By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher
(Part 3 in a Series)
Kinston is the place to be this weekend, actually starting tonight (April 30), if you love country music, arts and crafts, downhome cooking and especially if you love BBQ.
This marks the 34th year of the BBQ Festival on the Neuse sponsored by the Lenoir-Kinston Chamber of Commerce and billed as the largest whole-hog BBQ cookoff festival in the nation.
North Carolina native Kellie Pickler headlines this year’s concert in Grainger Stadium (home to the former Kinston Indians, a farm club of MLB’s Cleveland Indians). Pickler, who hails from Albemarle, gained fame as a contestant on season 5 of American Idol in 2006. After success with several albums, she also won the 2013 season of Dancing With the Stars.
Concert tickets run $20-$50. Tickets purchased through the Chamber will have a chance to win a VIP stay in Kinston. (Details at the bottom of this article.)
Other weekend events are Sauce Boss and Southern Sides competitions, Wine Garden and Brewery Tours, tons of food and BBQ, carnival rides, classic car and truck show, shopping, and more. For the whole lineup, visit www.bbqfestivalontheneuse.com.
Our earlier visit to Kinston was spurred by our longtime desire to sample Chef Vivian Howard’s Chef and the Farmer Restaurant as seen on PBS TV’s “A Chef’s Life.” (The show just won a Daytime Emmy Award for directing; its third season should begin in September.)
In addition to a fabulous meal, we discovered an eastern North Carolina community reinventing itself — for the better — with lots of good-hearted, hospitable people working together.
Farm-to-table is a strong emphasis here as it is in so much of the country. So we dropped by the Lenoir County Farmers Market, located just across the street from “Chef” as the locals call the restaurant.
There’s a great opportunity to see Chef Howard at this weekend’s Southern Sides Competition. There, she’ll be joined by Joe and Angie Hargitt, owners of King’s Restaurant, to present Judges Awards for the best potato salad and hush puppies in North Carolina. People’s Choice winners also will be announced. A $6 wristband allows attendees to taste.
The Farmers Market, too, will be a happening spot. In the accompany video, we talked pre-festival with Farmers Market Manager Pat Jenkins about the local produce scene.
With spring here, the market is becoming busier every week. At the height of the season, she says, as many as 800 folks may stop by on the two days a week it operates: starting at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It continues until the vendors sell out or need to leave.
Jenkins notes strawberries, asparagus, lettuce and blueberries are coming off or will be soon. Corn should be available by late June. Tomatoes will be plentiful in July. Late summer, Georgia and South Carolina peaches will be featured. Root vegetables are plentiful in cool months.
Four large produce farms are among the 10 or so that stock the market stalls.
Any time of year, you might run into Chef Howard at the market. “She loves to cook with greens,” says Jenkins. “She gets turnips, blueberrries. She comes for whatever’s over here – carrots, eggplant – anything she chooses to take across the street and enhance and make wonderful.
“When the corn and butterbeans kick in, people flock (to the market). We just have so many people out here having such a good time.”
Jenkins adds: “I’ve go the best job in the world. I meet the nicest people.”
Perk of the job? “I get the best heirloom tomatoes when they come out.”
Win a Trip to Kinston: Festival ticket-holders have a chance to win a VIP Weekend Getaway to Kinston (but only those tickets purchased through the Chamber). Call the Chamber at 252-527-1131 for details.
The winner will receive:
- Two- night stay at The O’Neill, Kinston’s new boutique hotel. http://www.the-oneil.com
- VIP Tour & Tasting at Mother Earth Brewery & Distillery http://www.motherearthbrewing.com
- Dinner for two at Chef & The Farmer – Chef Vivian Howard and her husband Ben offer a place that celebrates the culture and cuisine of Eastern North Carolina. – http://chefandthefarmer.com
- Lunch at Queen Street Deli – Delicious and healthy menu. Save room for dessert! http://www.queenstreetdeli.com
- Breakfast at Lovick’s Cafe – Farm fresh breakfast where the locals eat. http://lovickscafe.com
- VIP Civil War Tour – Your guide will bring history to life as you tour Civil War battlefields, the CSS Neuse Interpretive Center, home of the remains of a Civil War Ironclad and the largest collection of Naval Civil War artifacts east of the Mississippi. Then just one block away from the museum you will tour the 158-foot, full-size replica of the CCS Neuse Ironclad. http://www.cssneuseii.org
- VIP Arts Tour – Kinston, home to many talented artist and famous musicians such as Maceo Parker..has one of the finest Arts Centers in the State and the largest public art collection in NC. Your tour will include the Kinston Community Arts Center, Kinston Music Park, the hub of the African American Music Trail and the Public Art Trail. http://www.kinstoncca.com
All event info is at VisitKinston.com. Or, call 252-527-1131 for more.
Other stories coming up in this series: Mother Earth Brewing, the new, downtown, luxury, seven-room boutique hotel, The O’Neil; a chat with Queen Street Deli owner Leraine Tolston (sister to Chef Vivian); a peek inside the new cupcake shop, Sweetie Pie’s; a fabulous public art tour with local artist and welder Rose Clark and a look inside The Arts Center downtown; plus lunch at The Boiler Room and – yes, be still my heart – dinner at Chef and the Farmer.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:
• Other Stories by Kathy M. Newbern, Raleigh Luxury Travel Examiner
• Stories by J.S. Fletcher, Raleigh International Travel Examiner
Raleigh Luxury Travel Examiners Kathy M. Newbern and spouse, J.S. Fletcher, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.