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Whirligig Festival back with entertainment and vendors

Posted on October 26, 2021

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The Tams return to the N.C. Whirligig Festival, playing on Sunday afternoon.

Janelle Clevinger | Wide Awake archive

The Tams return to the N.C. Whirligig Festival, playing on Sunday afternoon.

Don't miss this year's Vollis Simpson Whirligig Festival Nov. 6-7 in Wilson. Drew C. Wilson | TImes

Don't miss this year's Vollis Simpson Whirligig Festival Nov. 6-7 in Wilson. Drew C. Wilson | TImes

Inflatables are always popular at the festival. There will be some news ones this year.

Drew C. Wilson | Wide Awake archive

Inflatables are always popular at the festival. There will be some news ones this year.

Lots of favorite festival food items will be sold at this year's N.C. Whirligig Festival.

Drew C. Wilson | Wide Awake archive

Lots of favorite festival food items will be sold at this year's N.C. Whirligig Festival.

The Tams return to the N.C. Whirligig Festival, playing on Sunday afternoon.

Janelle Clevinger | Wide Awake archive

The Tams return to the N.C. Whirligig Festival, playing on Sunday afternoon.

Don't miss this year's Vollis Simpson Whirligig Festival Nov. 6-7 in Wilson. Drew C. Wilson | TImes

Don't miss this year's Vollis Simpson Whirligig Festival Nov. 6-7 in Wilson. Drew C. Wilson | TImes

Don't miss this year's Vollis Simpson Whirligig Festival Nov. 6-7 in Wilson. Drew C. Wilson | TImes
Inflatables are always popular at the festival. There will be some news ones this year.
Lots of favorite festival food items will be sold at this year's N.C. Whirligig Festival.
The Tams return to the N.C. Whirligig Festival, playing on Sunday afternoon.

The sights and smells of an in-person N.C. Whirligig Festival are coming back to downtown Wilson on Nov. 6 and 7.

“We are so excited to be back,” said Theresa Mathis, festival director, referring to the fact that last year’s festival was a combination virtual and food truck/limited activity weekend because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We did not know at the beginning of the year if this was even going to be possible, and we are so grateful that the protocols were released enough where we could have outdoor events.”

“When I think of Vollis Simpson (the folk artist who created the whirligig art) I think he would be especially proud of this year, our comeback year,” Mathis added. “He took things that were discarded, broken or no longer in use and put them back together in a way to create something amazing, and that’s what this year feels like. We’ve been scattered, isolated, broken for two years, and this is our chance to come back together as a community.”

Past festivals have seen crowds estimated at 30,000 over the two-day festival.

FESTIVAL FOOTPRINT

The festival is bringing back the same footprint it used in 2019, using the streets from Nash to the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, encompassing five blocks. The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

More than 130 vendors have registered to sell their products during the two-day festival. 

“We have a whole batch of new vendors who are excited to come to Wilson for the first time,” Mathis said. 

“So it will be a mix of brand-new vendors and some of our festival favorites. If a festival is the same thing every year, people stop coming, so you have to have something ‘bright, shiny and new’ to bring them in.”

Food trucks are always focal points at the Whirligig Festival, and organizers are going to make sure that food vendors have more space around them than in previous years.

“That’s where festival goers are more likely to drop their masks so they can eat,” Mathis said. “So we’re going to give the food trucks a little more wiggle room.”

WHIRLI-RUN 

The Wilson Endurance Club’s 2021 Whirli-Run kicks off the Whirligig Festival weekend with races of various lengths, all located at the Lake Wilson Reservoir’s 2-mile trail on Saturday, Nov. 6, and beginning at 8 a.m.

Runners can compete in a one-loop fun run/walk; two-loop run for 5K-plus distance runners, three-loop run for 10K distance runners; four-loop run for longer distance runners; and unlimited loops for extreme distance runners to determine who can run the most loops in under four hours.

The 2021 event is dedicated to the memory of Mindy Davis Pierce, and a significant portion of race proceeds and all donations will be given to the charities she designated. Whirli-Run registration is on the Whirligig Festival website.

LIVE ENTERTAINMENT

Mathis and her organizing committee are excited that a majority of what previous festival-goers love will be coming back in 2021.

“Our entertainment will be live and active this year,” Mathis said. “We have four stages full of music and entertainment, all day, both days. And then a multitude of special events will be happening throughout the festival.” 

Stages are the Whirligig Park Stage, located in the park itself; the Greenlight Stage, near the courthouse on the corner of Nash and Goldsboro streets; the Community Stage at Banker’s Plaza beside the former Arts Council of Wilson building on Goldsboro Street; and the Whirli-Kidz Stage on Barnes Street in front of the replica of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.

• Southern beach music legends The Tams headline the Whirligig Festival’s entertainment lineup, playing on the Whirligig Park stage on festival Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. 

• North Carolina’s own band Chatham Rabbits take the Whirligig Park stage on Saturday. The husband-and-wife team of Austin and Sarah McCombie combine bluegrass and country styles to create their own Americana sound.

• The Greenlight stage will highlight pop singer-songwriter Lauren Light on Saturday at 10 a.m. Light, with more than 800 live performances under her belt, uses her powerful, soulful vocals to belt out pop and soul tunes. Her music has been featured in several television shows and commercials.

• The Will McBride Group will take to the Greenlight stage on Sunday afternoon. The group, which has opened for ZZ Top, Styx, Eddie Money, Leon Russell, The Temptations, Delbert McClinton and Aaron Neville, delivers high energy, original rock music.

• Gospel groups will perform on various stages throughout the day on Sunday. 

