Tour of Wilmington
History is the centerfold of much of Wilmington’s legacy. Being a fighting ground for the Civil War, not to mention a major port in years leading up to the Revolutionary War, stories of the past continue to shape us. And that past includes many souls who continue to haunt us. The Haunted Pub Crawl & Unusual Tales of Old Wilmington are debuting on our Best Of poll in 2016 as Best Tour of Wilmington. Owners John Hirchak and his wife, Kim, are no stranger to offering locals and tourists an opportunity to get to know their city, even if in an off-kilter way. “This is our first year winning for the Haunted Pub Crawl,” John says, “though the Ghost Walk has won six or seven awards in the past.”
The Haunted Pub Crawl combines two elements to keep participants entertained: ghost stories and beer, wine and cocktails. At $17.50 a ticket (booze not included), a pub crawl guide will take people across historic downtown Wilmington, from Cape Fear Wine & Beer to Longstreet’s, Husk to Barbary Coast and beyond.
“Tales include runaway elephants, heroic dogs, prohibition, serial killers and the like,” John says. “Since we have so many repeat guests, we want to make sure that we can always offer something new.”
Thus, they began switching up the tours nightly, so no one of them are the same. Haunted Pub Crawl has expanded their story base with increasing the pubs and the unusual, true histories that go along with them. Plus, they expand beyond a mere tour; they offer parties of all sorts, from birthdays to corporate events, even weddings.
“We’ve had thousands of friendships created, proposals made and new love formed during our tour. The tour is literally a social tour-de-force,” John continues.
The pub crawl actually was borne from folks sharing their stories about experiences in Wilmington bars. In 1999, when John launched the Ghost Walk, folks were sharing their supernatural tales, which all happened over a pint.
“We found we had accumulated quite a few stories that took place in pubs,” he says. “We were initially reluctant to stand out front of these pubs telling stories to our guests of the Ghost Walk, seeing as it’s a family tour.”
Instead John spent four months doing historical research and interviewing hundreds of people. He wrote the Haunted Pub Crawl’s first script and the rest is history. “The blending of storytelling and historic pubs seems to work very well,” John tells. But they come to life because of the passionate guides who keep the flow of the show engaging. Some have even been conducting tours for 15 years.
“They truly love to entertain people and they are all master storytellers,” John continues. “We have had so many incredible occurrences take place on our tour that they have now become part of the lore.”
One of their guides, John Scott, tells a story about a mass-murderer at Growlers. “While leaving the bar, as John was walking up the stairs from the basement pub, he was pushed down from behind,” John tells. “Several guests witnessed it and confirmed no one was standing around John. They said it was obvious he was pushed down. John said he felt the hand fall on his shoulder and then shove him. He thinks he somehow pissed off the ghost there.”
Tickets to all of Hirchak’s tours, including Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington, Hollywood Location Walk and Haunted Pub Crawl & Unusual Tales of Old Wilmington can be bought at the foot of Market, downtown, in the Black Cat Shoppe. “We take great pride in the encore Best Of plaques we have won in the past,” John details. “It not only reminds our guests that we pride ourselves in conducting high-quality tours, but also our guides, store staff and management.”
Wilmington Water Tours and Port City Brew Bus tours trek onto the poll in second and third place respectively.
It turned the big 3-0 in 2015, and City Stage Co. brought the show back to beloved fanfare as part of their the fall lineup. “The Rocky Horror Show” always manages to fascinate and snowball a cult following generation after generation. City Stage Co. took a different approach to the show and managed to get newbies on the Rocky bandwagon: blending originality of the old with ideals of the new.
“That was the creation of this new version of ‘The Rocky Horror Show,’” City Stage Co. artistic director Nick Gray says, “a show that had been successfully done in our space four times, and maybe we could do it again—but with a twist?”
Thus Gray spoke with previous City Stage artistic director Justin Smith about foregoing the glam rock version with heavy makeup, fishnets and glitter, and approach it with … togas? “‘Do it at a frat party…,’” Gray remembers Smith telling him.
Aside from Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter rocking stilettos and Rocky rocking gold lamé, everyone else in the show—Colombia, Riff Raff, Magenta, et al—wore cutoff jeans and tees, played beer pong and did the Whip and Nae Nae while bringing the kooky world of Transylvanian life to the forefront. By incorporating text language and modern-day nuances into the show—iPad, included—millennial virgins not familiar with the Time Warp crowded into City Stage.
“The future of our audience is always our intention,” Gray says. “Our ‘Rocky Horror’ was risky, and not everyone’s cup o’ tea, but it brought a lot of new eyes, ears and hearts to the world of the stage. We had the party of our lives out there every single night with these incredible audiences!”
In true Frank ‘n’ Furter fashion, the cast and audience followed the doctor’s orders—“Give yourself over to absolute pleasure”—in the name of entertainment. City Stage Co. will continue choosing alternative ways to captivate local theatre-goers, including with the opening of their spring show, “The 39 Steps.” Directed by City Stage Co. managing director Chandler Davis, the Alfred Hitchcock film is reinterpreted with a Monty Python sensibility and adapted by Patrick Barlow. “We open March 18 with the talent of Heather Setzler, Jason Aycock, Christopher Rickert, and Brett J. Young,” Gray tells.
“The 39 Steps” will close the season, though Gray says there is the possibility of adding a stand-alone show in June. “In looking at what’s succeeded most over the last two years, it’s been ‘Carrie’ [in 2014] and ‘Rocky,’” he says. “I see the common thread of a young talent that joined us for both productions. It’s very possible that being a millennial theater is what the future holds for us; giving these talented teens and twenty-somethings an opportunity for their art to imitate the issues that affect their current lives is rewarding, and as an added bonus, they are the talent pool that is most willing to be pushed toward greatness.”
