Wilkes County, NC Comes Together Through Food and Fun
Live music, arts, local dining bring community together
As one of the earliest homes of NASCAR racing, the residents of Wilkes County are familiar with the concept of drafting. That is when several cars combine forces by grouping together, enabling them to better cut through the wind and go faster than they could on their own.
That notion is still in force today in Wilkes County, though it extends far beyond the race track. Businesses and communities throughout the county often come together – through food, arts, festivals and concerts – to create a better quality of life that benefits all.
“We have wonderful people and businesses that really encourage community,” says Kaitie Cosmos, who owns Stardust Farms & Vineyard along with her husband, Nick. “There’s definitely a strong feeling of community in the area.”
Stardust Farm is a prime example. Located in Moravian Falls, Stardust specializes in sustainable and organically grown produce including truffles, herbs, flowers and wine grapes. Cosmos says they purchase as many products locally as possible – including apples for hard cider – and work with restaurants and coffee shops to obtain food scraps and grounds that are used in compost piles.
“We’re trying to support the local economy and heritage,” Cosmos says. “That tradition is something we like to showcase through our products.”
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Stardust also is repurposing a building that once housed a nightclub and is turning it into an event space for wedding receptions, wine tastings and concerts.
“We want to have weekly events there, where people can just hang out and enjoy themselves,” Cosmos says.
Arts and (lots of) Entertainment
There are already plenty of entertainment options in Wilkes County. The area has a growing arts scene, led by the Wilkes Art Gallery in North Wilkesboro, which showcases nearly 100 regional and national artists every year. The gallery holds a variety of classes, programs, workshops and summer camps, and recently began showing free summer movies at Brushy Mountain Park.
“We’re always trying to extend the arts out into the community,” Wilkes Art Gallery executive director Cindy Pardue says. “We try to offer as much high-quality arts as we can to all different ages, from 4 to 94. That’s why we have so many classes and workshops in so many different mediums."
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“We’re constantly trying to improve the quality of life in Wilkes County through the arts. People want to be entertained, and the arts do that. Without the arts, it would be kind of a blank canvas.”
Other community events include the Wilkes County Farmers’ Market (held twice a week from April through September), the Wilkesboro Open Air Market (offering farm produce, handcrafted artisan goods and live music every Friday from May through October), and theater productions through both the Wilkes Playmakers and Bleu Moon Productions (best known for the outdoor drama, "Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend”).
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And then there is the music, which permeates the region partly through a wide array of festivals. It all begins the final week of April with MerleFest, which focuses on traditional – or “roots” – music. Founded in 1988 as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, MerleFest is now a four-day event that brings in approximately 75,000 people and produces a regional economic impact of $10 million.
After that, the music rarely stops. Toe-tapping tunes can be enjoyed throughout the spring and summer at both Concerts on the Deck at Yadkin Valley Marketplace, and the new Concerts in the Commons at the Wilkesboro Open Air Market. Christian music takes center stage during FaithFest in August, followed in September by both the Carolina Jam and Carolina in the Fall. It all culminates the first weekend of October with the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival, an arts-and-crafts fair that regularly attracts crowds of more than 100,000 attendees.
“There are festivals and concerts offered throughout the year in Wilkes County,” Wilkes Chamber of Commerce president Linda Cheek says. “And not only are there are so many things for people to enjoy, but it’s the variety and consistency that makes it special.”