013, Deep River Brewing and Double Barley Brewing opened in Clayton and Smithfield as the first craft beer brewing companies in the county.  Also in 2013, Gregory Vineyards began distilling moonshine to blend into their wines creating a fortified brandy, which is available for tasting in their winery.

 "With the new breweries and "legal" shine now available in Johnston County, we wanted to expand the trail with these new experiences and tastings," stated Donna Bailey-Taylor, Executive Director, "the new trail has more relaxed requirements and visitors will receive coupons worth $30.00 to use on return trips to the winery or brewery they loved best."

Muscadine GrapesVisitors along the trail need only receive a stamp on their visit and are not required to purchase product as required before on the Muscadine Heritage Wine Trail.  The wineries and breweries agreed that the main intent of the trail is to give the visitor a good experience, and gain a customer for the long term.  After collecting six stamps, visitors will receive a 4 x 9 rack card with $5.00 coupons good at each location on the trail.  Participating venues are Adams Winery, Enoch Winery, Deep River Brewing, Double Barley Brewing, Hinnants Winery and Gregory Winery.  Also listed on the trail for pick-your-own muscadine grapes is Myrick Vineyards near Selma, who has plans to open a winery in 2015.

Brochures promoting the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail are available at area attractions, NC Welcome Centers and may be downloaded on the new website, www.beerwineshinetrail.com.  "We encourage visitors to check back often to see what events are being planned at the wineries which host grape stomps, art and wine events, murder mystery dinners and pick-your-own grape seasons.  The breweries also have special events, live music, food trucks, corn hole tournaments and more.

Wine and craft beer enthusiasts can join our Trail Email list for announcements of special events and news from the members of the trail, and enter to win a FREE custom designed Mason Jar.  Drawings are held monthly and winners will receive the prize by mail.

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Clayton Piano Festival to Capture the Magic of Classical Music

Clayton Piano Festival to Capture the Magic of Classical Music

Ava Singing in Show BoatThe 4th Annual Clayton Piano Festival is scheduled for September 29 - October 10 at The Clayton Center Auditorium in Historic Downtown Clayton in addition to workshops held in area schools.  This year's festival will kick-off with a collaboration with the Ava Gardner Festival featuring iconic classical music from the movies including a segment on another local star, Ava Gardner.  Three more themed performances will be billed as; The inspiration of the church on western music, A celebration of women composers, which will be at The Wagner House and Classical music with a popular twist.

Home-town classical musician, Jonathan Levin began the festival in 2010 to give back to the community where he was raised, and in the venue where at age eight he performed his first recital.  "As many may know, I grew up in the Clayton area and it was here that my musical education began as well.  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," stated Jonathan Levin, founder of the festival. "Live performance is a vital part of this art form – when a performer is up there on stage tapping in to whatever wizardry the composer may have conjured up and the audience is able to relate and connect with that, there is a shared experience that occurs which is nothing short of magical.  And that is the mission of CPF – to create magic!"

On Saturday, October 4th, emcee Bryan Mims, WRAL news reporter, will lead the conversation about the piano pieces beginning at 7pm.  Following the concert there will be a coffee and dessert reception to meet the artist Azamat Sydykov.  This concert collaboration between the Clayton Piano Festival and the Ava Gardner Museum will interest fans and visitors coming to the Ava Gardner Festival which runs the entire weekend.  Fans of movies and fans of Ava's can enjoy a touch of artistry from her life.  During the hour long performance, the interlude featuring Ava Gardner will showcase songs from Show Boat and Ava's live-long fascination with flamenco music.  Tickets for the Saturday night concert are $20.00+ taxes and fees, and are available for purchase online at www.theclaytoncenter.com or by calling the Clayton Center Box Office, 919-553-3152.