Other theatre productions catching noms on the list include Opera House Theatre Company’s “Chicago” and Dram Tree Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
When Tony Rivenbark was a child, he would create theaters in his garage, based on TV shows, like “I Married Joan” and “I Love Lucy.” His love for performance was met with a chance to wow audiences in the ‘50s, too, when he appeared on TV doing “Ballin’ the Jack,” a popular Vaudeville dance move from “For Me and My Gal,” starring Gene Kelley and Judy Garland. But Rivenbark’s plans didn’t necessarily include performance art as a career. “I went to college to pursue a degree in history and then go to law school,” he tells. “That obviously didn’t happen.”
At Wilmington College in 1966, he auditioned for “Good News” at Thalian Hall, led by Doug Swink of the college’s drama department. “I performed the Charleston and got a part in the show and my fate was sealed,” Rivenbark remembers.
Since his career launched, the thespian has performed in 170 productions and has directed 33 shows. He’s well-known locally not only as the executive director of Thalian Hall but also for his acting chops in Rob Zapple’s rendition of “A Christmas Carol,” wherein he has played Scrooge many times over. “You get to run the whole gamut of emotion,” Rivenbark hails of the role.
He has brought a lot of talent to the Thalian Hall stage, too, in hosting various theatre productions, concerts and other shows throughout his 37-year reign. He also has traveled for acting work across NC into Kenansville, Chapel Hill and Durham, as well as New York City and Cape Cod.
While certain plays really stand out as favorites for Rivenbark, playing Emcee three times in “Cabaret” ranks high, as well as playing coveted roles of Felix in “The Odd Couple” and Al Lewis in “Sunshine Boys” twice over. “There of them opposite Lou Criscuolo,” he notes, speaking fondly of the founder of Opera House Theatre Company who passed away in December 2014. “And then there is Hysterium in ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ which I have played four times.”
In honoring the imprint that Doug Swink left upon Rivenbark, Thalian Hall continues to produce one original production a year as part of Pied Piper Children’s Theatre. Swink founded the company in 1970. Swink helped propel Rivenbark’s “accidental career,” which today has led to greater credentials as a theatre historian. Rivenbark continues to travel and give numerous lectures and talks nationwide at schools and events, in between managing Thalian and performing in shows a few times a year. It’s merely another extension of his love of the arts. “I just do it because that is what I do and what I have done for almost 50 years,” Rivenbark says.
Other actors taking votes on the poll include Jason Aycock and Mirla Christe.
Built in 1858, Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts is not only where our local politicians convene for City Hall meetings, it’s where hordes of talented organizations, touring performers, theater companies, and talented artists trek to entertain the masses. Since 1979—and under the executive direction of Tony Rivenbark—two major renovations have taken place at one of the oldest theaters in the U.S. In 1990 and 2010, overhauls have included revamping Thalian’s black box theater, installing stadium seating in its main stage area, as well as upfitting it with better lighting and sound quality.
“I am very proud to have opened up Thalian Hall to the entire community and brought in a wide range of genres of performance, as well as upgrades to the facility so that local performers have the benefit of better production values,” Rivenbark details. “The building was very poorly equipped when I took over.”
Thalian hosts weekly films in its Cinematique program, overseen by local NPR station WHQR 91.3. Thalian also brings in national tours, such as upcoming “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor, who will speak about growing up in the Midwest and late-life fatherhood on March 30. Concerts abound, too, like May 22’s The Hit Men, featuring former stars of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. “We’ve hosted over 7,000 performances,” Rivenbark tells—“around 250 annually.”
Whether seeing a local production in their new Ruth and Becky Stein Theatre or in their 500-plus seated main stage, Rivenbark says it’s the dichotomy of its stature and embrace that mesmerizes. “It’s intimate and grand,” he explains. “If you look [at] a photograph with no people in it, it looks huge, but when you are standing in the auditorium it’s like being inside a jewel box.”
Rivenbark will be producing “The Fantasticks” in the Ruth and Becky Stein Theatre this May, not to mention Thalian Association (not associated with Thalian Hall) will be premiering “American Idiot” in the main auditorium in April. Even Cameron Art Museum is honoring the indelible impact of Thalian on the local arts scene. Currently, they’re showing “Raise the Curtain” through July 10. It features Thalian’s original 1858 curtain, painted by Russell Smith in the 19th century. CAM is utilizing it as a focus for art conservators and painters.
Other theater venues culling applause as part of the 2016’s Best Of is TheatreNOW and City Stage.
The age of new media is upon us and Port City Daily has jumped right in at serving communities in the digital age thanks to their news site, www.portcitydaily.com. They’ve won Best Local Website three years in a row for its 21st century approach to delivering headlines in a digital format. Staff writer Hilary Snow says the platform helps them keep citizens up to date on the Cape Fear area daily and free of charge.
“We value accuracy over immediacy in our coverage, which has fostered a trust among our growing family of dedicated readers,” she adds. “We consider ourselves the best at what we do and are always striving to innovate, improve and streamline.”
No matter the platform, Snow loves meeting people via the stories she writes. Her work is about building relationships with both the person she’s telling the story about and those she tells it to. In a way, Snow accidentally fell into journalism more than a decade ago when she accepted a sales job at a newspaper right out of college.
“Failing miserably at selling ad space, the publisher, who knew I had an English degree, asked if I wanted to try my hand at writing,” she tells. “I’ve been at it ever since. . . . It’s exciting to wake up each day not knowing exactly what I’ll be doing but always sure it won’t be the same thing as the day before.”
Snow says winning another “e” award assures their readers and customers know they are leading the way in digital media. Since the start of 2016, Port City Daily began launching a weekly newsletter each Thursday via email. It alerts readers of arts and entertainment events happening each weekend.
“As print journalism continues its decline, newspapers across the country are looking at how to reach readers online and on their phones,” Snow says. “Port City Daily is already ahead of the game and will continue to look for ways to engage readers through its user-friendly, informative website and social media platforms.”
