Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Finish this sentence: You can't call N.C. home if you haven't ...

This was an actual request I got from a friend the other day.

"Finish this sentence: You can't call North Carolina home if you haven't ..."

My immediate, gut reaction was to answer with a place that you must visit. The next thought was that it has to be somewhere unique to the state.

"Visit Jockeys Ridge," was my answer. (I do think that's a good one.)

My second answer was Grandfather Mountain.

But it's such a good question, and one that's open to all sorts of interpretation. Instead of just focusing on locations, perhaps it's actual ACTIVITIES that are required of North Carolinians in order to earn (or keep) their N.C. ID cards. These could be things like:

Attended an ACC basketball game.

Hiked to the top of Mount Mitchell.

Visited Old Salem.

Hit the slopes.

And so on.

So, what would YOU say is the answer to this great question?

Jockeys Ridge photo from Our State. Grandfather Mountain image from

Monday, July 31, 2017

Back when the bright lights hit the lake

Back in high school in Harnett County, I would sometimes here my classmates talk about going to Lake Artesia. For whatever reason -- maybe I wasn't invited (thanks, guys!)? -- I never made it to Lake Artesia. I think, in my mind, I imagined it being a smaller White Lake.

Earlier this week, my mother -- a proud Sampson County native -- talked about Williams Lake and the great musical acts that would play there in the 1950s and '60s. "We would say we were going to a friend's house for the night, but we'd instead go to Williams Lake."

I just had to look up the history of these places -- hot spots that were quite literally in the middle of nowhere.

Like my mother, Michael Parker is a Clinton native. Parker has written about Williams Lake and Lake Artesia. It's pretty remarkable the acts that made the trek down these back roads to play for sometimes up to 700 rural North Carolinians back in the day. (But, to be fair, every North Carolinian was a rural North Carolinian back then.)

Williams Lake was located near Mingo Township, in the northeastern corner of Sampson County, closer to Newton Grove and Dunn than it was to Clinton ...  The club had been drawing teenagers from all over eastern North Carolina since the 1930s, when a pavilion was built on the lake and the swimmers asked the owner, Clayton Williams, to put in a jukebox for jitterbugging. After a hard day in the tobacco and produce fields, which were the primary summer jobs for teenagers back then, a night at Williams Lake was a just reward. But its heyday was in the ’60s, when the shoulders of the country roads leading to the lake were clogged with the cars of kids looking to shag to the music of The Tams, The Drifters, and Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs. ...

Lake Artesia -- or "Amnesia" -- was similar, but different.

The club itself — an A-frame flanked by two wide wings that resembled, inside and out, a rustic lodge — was a good ways off the highway, down a sandy lane dead-ending in a huge field converted into a parking lot. A booth was set up at the highway. They charged by the head. ... During the three or four summers I spent going there, the bigger-name bands — The Tams, The Drifters, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs — seemed to regularly change members. But no one cared if this was the “original” Drifters. We just wanted to get up on the roof or under the boardwalk. We wanted to be young, be foolish, be happy. We wanted to say to the security guards who accused us of climbing into and out of someone’s dank trunk, What kind of fool do you think I am?

 Of course, Parker asks the legitimate question -- the same question any logical person would ask: Why? And how? What was it that led to these small "bodies" of water to attract national touring acts?

It’s a mystery to me now how these two lakes — one of them not much more than a pond — in the middle of the middle of nowhere, both within a half hour of my hometown, drew national talent night after summer night. There must have been money in it, despite the revenue lost to trunk and wood, but surely these bands could have made more in conventional dance clubs in Raleigh or Wilmington, Charlotte or Greensboro, places we small-town, rural kids thought of as big cities.

I’m just happy these places existed, for even though I know one of them only by the aura it left in the memories of its patrons, if it was anything like the one I knew in my teens, it was magical. A sweet drive down back roads, past tobacco barns and head-high corn in field after field as the brutal summer sun finally cast shadows and brought shade. The thrill of entry, legitimate or not. The chance of meeting someone you did not know whom you’d like to get to know better. Most of all, the music, which — after a long day cropping tobacco or packing produce or, if you were lucky enough, basking in a plastic chair overlooking squealing kids splashing about in some swimming pool — took you to the place where music takes you, which has nothing to do with parking lots or ponds. Lovelorn lyrics, tight horn sections, thumpy bass, and chugging rhythm guitar — these sounds are what turn my time there into a field of dreams.

Any first-hand stories from Williams Lake or Lake Artesia you care to share?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

We just got a new island, y'all

Nature is a mysterious and beautiful thing. Don't sleep on nature!