Clayton Piano FestivalAzamat Sydakov, who recently performed at Carnegie Hall will be the featured pianist on Saturday, October 4th.  Sydykov was born into a musical family in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyz Republic, a former Republic of the Soviet Union and now resides in Kazakhstan.  A Member of the International Academy of Creative Endeavors (Moscow, 2009),  Sydykov has been the recipient of many awards and prizes including First Prize in five national music competitions in Kyrgyz Republic, First Prize at the “Musician of the 21st Century” International Piano Competition in Kazakhstan and the Grand Prize at the “EUTERPE” International Piano Competition in Italy in 2009.

It is the mission of CPF to bring outstanding concert pianists from throughout the country to the Clayton area in order to perform concerts and participate in other musically enriching events throughout the community. Through interactive presentations in local schools, public classes for local piano students, and commentary with the concert performances, CPF aims to bridge the gap between performer and audience, bringing great music to people of all ages and levels of exposure to classical music and the arts.

The Clayton Piano Festival list of performances and seminars, times and ticket info:

Sept. 29 – Oct. 3                 Educational Outreach Performances at local elementary schools.
Oct. 4                                 "Movie Tunes: Iconic classical music from the movies." - The Clayton Center,  Azamat Sydykov, 7pm. Tickets $20
Oct. 5                                 "Sanctuary: the inspiration of the church on western music."  -  The Clayton Center, Jonathan Levin, 3pm. Tickets $12/$8
Oct. 7                                 "In Her Shoes: A celebration of women composers." - The Wagner House, Clayton,  Julia Mortyakova, 7pm.  Tickets $20
Oct. 8-10                            Young Artist Seminar – classes and events for local piano students. (location and Schedule TBD)                                              
Oct. 10                               "From Brooklyn to Havana: classical music with a popular twist."  The Clayton Center, Milton Laufer, 7pm. Tickets $12/$8

The Clayton Piano Festival is supported by grants, donations, and tickets sales. Concerts are general seating admission with some reserved seats for Ava Gardner Festival sponsors only on October 4.  More information can be found on their website, www.claytonpianofestival.org or Ava Gardner Festival on www.avagardner.org.

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301 Endless Yard Sale A Huge Success

301 Endless Yard Sale A Huge Success

The organizing committee of the 301 Endless Yard Sale met July 17 to gather feedback from the communities involved and to review vendor survey results.  With mostly positive feedback from all involved, the committee has set the dates of June 19-20, 2015 for next year's event.

"Overall the biggest complaint was the hot weather, obviously, something the committee cannot control and some traffic concerns, wishes for more parking, and calls to hold the event twice a year (Spring and Fall)," stated Donna Bailey-Taylor, Executive Director, Johnston County Visitors Bureau.

Results of the Vendor Survey

The committee reviewed the online vendor survey results and key points noted by the committee were:

•    35% of  vendors heard about the event from WRAL, followed by 30% website, 30% Facebook, 22% by postcard/brochure, 19% by Classified Ads.  
•    76% of vendors sold on both days.  
•    Average sales were about $500 each day.  
•    Vendor fees varied from free, donations, up to $75 per day.  
•    81% of vendors found their spot because they knew the property owner.  
•    79% of vendors sold yard sale items, 48% collectibles and 38% antiques.
•    83% of vendors plan to come back next year.  
•    50% of vendors surveyed said to leave it a Friday-Saturday event.

301 Endless Yard SaleThe committee discussed the feedback from people complaining about too many commercial vendors and that they wanted just “Yard Sale” items and pricing.  The committee discussed that what the vendor sells is not regulated and there were lots of "junking" vendors, as well as, antiques and collectibles, yard sale items, and then the unique items like golf carts, boats, motorcycles, and businesses that pulled warehouses of merchandise out for sale.  "The 301 Endless Yard Sale is all about the hunt, you never know what you will come across.  It may be high end antiques or the thrifty household items, " stated event founder Tommy Abdalla. Next year the committee can include a tagline that specifies,  "you’ll find anything and everything along the 301 Endless Yard Sale".