First-time Best Of winner, Christopher Everett, was on fire this past year with the powerful debut of his local documentary “Wilmington on Fire” at the 2015 Cucalorus Film Festival. Exploring the Race Riots of 1898, North Carolina’s most infamous and bloody events, Everett walks viewers through one of the only successful coups in United States history and events preceding it. He also highlights its lasting impact on victims’ families.
“It really means a lot to me that voters loved ‘Wilmington on Fire,’” he says. “This is the first award that I received in regards to the film. Winning the 2016 Best Of is a reflection of hard work and dedication to being the best in your field.”
Many people killed on that fateful fall day in 1898 were business and property owners, who lost their land to the white people who overthrew them. Elected black leaders were replaced with white leaders, and direct descendants (some of whom are featured in his film) were left with a politically and economically altered future.
Everett became involved in filmmaking in 2008 and soon after decided he wanted to tell his own stories of interest. Whether documentaries, narratives, shorts, or feature-length films, he wanted to explore realistic and controversial topics. “I also like to mix art and hip-hop in all of my films,” he adds. He worked with executive producers Sean “OneSon” Washington and Ja’Nese Jean on the soundtrack to “Wilmington on Fire.”
Everett currently is touring with the film, with a screening scheduled for March 29 at the Paramount Theatre in Goldsboro. He also has “Wilmington on Fire 2” in the works for 2016, as well working on a martial arts documentary and dramatic narrative feature.
Runners up for best flicks to view were “The Hollow Oak” and “Finding Home.”
Newscast and Newscaster
Scott Saxton, news director at WECT and Fox Wilmington, has been with the sister stations since 2009 and has lost count of how many “e” awards they’ve taken home. “I can’t and won’t take credit though,” he quips. “I really think what makes us stand out in this community is our people. . . . I’m amazed at how active our coworkers are here with various organizations, their churches and neighborhoods. And they’re also journalists.”
Fair and balanced community coverage, seeking the truth and making a difference are ongoing goals among WECT’s team, including 2016’s Best Newscaster Frances Weller. With more than three decades of experience, Weller has taken home the “e” award time and again for reporting the daily happenings at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. each evening. Her reporting continues to grow beyond the TV set, as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other media flood computer, tablet and smartphone screens more each year. “Nothing will ever take the place of a live newscast, in my opinion,” Weller told encore after her 2015 victory. “Social media/digital is instant but it’s a snapshot. That good old-fashioned newscast still gives you the bigger picture with better sound and video.”
Saxton says it seems like there’s a new way to share information daily and they’re enjoying finding new ways to use those tools. Whether online or on-air, meeting expectations of readers, viewers and fans is paramount, and the pressure is always on to do so in any format. “With our fans speaking up and saying we’re deserving of a Best Of award, it just keeps those expectations where they belong—at a lofty height,” Saxton adds. “We don’t take it for granted either. This business is a lot of ‘what have you done for me lately,’ so if we have a big story, we just know that the next day we’ll have to find another big one to follow.”
Keep up with WECT 24/7 with their various apps and social media pages, including Facebook Live with behind-the-scenes news stories and weather events. See Frances Weller and Best Of runners up Jon Evans and Ashlea Kosikowski weekdays on WECT.
Tune in to Wilmington’s two other top picks for news broadcasts at WWAY and WHQR public radio at 91.3.
Morning Radio Show and Radio Personality
“Thank you so much for the awards!” excites Jason Fosdick, a.k.a. Foz, of Z107.5. Foz has collected a dozen or more “e” awards throughout the past decade—not only for his own peppy deejaying abilities but for his work on the popular Foz and Laura in the Morning, which airs 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday. Unfortunately the show is now sans one of its important personalities.
“Laura decided to get out of radio and move to Durham,” Foz explains. “Obviously, it’s a major shock to me and the Z1075 staff. The nationwide search is on!”
Being a morning radio personality was a dream of Foz’s starting 15 years ago. He always loved the entertainment and music of Top 40 stations. While he and Laura have been known to cover everything from celebrity gossip, trivia and anything to get a laugh from guests and listeners, Foz admits radio is tough work. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to wake up every morning at 4 a.m. with a smile, ready to entertain and start the day for the masses. He actually missed this year’s awards ceremony to meet with a special guest for an upcoming show, but it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm and appreciation for yet another nod from fans.
“Winning these encores makes me feel rewarded for my effort,” he tells. “I’m feeling the local love and thankful everyday for the opportunity to wake up and play radio.”
Other top radio personalities in the running were Beau Gunn from 98.3 The Penguin and Shelia Brothers of Sunny 103.7, who also took votes for Best Morning Show along with WGNI’s Bob and Sheri in the Morning.
—Shannon Rae Gentry
Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park is known for providing wet and wild fun for the Cape Fear and its visitors. However, this activity filled park (housing everything from rock climbing to mini bowling) has taken home the “e” award for Best Arcade/Game Room three times in the last four years.
“We put pressure on ourselves every year to improve our establishment for our customers,” says Eric Williams, dry park general manager at Jungle Rapids. “[The e’s are] validation of a great deal of effort by ownership, management and staff. We are truly honored.”
Williams always wanted a fun career and Jungle Rapids has been it. Though it can be tough to keep everything up to date and relevant, he credits their successful arcade to 30 plus years of experience with general manager Doug Bryant. With more than a dozen games and easy-to-use Jungle Fun Card system, Bryant has hand picked everything from Monster Drop Extreme to Wizard of Oz to Nascar, and handles all major purchasing for the park.
“Doug’s experience has helped us distinguish passing fads from the trends that can really help an establishment thrive.” Williams tells. “Mr. Bryant’s judgement was key in our acquisition the Jungle Fun Card system that has really taken our arcade to the next level.”
