Archive for August, 2011

Artist Spotlight: Steel Magnolia emerge from CMT’s ‘Can You Duet’ as a winning duo

August 31, 2011 By: Merrie Go Round Category: 2011 N.C. State Fair

Chemistry is a unique, but often difficult thing to explain — when something works, it just works. I guess no explanation is really neeeded.

Steel Magnolia has red-hot chemistry as a country music duo. When Meghan Linsey and Joshua Scott Jones were competing against other pairs on season two of the CMT program “Can You Duet,” the spark between this real-life couple leapt off the television screen. What was apparent to TV viewers must have been especially obvious to record exec Scott Borchetta, who served as a judge on the show and whose Big Machine Records label ultimately signed the winning duo to a deal.

Steel Magnolia plays Dorton Arena Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5.

The two even candidly talk about their chemistry on their official website: “I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be in a duo with my girlfriend. But it was an undeniable thing, and people connected to it,” [Jones said.]  And as for Meghan, she says “we both had to swallow some pride and get on the wagon, because there was definitely something special there. Other people could see that. In fact everyone around us could see it but us.”

Signing with the record company that represents Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts can only be described as a life changer. The release of Steel Magnolia’s first album has produced three top-25 country hits — the absolutely electric “Keep on Lovin’ You,” ”Just by Being You (Halo and Wings)” and “Last Night Again.” A fourth single, “Bulletproof,” was released in early August. In addition to hitting the airways, the duo gained even greater exposure opening for Brad Paisley on his H20 tour.

In early 2011, their self-titled debut album garnered the pair nominations for the Academy of Country Music’s Top Vocal Duo and Top New Duo or Group. Although the twosome didn’t take home the trophies, the nominations were clearly a sign that their music connects with fans.

Like Steel Magnolia, many big-name performers have graced the Dorton Arena stage early in their careers. Paisley is an alumnus of Dorton Arena and N.C. State Fair concerts, performing in 2000 and 2003, on his way to superstar status. Garth Brooks performed in 1990 before becoming one of the biggest-selling artists in history. Josh Turner performed in 2007 after the release of  his first mega-hit, “Long Black Train.”  He returned in 2008 for a sold-out show. Lady Antebellum also perfomed in 2008, and now headlines their own tour. Even the supergroup Rascal Flatts performed at the N.C. State Fair in 2001 on their way to stardom.

Be sure to catch this up-and-coming duo Monday, Oct. 17, at Dorton Arena. Tickets are $5 and on sale now here. You never know, Steel Magnolia could be country music’s  next supergroup. In the meantime, check out this video of  “Keep on Lovin’ You.”

Behind the Scenes: Blue Ribbon Memories

August 26, 2011 By: Bearded Lady Category: 2011 N.C. State Fair

State Fair fans have a new way to share their “Love A Fair” online with a website created by the State Library of North Carolina called Blue Ribbon Memories: Your History of the N.C. State Fair.

As Flying Bob mentioned in a previous post, the website offers visitors a chance to search through old premium books and view State Fair photographs and memorabilia from the state collection. The really cool part is that you can upload your own fair memories to the collection. For example, you can share the story of your first kiss on the Ferris wheel or upload a photograph of your prize-winning cake. The site also allows you to link to online photo albums, blogs or websites dedicated to the N.C. State Fair.

Last week, we had the chance to sit down with the person behind the project – Lisa Gregory, digital projects liaison for the State Library. In the video below, Lisa explains how Blue Ribbon Memories developed, shares some of her favorite finds from the collection and explains how you can help the project.

State Library staff will be on hand during the 2011 State Fair so be on the lookout for opportunities to share your Blue Ribbon Memories this October. In the meantime, you can share your memories online and browse the collection at

We could only fit a handful of Lisa’s favorite premium books in the video. You can see all her favs in the photo stream below.

Artist Spotlight: Tift Merritt

August 24, 2011 By: Bearded Lady Category: 2011 N.C. State Fair

Tift Merritt plays Dorton Arena Sunday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5.