Discussion was had about moving the event date and the committee felt this year the weekend was unusually hot for June.  If the event was moved to the spring or fall, there were many conflicts with other major festivals held in the destinations, sporting events, football weekends, and the state fair.  The committee decided there are benefits to having the consistency and agreed to keep the event the third weekend in June, which will be June 19-20.  

Overall marketing expenses and ROI

The four Visitors Bureaus involved split the cost of the brochures, classified ads, and each community purchased banners.  Halifax and Johnston placed some local ads and worked with area radio stations for promotion.  And the JCVB invested some promotional dollars on Facebook, which increased from 300 likes to 5,300 likes since last year's event.  With the promotion on WRAL, the www.301endlessyard.com again exceeded bandwidth with over  75,000 page views in June.   Each CVB averaged $1,000 to market the event.

Although hard numbers from hotels is not available on the number of room nights, each destination reported hotels saw overnight stays.  The Facebook map set up to track where vendors and visitors were coming from indicated some of the feeder states for this event were: NC, VA, SC, FL, AL, OH, PA, MA, TX, MD and CO.

Expanding the 301 Endless Yard Sale from Roanoke Rapids to Lumberton
The goal for 2015 is to expand the sale to include the counties of Nash, Cumberland and Robeson Counties.  The committee has agreed not to have gaps next year as it causes too much confusion for vendors and visitors.  Planning meetings will begin in January and will be held in Smithfield at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau conference room.  For more information and to keep connected, visit the website, www.301endlessyardsale.com or follow the event on www.facebook.com/301endlessyardsale.

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Ava Gardner Festival -- opens "Ava's Closet"

Ava Gardner Festival -- opens "Ava's Closet"

Join us in historic downtown Smithfield for the 10th Annual Ava Gardner Festival, October 3-5.  Ava went to Hollywood in 1941, a beauty from North Carolina with her college threads and saddle oxford shoes, but just a few years later she graced hundreds of magazine covers, played on-screen sirens, and was coined one of the world’s most beautiful women.

Schedule of Events for the Ava Gardner Festival

Ava Gardner FestivalFriday, October 3

Ava’s Closet Exhibit opens with a Fashion Fling reception with Sinatra-style entertainment by the Carolina Crooner, hors d’ oeuvres and beverages will provide the “fling” for the evening.  Ticket prices are $25.00 per person and the event is the museum’s annual fundraiser.

Saturday, October 4

Festival goers will enjoy the new exhibits, Heritage Tours, and FREE movie screenings of  The Killers and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean showing at 10am and 2pm respectively.  This year’s movies are a tribute to John Huston, Ava’s dear friend and famed director. All day admission is $8 for all ages.

Justin LeBlancMeet special guest, Justin LeBlanc, season 12 Project Runway finalist and local designer from Raleigh who will speak about 3D print design and fashion with visitors to the museum.  Justin will be at the museum Saturday, Oct. 4 from 9-11am.

Heritage tours on Saturday October 4th will be held throughout the day beginning at 9am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:30pm. The guided tour will take visitors to Ava’s birthplace, to the Brogden Teacherage where she grew up, and to her gravesite at Sunset Memorial Park. Tours are $15.00 per person.


Clayton Piano FestivalOn Saturday, Oct. 4, the museum has partnered with the Clayton Piano Festival whose theme this year is classical music from the movies. The festival organizers are working with renowned artist and Clayton native, Jonathan Levin to pay tribute to Ava Gardner with a song from Show Boat and a selection of other musical influenced by Ava's love of flamenco music. The festival will be held at The Clayton Center and begins at 7pm. Coffee and desserts will be served after the concert with a meet and greet with Azamat Sydakov, the featured pianist. Tickets are $20.00 per person plus fees/taxes and are available online at www.theclaytoncenter.com.

 Sunday, October 5

Another tribute to John Huston, The African Queen will run on Sunday at 3pm.

Get a deal with the Ava's Closet Festival Package

Ava Gardner Festival Package includes admission to all events for the weekend, and is available for $75.00 online, CLICK HERE to purchase.

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