The North Carolina Bourbon & Spirits Festival will not only be a showcase of distillers around the state, it will also mark the opening of the former Roanoke Rapids Theatre since the owner of Weldon Mills Distillery bought the venue.
“The festival is coming together nicely and certainly the change in venue has assisted with those efforts,” said Bruce Tyler, owner of the distillery and what will now be known as Weldon Mills Theatre. “It’s going to be a great festival. We’ve got a great location for it at a facility that was designed to have these types of events.The distillers are all excited to get here as are the vendors.”
With three acts scheduled to perform inside the theater Saturday evening starting at 6 p.m. with Maggie Baugh, Tyler said, “This is going to be an opportunity to excite the public about what’s to come with this theater. This theater has had a tainted past but like the revival in the spirit world in North Carolina, we hope to have a resurgence of revival with this theater and have it operating stronger than ever.”
Said Tyler: “I feel confident with having BarnBurner Promotions helping guide us in that effort it has a good chance of becoming just that.”
Julie Powell of BarnBurner said in an interview last week there are 2,500 people projected to come to the festival, which begins at 3 p.m. “I think this is going to set the tone as to what we’re capable of. Realistically, we’d like it to be even bigger from here on out, but this is without a doubt something that comes every year.”
As the final planning for the festival continues this week, Powell and Allison Askew have been working on booking other acts for the venue. “We’re going to be part of a farewell tour,” she said referring to the Oak Ridge Boys.
She said for future acts at the theater, “We might have the same type of artist caliber but our ticket prices might end up being a little bit higher because we don’t charge for parking. It’s convenient. It’s right here. It’s not a bad seat in here so you might be on the fifth row in PNC Arena but you’re a distance from the stage where here you’re not. Once you’ve spent three hours and a tank of gas is it really worth it to save $20 on a ticket?”
As the festival gets underway at 3 p.m., D.J. Dank Williams will be playing music outside. “He’s literally been all across the United States. He does the country music festival every year in Myrtle Beach. He shares the stage with any artist.”
The local band The Cove will be playing outside as well.
After the Baugh performance inside the theater, Ward Davis takes the stage at 7:30 and then Whitey Morgan performs at 9.
Powell explained that since the festival has moved to theater, those who bought general admission lawn tickets prior to the change in venue their passes will become mezzanine tickets and the gold tickets will be directly in front of the stage. The VIP tables will be in the center. There will be a VIP tent outside with a bar.
On Friday the organizers opened a $15 festival pass which can be ordered at this link
For BarnBurner, being involved in the festival and being charged with booking shows at the theater is the culmination of work that began when she and Askew first started the company. “When we started BarnBurner back in 2015 it was off of a whim,” Powell said. “We were both like let’s do it. She and I work really well together. We can throw things off of each other and know it’s going to happen.”
Said Powell: “It’s exciting because I think we were just made for this. We enjoy it. We have had nothing but compliments from artists. I think that partnering with Weldon Mills is a no-brainer really. He (Tyler) is doing big things out there and I think together we can all work with each other and make this place what it should have always been — the potential to get it to where it needs to be and get the stigma away from it.”
Kaleigh Davis, director of hospitality at Weldon Mills, said, “As Julie said, it’s a no-brainer when it comes to the partnership. There’s a lot of things on my end she’s learning just like there’s a bunch of stuff on her end I’m learning as well.”
As last-minute preparations are being made, Davis said, “I know it’s crunch time and I know we’re getting the last little bit of tedious things done, but we’re going to pull it off and it’s going to be successful and it’s going to put this place back on the map in a positive light.”
Askew has been handling the logistics of the event. “There’s going to be so many different activities.”
Askew said she believes the festival will not only be a representation of Roanoke Rapids as to what’s going to be done for the theater but for the state as well. “It’s a main stop on the highway and there’s people coming from all over North Carolina — the distillers and vendors.”
For the distillery, Davis said, “A lot of the people who bought tickets have been customers of ours who have traveled 95. We have people coming from New Jersey, we have people coming from Maryland. We participate in a program called Harvest Hosts and we are a destination stop for them and a lot of our clientele have bought tickets because they support us, they think we have a really great thing going on and we’re like a hidden gem.”
Davis said what the distillery envisions in the partnership is that the theater will be an extension of the brand. “We will carry all our products. We will have anywhere from our bourbon to our whiskey to now tequila and rum. People that would come here for the show or the music they will be exposed to what we have to offer.”
Said Powell: “At the same we’re getting ticket holders from the bourbon aspect that we might not normally have. The two paired together are just ideal.”