For me, the N.C. State Fair is a constant reminder of the magic and excitement of fall. Occasionally, that magic extends beyond the fairgrounds. Tift Merritt is a perfect example. Submitted for your approval:

1997. Fall semester. UNC-Chapel Hill. Two college students, Tift Merritt and Zeke Hutchins, meet in an American studies class. Soon, they form a little band called The Carbines, which plays local venues  The Cave, Cat’s Cradle, the front porch of the General Store in Bynum, among other locations.

Fast forward five years. Merritt releases Bramble Rose to critical acclaim, followed two years later by her second studio album Tambourine. That record earned her a Grammy nomination for best country album of the year. Suddenly, Merritt is no longer a regional secret. She’s invited to perform on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Austin City Limits and at the Bonaroo music festival.

2007. Merritt moves to Paris for three months. While there, she writes a cadre of songs that will become 2008′s Another Country, further establishing her as a true singer-songwriter. Two more years, and she releases her most recent album See You On the Moon.

Tift Merritt went from local girl to international success, and it all started in the fall of 1997. And what about Zeke Hutchins from that American studies class? After more than a decade of playing together, he and Merritt tied the knot in 2009. How’s that for magical?

Tift Merritt plays Dorton Arena Sunday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m. Concert tickets are just $5 and available now at

Weekend Update: August 25-27

August 24, 2011 By: Tilt-A-Whirl Category: Uncategorized

Friday through Sunday the Triangle Farms will host a NCHJA “C” Horse Show in the Hunt Horse Complex. The event will feature Hunter/Jumper style competition

The Chidren's Good News Spectacular has been held in Dorton Arena. It will be held in the Graham Building Saturday. Photo courtesy of CEFGRA.

On Saturday, the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Greater Raleigh will host its annual Children’s Good News Spectacular. The event will be held in the Graham Building and will feature inflatable games and rides, popcorn, snow cones, drinks, an illusion show and several gospel presentations. Last year’s event had more than 10,000 attendees and this year’s event promises to bring more spectacular growth.

The Body Mind Spirit Expo will be held in the Scott Building on Saturday and Sunday. The Expo will feature more than 100 exhibitors and nearly 75 free lectures.  Topics covered will include all aspects of holistic living, health and wellness.

Last, but certainly not least, the Raleigh Flea Market will be open Saturday and Sunday across the fairgrounds. Stop by to stock up on everything you need for back-to-school.

N.C. State Fair decorated-cakes contest a winner with the public

August 22, 2011 By: Tilt-A-Whirl Category: 2011 N.C. State Fair

The N.C. State Fair’s decorated-cakes competition is a real crowd pleaser, drawing a line of visitors past the many entries on display in the Education Building. Professional and amateur decorators create ornate, multi-tiered cakes that look too pretty to eat.

Robin Bilodeau of Chapel Hill is a frequent entrant in the competition, and she attributes its popularity in part to people’s fascination with the complexity of the creations on display. Jacquelyn McClelland, a N.C. State University professor and the competition’s superintendent, agrees.

“I think the public likes the contest so much because the cakes are so creative and beautiful to see; they really defy the imagination,” McClelland said.

Bilodeau, who has been involved with the competition for more than five years, won a ribbon the first time she entered the competition. It was a three-dimensional cake with a dragon theme. She knows it takes a lot to set one cake apart from the competition.

“The cakes at the fairgrounds are not your average creations,” Bilodeau said. “Visitors will truly be amazed at how detailed they are and how much talent there is locally.”

The judges see a wide range of entries. Last year’s three Best in Show winners were a diverse mix, including a three-dimensional dress cake, a blue jeweled cake and a tropical-themed, bamboo-covered cake.

One of the Best of Show decorated cakes at the 2010 N.C. State Fair.

Lorie Murray of Raleigh, who owns her own cake shop and has been a judge for many years, looks forward to seeing what is entered every year. “You can really see the passion of the designers, especially the children’s cakes made without the help of the parents,” she said. “I look for creativity and imagination. Also, colors and textures that go with the theme are important.  And, designs that push the limits are so much fun to see.”