The Jungle Card system allows for digital ticket accounts for players, meaning no more fumbling with coins or paper tickets to carry around. Balances can even be recovered if customers lose their cards, and reward tickets are automatically loaded to Jungle Fun cards. “Technology is always evolving and changing in the arcade/fun park industry,” Williams adds, “so choosing the right pieces that will perform long term is a constant struggle.”
Folks looking to visit Jungle Rapids for a day trip or to book a birthday party or other event, should note that they’re adding several new games to the arcade in 2016. As well two new waterslides will make a splash in the water park.
It’s also all fun and games for Wilmingtonians at Blue Post and Ten Pin Alley.
On December 7, 1977, Mary Ellen Golden walked out of downtown’s Hilton, and after one glance at the Cotton Exchange across the street, she knew she wanted to open an art gallery. Having shown her work in gift shops and galleries, including Charleston’s Mills House and Mt. Pleasant’s Sea Gull Gallery and Hungryneck Market, it would be the first time Golden owned and operated a gallery focused on her work as a painter.
“I had not considered my art a career,” she says. “Making art was just something I had to do—like breathing.” Then located in what’s now The Basics, Golden hung her watercolors and slowly expanded inventory. She even showcased her 10-year-old son’s art at the time. Thirty-nine years later, his work still hangs in the form of digital art and photography. Golden also sells her husband’s music in the shop—well-known locally for his storytelling and songwriting. Easily, art is the blood life of the Golden family, which makes Mary Ellen Golden’s win for Best Local Artist on the 2016 readers’ poll all the more special.
“We occupy our fifth location here,” Golden tells of The Golden Gallery’s current spot in the Cotton Exchange (311 N. Front St.). “Wilmington has been most supportive and has made it possible for us to create memories for both locals and visitors. In turn I have welcomed and given advice to dozens of artists who have come into the gallery with questions about art and the art business. I have loved meeting the people who have purchased my work through the years and am also now meeting the children and grandchildren who have inherited originals, had them reframed at Fidler’s, and come up to ask about the painting.”
Golden first began painting as a young child under the art direction of Margaret Cooper from Rose HIll, who taught Golden how to use oils. “I did my first oil painting when I was 10 years old,” she remembers. “It was of a tiny vase of pink flowers. My mother gave it to my grandmother and it hung in her parlor.”
Today Golden’s watercolor work hangs on local corporate and residential walls, not to mention internationally, as her retail shop ships worldwide. She began her love for watercolor after taking classes with Virginia Fouché from the Charleston area. “She was my first watercolor teacher and I still love the glow in her paintings!” Golden praises.
Golden’s subject matter heavily is influenced by her coastal surroundings. Folks will see waves and poppies, marshes and egrets. They’ll see landscapes of historic houses and old barns, along with sunsets, too.
“I have recently added dragonflies, songbirds and the moon to my subject matter,” she says. “I love the process and the transparency. My favorite subject is light and how it affects everything. When I am shooting photos, I point the camera toward the light and try to capture the out-of-focus backgrounds as well as the center of interest. Whatever my subject matter, I try to do the same thing in watercolor.”
Being a local business owner and artist has allowed Golden an unprecedented opportunity to churn out literally thousands of pieces of work. Not only is she selling her originals, but she now does gicleé prints that closely resemble the originals. It allows art lovers a chance to own a Golden piece for less of an impact on their wallets.
“The economy affects sales of art and needs to provide customers with disposable income,” Golden tells. “Our local families need to continue to remember to visit our downtown shops and galleries and continue to support their local businesses.”
Customers can do so much with the click of a mouse, too, as www.thegoldengallery.com showcases Golden’s popular and newest works, along with her family’s output of art as well.
Other artists securing a spot on the poll are painter Sullivan Elaine Anlyan and photographer Ned Leary.
One of the most highly anticipated shows of the 2016 year will be opening April 7 at Thalian Hall: Thalian Association’s “American Idiot” will bring to life the 2004 Green Day album of the same name in all of its award-winning glory (Tony, Grammy, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle included). Continuing to premiere shows with edgy appeal, not to mention youth-bending and socially gripping allure, is what keeps Thalian Association at the top of its game once again in scoring Best Theatre Company for 2016.
”This is our ninth win, and we are grateful to everyone who has voted and supported us,” artistic director David Loudermilk says.
From doing the Andrew Lloyd Weber hit “Cats” to the fascinating Billie Holiday revue, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” the association continues crisscrossing genres to hit all the marks on mass appeal in local theatre.
Loudermilk came on board with Thalian Association in June 2014. Aside from not having access to Broadway budgets, he certainly secures the best talent in town to bring worlds of entertainment and education to life.
“What makes it worth it for me are the amazing people I get to work with in rehearsals—even if I am not involved in the show as part of the creative team—and watching them grow in ways they may have never thought they could,” Loudermilk notes.
With the pool of astounding talent locally, he and Thalian have been able to produce five Wilmington premieres that have recently come from Broadway or Off-Broadway. They also launched their summer season at the Red Barn Studio Theatre, and have collaborated with local organizations to help keep theatre front and center within all walks of life.
“After successful collaborations with the Black Arts Alliance for ‘Clybourne Park’ and members of UNCW for ‘Lady Day,’ we have some new and possibly bigger collaborations in the works,” Loudermilk hints. Details will be released soon at thalian.org, where folks can also search their vast list of kids’ programs and the Thalian Association Children’s Theatre events.
Other companies hitting all the right notes per the 2016 Best Of are Opera House Theatre Company and City Stage Co.
For 20 years now, Jeff Battle, a.k.a. DJ Battle, has been playing music for the masses. Fist-pumping, lip-singing, hip-gyrating dancers have filled up his dance floor at local clubs to penetrate electric energy from the tunes he spins.
“Most important to me is a reactive audience,” says DJ Battle, winner of Best DJ in the 2016 encore readers’ poll. “I feed off of their energy. The best is a ‘ready to party’ type of crowd, at a big venue, with a great sound system.”
