Rain doesn’t keep people away from Got to Be NC Festival

aweigl@newsobserver.comMay 19, 2013 

— A stroller-filled crowd descended upon the State Fairgrounds on Sunday, despite a few rain showers, for the annual Got to Be NC Festival.

The weekend’s off-and-on wet dampened attendance at the festival that is designed to promote North Carolina agriculture, food, wine and, for the first time this year, beer.

“The weather has hurt us a little bit. We’re down 5 percent,” said festival manager Jim McKnight.

The festival, now in its sixth year, usually attracts an estimated 125,000 people to the fairgrounds over three days. The event is part antique tractor show, part food, wine and beer festival and part miniature state fair with a midway full of rides, carnival barkers and vendors selling funnel cakes, cotton candy and smoked turkey legs.

In many ways the event’s sights and sounds are the same as those found at the annual state fair: the thwack-thwack of the John Deere ice cream machine, the deep-fried aroma of House Autry Mills hush puppies and the bright lights and blaring music of the midway. The main differences are shorter lines, closer parking and the chance to sample beer and wine (no alcohol at the fair).

This was the first year any North Carolina breweries were able to participate, and only one, Aviator Brewing Co. in Fuquay-Varina, showed up. (Festival organizers learned a lesson: local breweries need more notice to be able to attend, said Brian Long, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Agriculture.) As a result, the line to buy samples of Aviator beer was consistently five to six people deep.

“We’re moving product,” said Josh Cootware, an Aviator salesman. “The line has been pretty steady since we opened at noon.”

The only lines longer than the one at the Aviator booth were those serving samples of North Carolina wines. Ronnie Kelly, vice president of promotions for Duplin Winery, said his staff went through almost 40 cases of wine on Friday and Saturday. Plus, they ran out of wine slushy samples 1 1/2 hours before closing time Saturday, despite having 15 gallons to start and handing out only half-ounce samples.

“We sold out of almost everything we had,” said Kelly, who drove back to the winery in Rose Hill to get more wine for Sunday.

Alcohol was not the event’s only attraction. Charles and Martha Oldham came from Sanford to taste all the food on display.

“We have been here before and like to see all the good things North Carolina produces,” said Martha Oldman, who was taking home packages of toffee, cheese straws and a jar of apple pie moonshine jelly. She added: “We tasted all kinds of wonderful barbecue sauces.”

There were 17 vendors offering samples of sauces that fall into the barbecue-marinade-grilling genre.

One of them was Pluto Richards, owner of the Chapel Hill-based Pluto’s sauces. He was serving samples of not only his Jamaican jerk sauce but also a milder sauce he called “Carib-B-Q.” Richards, who has been a vendor at the event before, said he can’t pass up the opportunity it offers: “I get a chance to showcase my product in front of a lot of people.”

Beyond the food and drink, the carnival rides brought out many families, including the Salamone family of Apex.

“We have a 4-year-old daughter who loves rides,” said Abbie Salamone, 32, who was waiting for her daughter Carly to finish on the Bee Bop ride. “We’ve probably been on almost every ride she can go on.”

After 2 1/2 hours at the event, Salamone and her husband were not sad to see dark clouds on the horizon threatening rain. Salamone said, “We hope it does so we can go home.”

Weigl: 919-829-4848

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