With the rise of popular television shows such as “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes,” it’s no surprise the decorated-cakes competition draws so many visitors. But there’s more to these cakes than fairgoers might imagine.

For example, although the techniques used in all entries must be possible to make with real cake, organizers encourage entrants to use Styrofoam forms as the basis of their creations. This way, the design can last for the fair’s entire 11-day run.

“They can use real cake if they want,” McClelland said, “but real cake is heavier and can be harder to work with, can fall apart, and of course will not last as long.”

Visitors also might not realize how much time goes into producing each cake. Some of the cakes, especially those that make heavy use of fondant or gum paste, can take up to a week of full-time work to complete.

Entries for the competition are divided into professional, non-professional and junior categories. There are also subcategories based on the type of decorations used and the occasion for which the cake is designed. The junior competition is divided by age brackets instead of by cake types.

Cakes are judged first on their overall appearance. This includes a pleasing general look, originality and appropriateness for the occasion. They are then judged on techniques used, design and execution to evaluate the entrant’s decorating abilities and consistency. Appearance and technique are each weighted equally.

The first-, second- and third-place winners in each subcategory will take home $25, $15 and $10, respectively. Anyone can enter as long as he or she submits an entry form by Friday, Sept. 23, at 5 p.m. Entries can be done online at or sent in by regular mail.

The cakes will be on display Oct. 13-23 in the Education Building.

Whether or not cakes are your thing, Bilodeau suggests that visitors check out the competitions in general. “When it comes to the N.C. State Fair competitions, there’s really something for everyone,” she said.

Artist Spotlight: Skillet

August 19, 2011 By: Firecracker Category: 2011 N.C. State Fair

Skillet may be billed as a Christian rock band, but their hard guitars and strong drums have earned them respect beyond just the Christian music genre.

Although the band defined itself as a Christian band from the moment it was formed in 1996, hard-driving rock anthems have given the group secular success not seen by many of their peers. They make the crossover between music worlds seamless, appearing equally at home in their concert appearances with fellow Christian acts Red or tobyMac and with mainstream acts such as Shinedown, Papa Roach and Stone Sour. Midland Reporter Telegram

Skillet is currently on the “Awake and Alive” tour, an album that features remixes of some of their hottest recent hits. From that album, the single “Awake and Alive” was featured in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Hero” has been used by numerous sports teams and promotions. Fans of WWE may also recognize “Hero” and “Monster” from the video game, “WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010.”

Older Skillet songs that have found crossover success include “Savior,” “Whispers in the Dark” and “The Older I Get.”

While not an official band video, I think this is one of the best uses of the song “Hero:”

This won’t be Skillet’s first time at the fair. They made an appearance in 2008, after which I heard someone say that they’d never seen a drummer get such a workout. He was also amazed that their drummer was a female.

Join fellow Panheads (that’s what Skillet’s fan base is called) on Friday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Dorton Arena. Tickets are just $15 and you can buy them online or at the North Dorton Box Office once the fair starts.

Weekend Update: August 19-21

August 18, 2011 By: Tilt-A-Whirl Category: N.C. State Fairgrounds

The Carolina Fall Boat Show & Sale comes to the Graham Building Saturday and Sunday. Boating enthusiasts will find more than than 25 dealers showing board and personal watercraft in all price ranges.

The Carolina Fall Boat Show & Sale will feature a variety of types and brands of boats. Photo courtesy of N.C. Boat Shows.

The East West Classic Motorcycle Swap Meet & Show will feature 14 vintage motorcycle competitions and a vendor fair. The event will be held in the Scott Building Saturday and Sunday, and is dedicated to motorcycles of all types built before 1990. Whether you’re looking to buy, trade or just browse, this event will offer many of unique bikes and parts.

Also on the grounds, visitors can enjoy the Raleigh Flea Market Saturday and Sunday. More than 600 North Carolina vendors will be selling antiques, new and vintage items, ccollectibles, furniture and much more.