NO SHORTAGE OF KIDS’ ACTIVITIES

The Whirli-Kidz stage, on Barnes Street beside the lighthouse replica, will feature alternating performances by Nick’s Live Kids Show and the InterACTive Theater of Jef. 

Multiple free activities for kids will take place in the Whirli-Kidz Zone on both Saturday and Sunday, next to the Whirli-Kidz stage. Featured in the zone are the Adrenaline Rush Obstacle Course, a fire truck inflatable slide, a ninja battle station, Hoop Zone basketball, a baseball toss competition and several play buildings provided by Leonard Buildings. 

The Whirli-Fairy, brought to life by national award-winning cosplayer JMasque, will offer interactive photo sessions throughout the afternoon on Sunday.

Volunteers in the Whirli-Kidz Zone are sponsored by the city’s Human Relations office; the Wilson Youth Council will be volunteering all weekend running the zone.

SPECIAL EVENTS

Chain Reaction’s BMX stunt show will be thrilling kids of all ages. Ramp riders, flat landers, inline skaters, bicyclists and skateboarders will show off their gravity-defying skills during four shows on Saturday and three shows on Sunday.

“Extreme challenges are back and include extreme inflatables that are going to challenge you at a whole new level,” Mathis said. “Ax-throwing, which is taking the country by storm, will be here in an inflatable form, obviously using a dummy ax in this case.”

An inflatable surfing simulator will allow guests to experience the thrills of surfing without getting wet.

“You get to climb on a surfboard and try to surf, but there is no water included, so nobody gets wet on this ride,” Mathis said.

Climbing walls will be returning to the festival as another extreme challenge. It has been more than five years since the festival featured a climbing wall, and organizers felt it was time to bring it back. 

ART TAKES CENTER STAGE 

More opportunities for area artists to shine have been added to the festival lineup, several of them thanks to the Wilson Arts Center. 

Wilson Arts is hosting the Whirligig Festival Children’s Coloring Contest on the Saturday morning of the festival. Beginning at 10 a.m., a coloring station will be located at the Wilson Arts Center, 204 Nash St. S., where kids will find coloring pages of iconic Wilson landmarks, created by local artists. These pages are also available to download from the Wilson Arts website, www.wilsonarts.com, and drop off their entries Saturday morning. Winners will be announced Saturday afternoon.

Watch talented street artists create murals during the inaugural live outdoor painting contest on the grounds of the Whirligig Park during the Whirligig Park Paint-Off. You can cast your vote for Visitor’s Choice, so stop by and watch these painters, invited by Wilson Arts, as they create inspired masterpieces. 

The third annual sidewalk chalk in-person art competition begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Whirligig Park. Watch as artists in three categories — Kids, Adults and Professional Artists — turn sidewalks into pieces of art. Preregistration is required and can be completed on the Whirligig Festival website. Entry is free, and all materials are provided.

Festival favorite artist Dan Nelson returns this year to create more large-scale paintings of festival sites in real time. Nelson begins his work on oversized canvases on Saturday, with the work completed on Sunday. Two of his paintings from the 2019 Whirligig Festival will be on sale this year.

IMAGINATION STATION

Imagination Station Science & History Museum, 224 Nash St. SE, will hold sidewalk events both days of the festival. The museum will feature some up-cycled perpetual motion machines and a homemade pendulum that you can use to make your own piece of art and take it home with you.

BIRDS-EYE VIEW

The city of Wilson will once again provide free bucket truck rides on the Goldsboro Street side of the Whirligig Park for adults and kids. These rides allow festival goers to enjoy a birds-eye view of both the Whirligig Park and the festival itself. Take a camera to capture the moment. City employees and riders will be required to wear masks during the ride.

NEW MODE OF TRANSPORTATION

A new way to get to and from festival parking areas this year will be a trolley, sponsored by the Wilson congregation of Total Impact Ministries. For $1 per rider, you can travel on the trolley the perimeter of the festival to specified trolley stops, including various parking areas. 

“We are excited about this new trolley shuttle provided by Total Impact Ministries’ outreach program,” said Mathis. “I think most people will take advantage of this at the end of their visit to the festival because their hands are full, they have their funnel cakes, and the kids are tired.”

COVID-19 VACCINATION CLINIC

Carolina Health Clinic will provide a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic during the festival on the corner of Nash and Tarboro streets. Vaccinations and booster shots will be available. Call the clinic at 252-243-9800 to find out which vaccinations are available.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

The festival is increasing the number of handwashing stations at the five portable toilet locations throughout the festival footprint. All vendors are required to have hand sanitizer at their booths, and all food vendors preparing and handling food are required to be masked, as required by the state of North Carolina. All vendors will systematically and frequently spray and sanitize display surfaces. More information about COVID-19 precautions and requirements can be found on the festival’s website.

All approved festival food vendors are within the festival zone, but Mathis added that state law requires any food vendor located within 1 mile of the festival perimeter be licensed and inspected by the health department.

“If anyone sees a food vendor on a corner, a block away for example, that is not associated with the festival, the health department is still required to inspect them,” Mathis said. “So look for an inspection sticker.”

All food vendor equipment and food is inspected by the Wilson County Health Department, and all festival inflatables and interactive displays are inspected by the state.

Mathis noted that alcoholic beverages are not sold by the N.C. Whirligig Festival, and open containers of alcohol are not allowed on the streets at the festival, but the festival does support the three downtown pubs in Wilson.

“Casita Brewing Company will have a beer garden right on the front row of the Whirligig Park, and Ruckus & Redemption and The Downtown Public House will invite adults to step inside, relax, have a brew and then rejoin the festival,” Mathis said.

For more information and a complete list of activities, visit the North Carolina Whirligig Festival website at www.whirligigfestivalnc.org.

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