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FAST AND LOUD: Rims on the River returns with new sponsor and lots of revved engines

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12th annual Rims on the River car show takes off Friday in downtown Wilmington.

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Before it was known for its farming—or for its annual music celebration of string instruments at Merlefest—Wilkes County was the capital of the moonshine industry in the 1950s. In fact, at the turn of the 20th century, moonshining was the most sustainable source of income for most families in the area despite its illegality. Its proximity to the mountains, where the corn mash was often distilled in the middle of the night, meant haulers could sneak in, hide barrels of it in their fast cars (to outrun the law when the cause arose), and distribute it to larger cities. Willie Clay Call, otherwise known as “The Untouchable,” was among such carriers—and he was perhaps one of the most wanted by federal ATF agents. He literally escaped because of his impeccably fast, souped-up cars, like a 1940 Ford Coupe, a.k.a. “White Lightning Ford,” or 1961 Chrysler New Yorker Golden Lion Edition. Clay says he hauled more hooch in the Chrysler than any other during that time, often carrying two or three loads a night to Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

SPEED ROCK: American Speedway will rock off the faces of Rims on River attendees at a free concert on Saturday night at Ziggy’s by the Sea. Courtesy photo

SPEED ROCK: American Speedway will rock off the faces of Rims on River attendees at a free concert on Saturday night at Ziggy’s by the Sea. Courtesy photo

“I was very excited to have met these guys and learned the whole story about the inception of their moonshine company, ‘Call Family Distillers,’” Chris Andrews says.

The Call family had their hands in whiskey-making dating back to the mid-1800s, when Rev. Daniel Call operated a general store in Lynchburg, TN, that employeed one Japer “Jack” Daniels. Call made moonshine out back and Daniels wanted to learn about its distilling process. Together, they partnered to open Call & Daniels Distillery No. 7, District #4. Yet, a divide between the church and the whiskey business caused Call to sell his shares of the operation to Daniels.

In 2015, Brian Call and Brad Call opened the Call Family Distillery to pay homage and continue the eight-generation legacy their ancestors left behind (Willie Clay Call is Brian’s father, while former Wilkesboro mayor Norman Call, Willie’s brother, is Brad’s father). They use the Daniels process of distilling each new batch of moonshine with a sour mash from a previous batch.

Andrews has secured the distillers as the official sponsor of the 2016 Rims on the River—Wilmington’s annual car show. “They will be coming to town for the show, with one of their badass hot rods,” Andrews says, “and stories of their cars that ran moonshine through the back woods of NC.”

This will be the 12th year Rims has welcomed old-school hot rods and rat rods to line the historic downtown streets. What started in its first year as only a block and half of colorful rides—around 75 or 80 cars—has multiplied tremendously.

“Today, we have an event that averages 600 to 700 cars and attracts about 40,000 people throughout the entire day,” Andrews says. “The word has really spread beyond our state, and people are talking about the show, the cars that are on display and the atmosphere of having a show like this in a downtown area—which is very different to most shows that are set up in parking lots or fields.”

Andrews, who once owned and operated City Buddha in downtown Wilmington, found the value of hosting a car show in the central business district multidimensional. Not only could businesses benefit from an influx of foot traffic, they’re not competing with a traditional festival that has vendors selling arts and crafts or other wares, along with food trucks taking away from downtown restaurants. There are car vendors showcasing their latest products.

Just a few years ago, Rims began partnering with other Friday-night events to kick off the festival weekend. Andrews wanted local businesses to help strengthen the official “Welcome to Rims on the River.” “There’s a little bit of everything going on at these various venues,” Andrews says.

This year all travelers who come in early will find the Cape Fear Comedy Festival (pg. 17) taking place throughout the weekend. In fact, Friday evening features headline act (and this week’s encore cover model) Mary Mack at Dead Crow Comedy Room.

“We get a lot of folks that roll into town for the actual car show on Saturday, and I think it’s good hospitality to be able to direct these folks to what downtown has to offer,” Andrews continues.

On Saturday evening Rims on the River hosts an official concert after the day’s car show and awards. Andrews used to host it on the Riverwalk downtown. Because it’s hard to control Mother Nature, some times these concerts would get rained out. So Andrews approached downtown venue Ziggy’s by the Sea about providing the music hall for the free shows.

“As this event really centers itself around a culture of loud and fast cars, many of the people seem to also have a interest in music, loud and fast!” Andrews is bringing American Speedway as the headliners this year, with opening acts from local musicians Slippery Jake and the Bad Brakes and The Dew Drops.

“I’d seen [American Speedway] a few years back at another car/music event in Winston-Salem, and I thought they brought the house down,” Andrews notes of choosing the hard-rock/metal act. “I’m not as involved in selecting the bands as Ziggy’s is helping out with that part, but I usually try to help give a little direction. One thing I think that’s always of consideration for selecting bands is to choose someone that resonates with the audience. Be it bluesy, rockabilly, punk, or rock and roll, it’s gotta move people.”

Though the side entertainment gives everyone of all walks of life reasons to enjoy Rims on the River, when it comes down to the show, it’s really about the cars. All vehicles involved to be judged (awards are given to the best cars in various categories) must be older and maintained up to 1980.

“You may see a few vehicles that are a little newer, as we will allow ‘unique’ vehicles to at least be on display for spectators to see and appreciate,” Andrews says. “No matter your preference, you’ll see antiques in their original form, muscle cars with engines that are totally over the top, and hot rods that the builders show off with their vision and skill in their build.”

On Sunday the event will wrap with a cruise. Everyone who wishes to join will meet at Cape Fear Community College for a noon ride. “We’ll be circling back into town and parking down at Satellite Bar and  Lounge for a lunch and some good music. It’s all free, too,” Andrews reminds.

Rims on the River
June 11
Car show, free;
admission fee for cars in show
Downtown Wilmington, Front and Water streets

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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