2 months away: Time to focus

August 12, 2011 By: Bearded Lady Category: 2011 N.C. State Fair

Last week, I heard a great description of my job from a friend of mine. She was trying to explain to some out-of-state friends that in North Carolina, people stay excited about the State Fair all year long. According to her, our job is not about getting people excited about the fair; they already are. Instead, our job is about helping people focus on what they want to do this year at the fair. I really like that description.

So, with just two months left between now and the start of the 2011 N.C. State Fair, it’s time to focus. Here are some things to think about when planning your trip to the fair:

  • Are you entering a premium book competition this year? If so, it’s time to check out the premium book and make some decisions. Online registration is now available, and the deadline for some entries starts Sept. 10.
  • Have you secured your seats for a Dorton Arena concert? If not, you better hurry. Tickets are available online, and many of the floor seats are already full.
  • Do you want to save money? The best way to save is to buy tickets early. An early bird special is available, and you can earn up to free 3 tickets if you buy by Sept. 28.
  • Trying to figure out an environmentally friendly way to get to the fair? Check out the bus and train information to plan your trip.
  • Planning a field trip for your school or youth group? Don’t forget to check out our Educational Resources page for FAQs and scavenger hunt information.
  • Are you social? Like our fan page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to the blog to keep up with all the latest news about the fair.

Let us know if you need any other information to plan your trip to the N.C. State Fair. We want you to be able to focus on the fun, not worry about the details, when you’re in Raleigh this October. The N.C. State Fair runs Oct. 13-23 at the N.C. State Fairgrounds. More information is available at

Weekend Update: August 12-14

August 11, 2011 By: Tilt-A-Whirl Category: N.C. State Fairgrounds

Friday and Saturday the Children’s Spring Clothing and Baby Equipment Sale will be held in the Scott Building. Sponsored by Triangle Mothers of Twins & Triplets, the event will feature gently used items on sale at drastically reduced prices. Some of the items on sale will include maternity, infant and childrens clothing, toys, books, games, bikes, bedding and equipment.

Fruit sculptures are just one of the many items that will be featured at the Southern Bridal Show & Expo. Photo courtesy of Bel Canto Designs.

The Toy Train Sale and Swap Meet will be held in the Scott Building Sunday and will feature more than 100 vendors selling gauge trains, accessories, track, switches and hard-to-find parts among other things. Layouts of track will be setup and train races are planned for the children. Some vendors will also perform minor repairs on site.

More than 200 vendors will display their products and services at the Southern Bridal Show and Expo. The ultimate wedding one-stop shop will be held in the Graham Building on Sunday. Food and fashion previews will be held every hour.

As usual, the Raleigh Flea Market will play host to hundreds of dealers, craftsmen and booths on Saturday and Sunday across the fairgrounds.

Artist Spotlight: Craig Campbell

August 10, 2011 By: Bearded Lady Category: 2011 N.C. State Fair

Craig Campbell performs Thursday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5.

Craig Campbell was a big fan of gospel growing up in Georgia, but car rides with his older brother exposed him to country acts such as Randy Travis, Shenandoah, Mike Reid and Tracy Lawrence. That initial contact led to a love of country, a move to Nashville and eventually the popular single “Family Man.”

Craig Campbell is one of several rising country stars performing at this year’s N.C. State Fair. Musically, he sounds less like his pop-country contemporaries and more like the traditional country artists he was first exposed to in his brother’s car. You can tell Campbell is a true country boy from his lyrics, “If you got to tell me how country you are, you probably ain’t.” In other words, Craig Campbell is country music for country-music fans.

And, his career is just starting to take off. His latest single “Fish” is funny and lighthearted, the perfect end-of-summer song. You can watch the music video for “Fish” below:

Come celebrate the end of summer with Craig Campbell as he kicks off the fair Preview Day Thursday, Oct. 13. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are just $5. Concert, ride, admission and grandstand tickets are now available at

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