DJ Battle is tearing up the floor in standing gigs across town, including Friday and Saturday nights at Level 5 and on Wednesday nights at Proof Bar and Lounge. He also does monthly standing spots at Duck n Dive, The Whiskey and Spicoli.
“I’ve always loved music,” the DJ notes. “In high school, a friend and I [deejayed] for fun. Then at UNCW, I did college radio.”
He worked his way into spinning full time as his flexibility to play all sorts of sounds and hits expanded. Folks will hear reggae, rock, hip-hop, Top 40, and so much more. Currently, DJ Battle is digging on Rihanna’s “Work.”
“I play to all different types of audiences, different types of music,” he says. “My favorites are when I can play a range of music in one set. I do my homework every week to keep my sets fresh.”
Other DJs mixing it up on the Best Of poll are DJ Brian Hood and DJ Bigg B.
Cameron Art Museum (CAM) is constantly bringing new and groundbreaking exhibits to our community to elevate our appreciation for arts across numerous genres. From visual to performance arts, they host lectures, concerts and dance workshops, not to mention family-friendly events like Story Explorer Thursdays and kids’ arts camps. They also rotate exhibits annually and currently are showing quite a fascinating sculptural exhibit (this week’s cover story, here), “The Bones Of: Sculptures by Dustin Farnsworth.”
“The museum purchased one of the sculptures from Dustin and decided to build an exhibition around it,” marketing director Kim Kelly tells. “Usually, CAM has between six and eight exhibitions each year. The schedule and content are developed through the executive director, Anne Brennan, and the exhibition and collection team, Holly Tripman Fitzgerald and Bob Unchester.”
Opening this weekend, Friday, March 18, will be “She Tells a Story,” in honor of Women’s History Month, and “Patchwork North America: Paintings by Virginia Wright-Frierson.” “She Tells a Story” will focus on women artists from CAM’s permanent collection, such as Mary Cassatt, Minnie Evans, Barbara Chase-Riboud, and Shahzia Sikander. “It connects the art forms of visual and literary arts,” Kelly tells. “Highlighting the long historical relationship, CAM has invited 15 Wilmington-area women writers to contribute text (of their chosen format) on select works from the exhibition.”
“Patchwork North America” goes into detail of Wright-Frierson’s work, which was inspired by her travels. Having created over 100 paintings, Kelly says the work is like “looking through a window, across the United States and Canada.”
Also upcoming in April, CAM will be inspiring young ages 13-19 in the Young Musicians Competition. Interested applicants can apply through April 11; finalists will be announced at the end of April, and the concert will be judged on June 2, with the finalé taking place June 3. “Three grand finalists will perform in the evening for a grand prize,” Kelly says of the program, which was developed with UNCW professor, Danijela Žeželj-Gualdi.
The museum continues reaching into the community in hopes of strengthening arts integration. They work in tandem with Wilmington Housing Authority to include parent and teacher trainings in literacy as to help folks include arts in early literacy skills.
“Closing the Gap professional development workshops for teachers at the CAM focus on arts integration into core curriculum,” Kelly explains. “As well, Full STEAM Ahead is a mini workshop for teachers and parents that addresses how to use the arts to teach STEM subjects held at community centers and the WHA.”
They’re always accepting volunteers at the museum as well. And they offer classes and workshops through their Museum School. Folks can take classes on writing, painting, ceramics, and more. Plus, they’re serving delectable treats in the CAM Café, including lunch Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday features tapas night and Tuesday they serve dinner, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Other museums leaving their mark include Cape Fear Museum and Children’s Museum of Wilmington.
For 98.3 The Penguin, being Wilmington’s local voice comes with a lot of responsibility. Aside from hailing local businesses on their station (and selling discounted gift certificates in their Save 30 Store to said businesses), they’re keeping local music alive and well, too. They host a homegrown spotlight, featuring a showcase of local music, each week. They currently feature The Paper Stars, L Shape Lot, Mike Blair and the Stonewalls, and No Dollar Shoes
“When a song gets put into regular rotation, it can play every day, maybe even two or three times a day,” morning host and music director Kim Czornij says. “In a world with options like digital streaming and satellite radio, people get disconnected from their community, the community in which they live. Our tandem, digital, local newspaper, PortCityDaily.com, [which won Best Website on the poll,] plays an integral role in helping us connect our community with on-air headlines and updates. Plus, the marketing on our station informs people about what’s happening in the area and local businesses they can support. It is our mission to put the unity in community.”
That being said, The Penguin—known for being “a different kind of bird”—first and foremost puts emphasis on music—specifically music played on their Triple A platform. Folks will hear everything from Johnny Cash and Widespread Panic to Beck and Dawes. Just as well, the folks at The Penguin are known for bringing concerts to the greater Wilmington area throughout the year. Their upcoming season at Greenfield Lake will welcome the likes of Nahko and Medicine for the People, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Trampled by Turtles, and perhaps the best yet, Willie Nelson (which sold out in mere minutes).”
“Our concert lineup will reach new heights,” Czornij exclaims. “We are already beginning the 2016 season with one of the biggest names to ever grace our precious Greenfield Lake stage—none other than the Red Headed Stranger himself.”
Daily, they’re reaching audiences by culling playlists unlike another in town. They pepper the old with the new, and stretch across genres. Each DJ on the station holds a passion for music, too. Alongside Czornij, Best Band/Performer 2016 vocalist and guitarist Eric Miller of L Shape Lot hosts the lunch hour, as Beau Gunn takes over the reins from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
“It isn’t much better than getting to share in the power of music with our community!” Czornij says. “We always put internal pressure on ourselves to continue evolving and keeping things fresh. The fact that we are honored with this award is not something we take for granted. It is very reaffirming to see that what we are doing resonates.”
