The NC Jazz Festival in Wilmington

9 02 2011




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We are just over a week away from the annual NC Jazz Festival in Wilmington, one of the longest-running traditional jazz festivals in the country, taking place February 17-19th.  My excuses to hit Wilmington typically involve sun, sand, and waves, so this vibrant event provides a unique opportunity to make the getaway during wintertime.

The NC Jazz Festival was conceived in 1980, launched by local jazz enthusiast Dr. Harry VanVelsor in celebration of Dixieland and traditional style jazz.  As the event grew in popularity, it drew famous names from around the nation and world, including greats such as Art Hodes, Milt Hinton, Keter Betts, Tony DiNicola, Kenny Davern, Johnny Frigo, Duke Heitger, and Bobby Rosengarden.  The event focuses on traditional jazz, the basic form with its roots in the music of New Orleans in the ’20s and ’30s.  However, as Jeff Reid explains in an article for The Beat Magazine, the festival also allows performers to experiment with the modern composition of “new” traditional jazz, creating “a new vibe from an old sound.”

Despite its rich legacy rooted in decades of tradition, the festival maintains a youthful spirit and vibrance, drawing performers ranging in age from 11 to 81.  Returning jazz violinist Jonathan Russell, a prodigy from New York, began performing at the festival in 2007 when he was only 11 years old, making him the youngest musician featured on the list.  Deeply discounted specials help to encourage the attendance of UNC-Wilmington and other college students, creating a diverse and intergenerational crowd.

Concerts take place Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights starting at 7:30pm at the Wilmington Hilton Riverside, located on the Cape Fear Riverfront.  Thursday night features a 3-hour exploration of the various styles of jazz, while Friday and Saturday nights each provide a 4-hour showcase of 15 musicians, divided into 7 sets.  Make plans to attend just one evening, or build a full weekend around it!  While general admission seats are $35 for Thursday and $50 for Friday or Saturday, as students we luck out big time – $15 for all nights.  If you can recruit a group, table reservations start at ten attendees.

While in town for the Jazz Festival, you should have plenty of time to explore Wilmington over the weekend – this historic, charming city has so much to offer besides Wrightsville Beach!  Stroll along the Riverwalk, the boardwalk lining Cape Fear River, or take a drive through the 230-block historic district featuring picturesque Victorian homes and converted factories that serve as restaurants, bars, and shops.  Be sure to stop in for a drink at Hell’s Kitchen, a lively bar that was one of the many Dawson’s Creek sets in town (One Tree Hill was filmed in Wilmington as well).  Plus, after you’ve had your fill of jazz each night, you won’t have to look far to find great nightlife in the backyard of UNC-Wilmington.


The wrap-up:

  • Distance from Duke: 2.5 hours
  • Recommended trip duration: Overnight or weekend getaway
  • Recommended season: February (for the festival specifically)

The Blue Ridge Parkway – “America’s Favorite Drive”

2 02 2011




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It’s difficult to broach the subject of North Carolina road trips without immediately thinking of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Despite the fact that mentions of the Parkway will inevitably find their way into many of my future posts, I feel it necessary to devote an entry exclusively to the roadway itself.  It is, of course, a destination as well as a pathway – travelers come from far and wide to cruise the majestic 469 miles of all-American road and its surrounding natural beauty.  In any of my journeys to the Western part of the state, I always go out of my way to take the Parkway, happily ignoring whatever more efficient route my GPS might suggest.

Just over 75 years ago, thousands of members of the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the Blue Ridge Parkway as one of the many public works projects arising from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”  Along your drive, it’s even possible to stay in the rustic cabins where these workers lived – called the Rocky Knob Cabins.   The finished roadway stretches from the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia all the way to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, weaving its way leisurely along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Completing the drive from beginning to end, with necessary stops throughout, tops my current road trip to-do list.

The scenic perfection of the Parkway is such that it demands multiple visits – one each for spring, summer, fall, and winter (though not necessarily a complete trip in each).  The flowering roadway of springtime gives way to a lush green canopy in summer, followed by a vivid orange and yellow backdrop in autumn.  During cold winter months the leaves fall away, revealing stunning and unobstructed mountain views.  The roadway was built with the hope of connecting travelers with the land and its history, inspiring future generations to maintain the connection.  This vision was undoubtedly satisfied – the Blue Ridge Parkway has become an iconic fixture in American leisure travel, often referred to “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Scattered along the Parkway are four lodges and six restaurants; however, you’re better off exiting and visiting the nearby towns that lie alongside.  Though such detours will of course lengthen your trip, possibly demanding a week or so to make the full journey, they will enrich the drive with the unique cultural heritage of the Blue Ridge mountains.  Necessary stops within the North Carolina portion (likely to be addressed in future posts) include AshevilleBlowing Rock/Boone, and Grandfather Mountain.  Particularly if making the drive during warmer months, make sure to soak up some outdoor bluegrass music at the Blue Ridge Music Center or any of the many casual dining spots.  Hiking is a must – there are over 100 marked trails along the Parkway, ranging from short walking paths to stints along the legendary Appalachian Trail.

If only our current economic stimulus measures could bring this kind of joy to the people 75 years from now…


The wrap-up:

  • Distance from Duke: 3+ hours
  • Recommended trip duration: weekend or more
  • Recommended season: ALL

Introductions are in order…

26 01 2011

In writing Tobacco Roads, I hope to provide some sort of guide to the amazing road trips that a Duke student can try during their four years in Durham in order to gain an enhanced understanding and appreciation for the state of North Carolina.  Some posts will describe first-hand a trip I’ve taken, while others might discuss an adventure I’m hoping to take on in the future.  Whether describing a day trip to a Hillsborough festival or a weekend escape to Asheville, I will seek to combine my own experiences with necessary information and links for readers hoping to try the outing themselves.  In time, I hope to create an open conversation where my readers can add their thoughts and similar experiences to each post.

My primary motivation for writing this blog stems from the fact Duke students often fail to enjoy experiences beyond what is often referred to as the “Duke bubble”.   Duke is an internationally renowned institution, drawing students from all 50 states and a myriad of foreign countries.  They flock to Duke for its top-notch academics, unparalleled athletic spirit, gothic architecture, and warm Southern location.  However, when asked how they take advantage of Duke’s distinctive location, students often speak only of afternoons spent in Duke Gardens, on the Bryan Center walkway, or their excitement at being able to leave their warmest coats at home.  Even within Durham, Duke seems to be a rather isolated environment – when turning onto Towerview Drive or Flowers from Erwin Road, the street signs indicate that these are private streets, leaving no doubt that the driver is entering a separate community.

As many of my peers reach their junior and senior years, they seem to crave a reality check on the limited, redundant social scene of Duke.  For most, breaking out of the “bubble” means a short drive down 15-501 to Chapel Hill.  However, in writing this blog I hope to enlighten students to the many other “tobacco roads” that exist, and the unique destinations to which they lead.  Don’t get me wrong – I adore Duke, and can think of no better place to have spent my college years.  My writing is meant to encourage broad enrichment and appreciation, rather than imply a need for escapism.

As a native North Carolinian, I have a long-term perspective on the great destinations, both common and obscure, that the state has to offer.  Born at Duke Hospital and raised just off Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, my family rarely flew to remote vacation spots; instead, we chose to explore the nearby area through summer, weekend, or daily excursions.  Since becoming a Dukie myself, I have enjoyed journeying with friends to many of the same locations from my childhood, as well as discovering new spots for ourselves.  Tobacco Roads is certainly a work in progress, so I welcome any comments on the writing or suggestions for posts.


Let’s hit the road!