Since April, so-called “Shelly Island” has grown from a small sandbar to a full-fledged island in the Outer Banks island group, The Virginian-Pilot reports. Now about a mile long and three football fields wide, it’s right off the coast of Cape Point, a popular surf spot on Hatteras Island. 

Locals are cruising over in rafts to pluck shells from the new island’s sands, Travel + Leisure reports. An inlet with dangerous currents, sharks and stingrays separates Shelly Island from shore, making it dangerous to visit without proper expertise, according to Paul Paris, a research scientist at the University of North Carolina’s Coastal Studies Institute.

Monday, May 08, 2017

All over the web: N.C. first-graders spin for a new state symbol

It's not very often that we get to talk about a potential new state symbol. Heck, the last time we addressed it was about a decade ago. (That effort apparently didn't result in the bullfrog being named the state amphibian. But we did gain a state frog a few years ago.) 

But some first-graders in the AVL know that we have been missing out. Students in Miss Patti Evans' class at Dickinson Elementary would like a creepy crawly to be designated that official state spider.

In groups of two, the students studied a dozen of the state’s most common spiders including the trapdoor spider, which hides underground to wait for prey. They also studied the jumping spider and the wolf spider.

The students made posters and compiled facts about each spider. They then voted on their favorites.

The day of the crucial classroom vote, students stood up and talked about their spiders, trying to win over classmates. In the end, the golden silk spider came out on top.

Among the rationale: the spider's bites aren't poisonous, AND they eat mosquitoes. Of course, aren't mosquitoes the state bird? (I keed, I keed.)

Best of luck to the students!

(Apologies for the headline. That was the best I could do with spider puns on a Monday.)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Are we losing beach music?

Thanks to the power of social media, some friends and I had a very nice time the other day reminiscing about beach music and the memories that those songs conjure up. Songs like "With This Ring" and "Carolina Girls" and " You're More Than A Number In My Little Red Book" and so on. Beach music is arguably the one style of music that is most synonymous with the Carolinas. The Shag dance itself, some say, originated off the Carolina Beach boardwalk.

For some of the older folks in the discussion, the conversation took them back to times shaggin' in Myrtle Beach or Atlantic Beach. For me, it was more about thinking back to the songs we listened to while spending summer evenings in my grandparents' cottage on Topsail Island and then, later, enjoying concerts at various college events featuring General Johnson and the Chairmen of Board, the Embers and even Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts. (My wife and I even learned the Shag for our wedding reception.)

But the discussion also touched on something else: is beach music dying? As one person commented on Facebook, "My big thing is how much all this great stuff has faded into history. The new generation needs to be educated. How about we form a 'Beach Music Revival Society?' "

Thankfully, through conversations like this and through events like the North Hills Beach Music Concert schedule in Raleigh, beach music continues to live on. (The N.C. State University marching band even plays "Hey Baby" in-between the third and fourth quarter of football games, which results in a stadium singalong.) Even some of those same bands continue to tour and perform. But let's do our part to keep it alive. In fact, we've created a Spotify playlist that is open; feel free to add appropriate beach music songs.

In the meantime, enjoy these oldies and (definitely still) goodies.

Monday, February 20, 2017

This weather is awesome ... unless you're a ski resort

I'm not gonna lie, y'all -- the ability to be out in shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of February is pretty amazing. There were even some previously-scheduled indoor activities that I had agreed to this past weekend that made me feel guilty that I wasn't outside. (They seemed like great ideas at the time.) But you know who probably doesn't like this weather? Our good friends at the North Carolina ski resorts.

To wit ....

"[U]nseasonably warm weather has caused headaches for ski resort operators in North Carolina ..."

" 'This weather is crazy,'  said Chris Green, mountain manager at Sapphire Valley, about an hour south of Asheville. "When it's this warm no one's thinking about going skiing. We have a short time to cover our bills. Skiing on the East Coast is a very short season. Any time we lose skiing it hurts us."

Keep in mind, those comments were made almost a month ago. I doubt things have improved much since. Which is a shame, since the ski resorts offer some great economic benefits to the state. According to this article, a November 2015 economic value report commissioned by the North Carolina Ski Areas Association showed that the six ski areas contributed $197.2 million to North Carolina's economy during the 2014-15 season. In addition, the study found that the region's six ski areas had more than 650,000 visits, provided 87 year-round jobs and 1,787 seasonal jobs and generated nearly $40 million in gross revenue from ski area operations.

There's still hope. We still  have March to go. And it's not uncommon for us to get some white stuff then.