Other radio stations tuning in the dial are Z107.5 and WHQR 91.3. —Shea Carver
The fellas of L Shape Lot got into the music biz for one simple reason: “We all have huge love for music, all kinds,” says lead singer and guitarist Eric Miller. For the fifth time Wilmingtonians have voted L Shape Lot’s special brand of Americana as Best Local Band/Performer. Miller says the multiple accolades are a reflection of their perseverance and local following.
“It’s always an honor to be recognized by our local community, especially with all the talented musicians we have in the Port City,” Miller continues. “We couldn’t do what we do without the support of others, and couldn’t be more grateful.”
Consisting of Miller, Mykel Barbee (drums), Rick Williams (bass, vocals) and Alex Lanier (electric/acoustic guitar and vocals), L Shape Lot’s calendar is as full as ever. In addition to local gigs, they’re traveling the southeast for a festival lineup that includes the Rooster Walk Music Festival in Martinsville, VA, Clear Mountain View Music Festival in Lawndale, NC, and Beaufort Music Festival in Beaufort, NC. Not to mention the L Shape Lot Duo’s schedule, where Miller and Lanier are constantly performing acoustically around town. Oh yeah, there’s a small gig opening for Willie Nelson at Greenfield Lake in May. “Dream come true, as he is my hero,” Miller says.
The group also is very generous with their time and talents. They have an annual fundraising concert around Christmas time for Toys for Tots with their fifth fundraiser coming in December 2016 and the Brooklyn Arts Center. “We work with as many charities as time will allow,” Miller says.
They’re also looking forward to getting some new work out in the next couple of months. “We just went into Hourglass Studios to record a new single, and filmed a music video, working with November 1718 Films, to go with it,” Miller adds.
Other bands and performers taking in votes are Randy McQuay and encore’s house band at the 2016 Best Of party, The Midatlantic.
As the weather heats up, Wilmingtonians are turning to the outdoor amphitheater at Greenfield Lake to enjoy the concert season. And many greats have already been announced, including the season opener on April 14 and 15, well-known reggae act Iration. Other performers have been announced for the spring months and into summer and include Nahko & Medicine for the People (April 23), BigSomething (May 7), St. Paul and the Broken Bones (May 14), Trampled by Turtles and The Devil Makes Three (May 18), Willie Nelson and Family (May 24), and Donavon Frankenreiter (Aug. 20).
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater is located off Carolina Beach Road on Amphitheatre Drive and is surrounded by natural wildlife and lush greenery of the lake. From the hauntingly beautiful cypress trees and Spanish moss, to the neighboring alligators and turtles, as well as many gorgeous birds and fish, it’s a pathway of serenity around its 4.5-mile trek. Paired with the adjoining playground, skate park and paddle-boat tours, folks utilize the area for gatherings, sports, picnics, fishing, and exercising.
But it’s the growth of the amphitheater and its renovation a few years back which has made it a cultural hotspot in town for concerts, nonprofit events, networking functions, and live theatre, thanks to the annual Cape Fear Shakespeare on the Green Festival held every May and June. The festival dates will be announced on April 15 for their youth production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” (auditions on Mar. 29 and 30 at 5 p.m. at the Hannah Block Community Arts Center) and the adult company’s production, “Twelfth Night” (auditions on same dates as youth production, but at 7 p.m.).
Other concert venues turning up the volume on our list include Ziggy’s By The Sea and Brooklyn Arts Center.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher has been connecting people with nature and animals for 40 years now. Locals and visitors alike go to learn new things in a fun way, and encore voters have named them Best Tourist Attraction. “There is so much to see and do in our area, it is an honor local families and out-of-town visitors choose to visit the Aquarium again and again,” says Robin Nalepa, public relations rep for the aquarium. “The encore award . . . means our community recognizes the tremendous effort of aquarium staff and volunteers to create a wonderful, mission-driven attraction where we inspire conservation and appreciation of aquatic wildlife in a fun and engaging way.”
Aquarium staff take time to talk with guests. They answer questions and make visits memorable for each family, bus-load of school children or individuals who walk in. Moreover, there is always something new to see and do. While best known for aquatic wildlife, including alligators, sharks and sea turtles, Nalepa says for a short period of time guests can step back millions of years and experience “Dinosaurs!”
Featuring massive animatronic beasts who roar, spit and wow visitors, the aquarium’s outdoor garden houses a fearsome T-rex, a 23-foot-long brachiosaurus and other life-sized, prehistoric creatures. In addition to “Dinosaurs!” Running until September, they’ll welcome back the “Butterfly Bungalow” on Saturday, April 23. Guests can walk amongst hundreds of free-flying, exotic butterflies for totally immersive experience, while learning more about the importance of butterflies and other insect pollinators. “Where else can you experience our beautiful beach location, hear the roar of a T-rex, enjoy butterflies landing on your arm, and get eye-to-eye with a sea turtle?” Nalepa adds.
Once upon a time, Nalepa’s childhood dream of living underwater with whales and dolphins morphed into a desire to become a marine biologist. “Unfortunately, my brain and abilities were more geared to words than science,” she quips. “Yet, nearly five years ago, my dreams and profession dovetailed when I joined the Aquarium family. Now I learn from the skilled and knowledgeable staff and share the good work they do caring for the animals living at the Aquarium.”
Tourist should also flock to Best Tourist Attraction runners up Airlie Gardens and the USS North Carolina Battleship.
Meg Lansaw began churning out movies in junior high on her camcorder. In looking back, she says her job as filmmaker happened rather organically.
“Filmmaking chose me,” Lansaw tells. “Growing up, I was quite the entertainer, always making up stories and legitimately visualizing them. I started (hand)writing screenplays in junior high and fell in love with photography in high school. The culmination of these things equaled filmmaker.”
Coming from Huntington, WV, to Wilmington, NC, more than a decade ago, Lansaw was embraced by the local film community. To date she’s made five shorts, three commercials and one feature. “The Complex” was her first film. “It is a 30-minute short based on my experiences as a leasing agent at an apartment complex,” Lansaw tells.
