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It’s a big weekend in Wilson as people from around the region make their way downtown for the N.C. Whirligig Festival.
Crowd estimates from last year topped 50,000, according to the festival’s organizer, Theresa Mathis, and she’s expecting even more this year for Saturday and Sunday’s big event.
If you plan to join the crowd for a lot of free entertainment and lots of food, arts and crafts and general fun, here are a few things to keep in mind:
HOURS AND LOCATION
The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Mathis recommends going early to get a parking space close to the festival. She also said to be patient and go prepared to walk at least a block to get to the action.
“This is the largest event in Wilson, so finding a parking spot up close will be a challenge,” she said.
The parking lot at the Farris & Farris law firm on Nash and Tarboro will be reserved for handicapped parking only. The parking lot entrance is on Tarboro. “This allows direct access into the festival zone without having to cross traffic,” she said.
Mathis pointed out that parking will be free all weekend, but parking guidelines must be followed.
“Make sure to avoid loading zones, yellow curbs, fire hydrants and spaces reserved for handicapped, emergency personnel and those living downtown,” she said.
Also, pay attention to private lots that might be marked as reserved for employees only.
If you need to drop off someone or have a pickup location for family members, Mathis recommends the Barnes Street parking lot.
“It is close to the center of the festival area, near the kids zone and has an easy entrance and exit route.”
Last year, festival organizers received complaints from people who were charged for parking during the festival.
“Anyone wanting a shorter walk can certainly pay a premium for parking, but it is not required,” she said. “With over a dozen nearby side streets and large lots such as behind BB&T, everyone can park for free and enjoy a short walk in the beautiful fall weather.”
Speaking of the weather, the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies today and Sunday with temperatures in the 60s both days.
This year’s festival is moving closer to the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, located at the corner of Goldsboro and South streets. The three entertainment stages and vendors will branch out along Douglas and Goldsboro streets, as well as on connecting Nash, Barnes and South streets.
On Nash Street, the festival will start at Douglas Street by Imagination Station and extend to Tarboro Street (the courthouse block), where it will stop. Tarboro and Pine streets will remain open to traffic during the festival.
There are three entertainment stages this year: Whirligig Park Stage inside the park, Greenlight Stage at the courthouse and Whirli-Kidz Stage in the parking lot at Barnes and Goldsboro streets near the former Worrell’s Seafood (near the decorative lighthouse.)
This year’s headliner bands are East Coast Rhythm and Blues, playing from 2:45 to 5 p.m. Saturday on the Greenlight Stage and The Tams from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Whirligig Park stage.
Line dance groups will perform between musical acts.
The Whirli-Kidz Stage features performances by local children as well as Nick’s Barnyard Adventure.
Take the challenge
Families are expected to flock to the Whirligig Warrior Course sponsored by Wilson Medical Center again this year. The course will be moving to the grassy lot beside Whirligig Park.
Mike Cook, manager of Ultimate Backyard Warrior in Rocky Mount, is happy to be headed this way again with a two new mobile courses — one for adults and one that’s more kid-friendly with an inflatable safety system.
The course allows participants to try their skills at a number of physical challenges as well as compete. Last year, Cook enjoyed seeing families and friends root for participants who braved the course.
Cook wasn’t sure how many folks to expect last year, but he went through 4,000 participant wristbands on the first day and had to go back to Rocky Mount for more to use on Sunday. For both days, more than 7,000 people went through the course.
America Ninja Warriors will be showing their skills on the challenge course as well with Devin “Dougie Fresh” Harrelson, Kenny John Holloman, Kenny Niemitalo and Cook scheduled to appear.
Inflatable extreme challenges will be located throughout the park both Saturday and Sunday, including Dizzy X Spinning Obstacle Course near the courthouse and Pirate Obstacle Course on Douglas Street.
Some folks go to the festival to enjoy the music. Others go for the food and the shopping!
Mathis said 155 vendors will be at the festival this weekend, including 51 arts and crafts booths and 28 food options.
Some old favorites will be returning, including Tin Can Man selling vehicles made of soda cans. But some new folks are also coming, including Spud Kings on Douglas Street. The food truck sells oversized baked potatoes with lots of toppings.
Children will have a blast in this year’s kids area that’s moving to the parking lot area at the corner of Barnes and Goldsboro streets.
They can watch Nick’s Kids Barnyard Adventure show and enjoy many free activities. Some of the planned attractions include bounce houses, an obstacle course, inflatable hamster race, human foosball, carnival games and arts and crafts with the Wilson Youth Council.
For a fee, kids can make a bear in a Build-A-Bear pop-up shop.
Imagination Station is right in the middle of all the festival action, and staff members hope you will drop in and buy some chili in a scaled down Chili Gig competition on Saturday.
For $5 admission, visitors can tour the museum, taste the chili and vote on a winner. If you don’t want the chili, you can buy a $3 admission ticket to tour the museum.
Proceeds from Chili Gig benefit the museum.
WATCH HIM PAINT
Fine art painter and muralist Dan Nelson has been coming to the Whirligig Festival for the past 13 years, and he’ll be back this year as well.
Nelson paints three large scenes while the festival goes on around him.
This year, Nelson will be stationed at Whirligig Park.
His park painting from last year will be sold in a silent auction during the festival. Make your bid at the merchandise booth in the park.
If you’d like to see more of his work, go to First Friday Open House today at Art Ventures and Barnes Corner Gallery, at 200 W. Tarboro St. The open house is from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.