She also made the short, “80 Windows,” which centers on four estranged friends meeting up again after years and being stuck under one roof. Over a game of truth or dare, their past comes back to haunt them.
Lansaw also did “wait…”—another short which was inspired by real events. “Paige, a reclusive writer, suffers from an overwhelming fear of the dark and the outside world,” Lansaw explains. “Each evening she drafts the same story repeatedly, while envisioning the brutal attack of two sisters. One night while typing, noises echo from the attic. Curiosity ascends her to investigate, where she stumbles upon a box of remnants from the women in her visions.”
Lansaw’s debut feature film, “11:11,” is a passion project currently in post-production. Shot entirely in Wilmington and starring many locals, the ensemble feature follows the “interconnectivity of lives and the effects timing and decision making have on destiny,” according to Lansaw. Filmed locally, Lansaw’s been overseeing edits and hopes to have the film complete for the 2017 film festival. She’s constantly on a journey of learning in the field.
“My last project taught me how not to wear too many hats,” she says.
“My focus should be on the actors and the frame, not dealing with an overflowing toilet.”
Today, she chooses to keep her outlook simple. She starts with the script and plans the locations and cast, while ridding the fluff. “If the scene is not adding to the story, I ax it,” she says. She also focuses on hiring a great sound mixer, because sound quality is hard to fix in post-production.
“My creative goal is to tell stories that really make you feel something, whether you like it or not,” she tells. “If I’ve made a film that resonates with people, I’ve done my job.”
Other filmmakers reeling onto the poll are Nikia Hamilton and Chris Maney.
He’s a Wilmingtonian with 10 novels under his belt, a memoir, a book of advice and more. Two of his works have become stage productions as well. Clyde Edgerton once again takes top votes for Best Writer on the 2016 encore poll, and just in time for TheatreNOW’s opening of “Walking Across Egypt” this weekend. Edgerton wrote the novel in 1988, and in 2013 it was first produced live at Barter Theatre in Virginia, as adapted by Catherine Bush.
“It’s an honor to see anything adapted from my stories hit the stage in Wilmington,” Edgerton tells, “given the fine directing, producing, and acting talent in Wilmington. I’ve had very little to do with the stage productions.”
The story follows an elder, Maggie Rigsbee, in a small, Southern town, who finds a dog on her front porch. She calls the town’s dog catcher to come and get it. In return, Rigsbee is exposed to a world of theft, prison breaks and delinquents who have yet found God—something she wants to fix. The show will open at TheatreNOW on April 1 and runs every Friday and Saturday through the 29. Edgerton will at the venue on April 1 and 8 for a meet-and-greet for a $30 donation (on top of ticket prices, $37, which include a three-course dinner). All funds raised from the event goes to the local arts council.
Though Edgerton’s known best for his debut novel “Raney,” which TheatreNOW produced last year, he has published notable short stories and such. Currently, the UNCW writing professor is working on an essay.
“It’s a long piece about how we sometimes tend to forget the role of due process and equal opportunity in systems that are close to home, specifically educational systems,” he tells.
Egderton knew writing would be his passion upon discovering greats like Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty. His brand of humor is quite relatable to many Southerners, who can connect to the mores of small-town America below the Mason Dixon Line.
“I’d been privy to many funny family stories and a talkative cultural community,” Edgerton tells of his inspiration, “a community that had held me pretty close to several fires that made be feel simultaneously nurtured and wounded by life in the South as I knew it while growing up.”
As for advice to up-and-coming desired writers, Edgerton keeps it simple: “Follow no advice that doesn’t make sense to you.”
Local writers Jason Frye and Gwenyfar Rohler also rank on the poll.
Strolling downtown becomes a creative affair when arriving at Bottega Art and Wine at 122 Princess Street. Visitors may stumble into a haven of innovative and thought-provoking visuals and sounds. Just last week the art bar hosted a musically curated evening of wine and music, featuring Pink Floyd, vegetarian tapas, and select cheeses and pickled fare. Or they may be welcoming poets and spoken-word artists as part of their Mics Wide Open events. However, downtowners who stumble in this Friday will see a variety of new works hanging in Wilmington’s Best Art Gallery for 2016, according to encore readers.
“New works by Kevin Dunn and two of his students Angela Rowe and Jill Schulte will be on display,” according to owner Sandy Perotto. “There will be a variety of different styles, ranging from abstract to realism.”
Local artists flock to the shows in support of a burgeoning scene. Bottega has been a hotspot for arts more than a decade now; in fact, they’ll be celebrating their 10-year anniversary in June. Perotto bought the gallery in 2009 in its original Front Street location. However, last year, she moved it to a bigger spot, with more wall space and a beautiful outdoor patio to host everything from drum circles to belly dancing.
“In mid May we are doing our first neighborhood art show with works from artists who live exclusively in the Sunset Park area,” Perotto tells.
Drink specials are aplenty here and Perotto constantly updates the menu to ensure everyone can imbibe on new, fascinating flavors in beer, wine and bubbles. They host starving artists wine night on Tuesdays, with $3 glasses and a drum circle and dancing. On Wednesdays they offer wine tastings and “Drink and Draw,” while the first Thursday of the month is
“Sign Language Night.”
“It’s an evening for people from the deaf community to teach hearing individuals some sign language and about deaf culture,” Perotto tells.
The second and fourth Saturdays is when they do slams and readings, while Sundays offer ‘80’s movie night. “We are in the process of switching out our wines and beers for the season,” she tells, “and we are now selling gourmet pickled veggies from Lunchbox Pickles at the shop.”
They’ll be bringing back light tapas with a vegetarian and vegan menu, too, as to appeal to all palates. Being open to change and ever fluctuating for customers is part of the gallery’s ongoing appeal. Perotto and her staff pride themselves on not being snooty but all encompassing to supporters of the arts.
“Obviously, tons of artists hang out here, and conversations just get started about good show ideas or by seeing the work they have,” Perotto tells. “I just make sure there is cohesion or intention [to host shows.] It also needs to be ready for sale, unless we are doing an installation or live piece.”
Other art galleries hanging on the poll include Eclipse at Blue Moon and Spectrum Art and Jewelry.
Two floors of unadulterated bumping and grinding, whipping and Nae-Naeing. Everyone can pony up and find that perfect dance partner at Goodfellas, which hits the number one spot for Best Dance Club 2016.
Located at 106 Market St., the downtown hot spot hosts DJs every weekend, playing Top 40 hits, old-school hip-hop, glam rock, funk, rap, pop, and more—whatever keeps the kids moving. The second floor dance lounge is where all the coolest kids get their groove on. For those who wish to live up the high life, they do a VIP lounge with a private waitress attending to patrons’ every need.
They make sure all who come to the third-floor bar are up to snuff on the latest sports. They have 60-inch flat screen TVs, a projection screen and smaller TVs to catch all the latest scores.
Ladies often get preferential treatment with free admission, and drinks are always reasonably priced. From craft beers on tap to martinis and specialty cocktails, Goodfellas has a flavor fest awaiting all party-goers.
Other dance floors packing in the best movers and shakers are Pravda and Ibiza.
Ain’t nothing better to cure an ailment than laughter. Feeling out of sorts? Nutt House Improv performs every Wednesday Night at 9 p.m. at downtown’s Dead Crow Comedy. Their improv provides on-the-spot suggestions made from the audience to help them churn out skits and characters within short-form and long-form improv. And the show is only $3.
“The group was founded by a few guys at Cape Fear Community College, who got together and started doing shows at [what was then called] Nutt St. Comedy Room,” member Michael Henninger tells.
Members have oscillated since, and today they consist of Henninger, Steve Marcinowsk, Colton Demonte, David DiMuro, Jon Ripley, Cari Moskow, Tyler Wood, and Travis Edgerton. Their weekly shows tend to R-to-NC 17 ratings, so the easily offended should sit out if they can’t take the heat.
“Several of our cast are also active in the local stand-up scene,” Henninger says. “We all have varying hobbies and interests, making us a bowl of mixed nuts. We all enjoy entertaining people and making them laugh. There are higher callings in life, but this one is still up there on the list.”
The upcoming Cape Fear Comedy Festival will return to Wilmington on May 18-21 with national headliners. Nutt House will perform that Wednesday, May 18, as part of the fest. In fact, they travel to perform in festivals and shows in and around NC frequently.
Other funny folks who keep laughter prominent on the poll are Changing Channels and encore Best Of party hosts Pineapple-Shaped Lamps.
For many, many moons, Jeff Reardon has been slinging drinks at Wilmington’s fave pool hall and downtown watering hole, Blue Post. Flocks of bar patrons snake down the alley frequently, awaiting to enter the exposed brick hideaway, where two 9-foot regulation tables and four 7-foot tables await all those who adore billiards. For those who need other stimulation on a night out on the town, they turn to one of the many other games offered in Blue Post’s arcade.
“We’ve got seven pinball machines, basketball, skeeball, air hockey, foosball, six pool tables, darts, and other games,” Reardon tells. And they change out the tunes on the jukebox to make sure the soundtrack to everyone’s night out is fit for a movie. In the coming week, they’ll be adding tracks like Charles Bradley’s “Changes,” Dawes’ “All Your Favorite Bands,” Dr. Dog’s “Psychedelic Swamp,” and Beirut’s “No, No, No.”
Reardon says something always is happening at the 15 S. Water St. spot, which has been going strong since its opening in 1999. It has become a local’s haven to run into familiar faces for fun banter and attentive service. It’s part of Blue Post’s constant appeal, according to Reardon—“keeping it the exact same as it always has been: no cover charge; great beer and drink selection, great music selection on our jukebox, and laid-back atmosphere.”
Other pool halls racking up votes include Breaktime and Orton’s.
Richard Davis started Browncoat Pub and Theatre because he, well, wanted a theater. His partners, however, wanted a bar. “And so this fun little hybrid we have was born,” says Nick Smith, Browncoat’s artistic director. Smith was a loyal customer turned director and actor, then bartender and now his current charge. “They fed me so I never left,” he quips.
It’s not just actors and theatrics mixed with a full bar of craft beer and spirits at Browncoat, it’s also packed nightly with karaoke singers and enthusiasts who continue to vote it Best Karaoke. In reality, Smith tells, it’s the best place to be a star. Not only does Browncoat provide a bit of production and pizazz, but people go all out on stage. “You’re up on stage, there’s a huge audience in front of you, the lights are up,” he explains. “A lot of places you just sort of stand in a corner, stare at a screen and sing. Here, you get to perform.”
Despite being a pretty small bar all around, Smith says they count their blessings for continued success in what can seem like a revolving door for downtown business. They’ve been in there space for almost nine years, and weathered a lot, but continue to be recognized by encore readers. “Having the ‘e’ award on the wall means we’ve done very well, but that we have to keep improving, keep finding ways to succeed, to make the future all the brighter,” he continues. “It also tells me the message is getting out there: you can’t win without a ton of support.”
As they head into 2016, more focus will be on adding new things to see and do at Browncoat. In addition to karaoke, they’re going to have special performances from famous movie scripts, a new open-mic comedy night and other types of performances leading up to their 10th anniversary theatrical season. “This is the first time we’ve offered a ‘season pass,’” Smith divulges, “which we call the MultiPass, for our main stage shows … $100 gets you a pass for all ten shows this season, which is about 33-percent off.”
Folks looking for a fun night of karaoke also frequent Banks Channel and Silver Dollar.