RALEIGH, North Carolina (May 18, 2015) ? Travelers will find a harmony of patriotic and festive events across North Carolina to mark Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff of summer. With everything from a symbolic homecoming at Duke Homestead State Historic Site to the inaugural WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest and the 56th running of the Coca-Cola 600, destinations across the state present spirited reasons to observe the holiday and celebrate summer.
“Memorial Day falls on the earliest possible date and Labor Day on the latest, so travelers have 15 weeks to sample and savor experiences from the mountains to the coast,” said Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit North Carolina. “This weekend is a perfect time to start.”
Bull Fest, the annual Memorial Day weekend festival at Duke Homestead, features a once-in-a-lifetime event: re-enactor Philip Brown’s arrival after a 166-mile walk from New Bern. Brown’s 13-day journey is inspired by tobacco magnate-to-be Washington Duke’s trek 150 years ago at the end of the Civil War, but Brown represents veterans returning home from all wars. Other activities at Saturday’s festival reflect Durham’s food heritage and culture as well as its history.
In Concord, Charlotte Motor Speedway stages two Memorial Day weekend races, the XFINITY Series Hisense 300 on Saturday and NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, on Sunday. As a prelude to Sunday’s race, a Salute to the Troops will showcase troops from Fort Bragg in ground exercises with Humvees, howitzers and a rocket launcher; rope teams from Fort Campbell descending from Black Hawk helicopters; a vintage warbird air parade; and Team Fastrax skydivers swooping to the infield with Old Glory flying behind.
The WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest begins Friday at Bennett Bunn Plantation in Zebulon with a mass ascension and sunset balloon glow. Activities ? including competition flights, tethered balloon rides and meet-and-greets ? continue until Monday at Bennett Bunn Plantation and Spring Forest Road Park in Raleigh. Throughout the event, organizers hope to sell 10,000 U.S. flags, which will fill the Field of Flags and then be distributed at cemeteries, monuments and Veterans Administration nursing facilities.
In the Great Smoky Mountains, patriotic spirit infuses “A Time to Remember” at Fontana Village. Tours by land and water will explore the creation of Fontana Dam ? the highest in the Eastern United States ? to meet the needs of the U.S. military during World War II. Events, which also include music and storytelling, continue through May 30.
The Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra and the Army Ground Forces Band will perform “Brothers in Arts: 70 Years of Liberty,” a new symphonic work by composer Chris Brubeck (son of jazz great Dave Brubeck). The free performance, part of “A Symphonic Salute to the U.S. Armed Forces,” takes place Sunday in Fayetteville.
A memorial parade and wreath ceremony are part of the Saturday schedule for Brevard’s White Squirrel Festival, which runs Friday through Sunday. On Monday, Memorial Day ceremonies include an intergenerational gathering aboard the Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington and a parade in Thomasville followed by a full day of activities.
Other weekend options include the Mountain Sports Festival on the banks of the scenic French Broad River in Asheville, the “Fading Voices” celebration of the Snowbird Cherokee in Robbinsville, the long-running Fiddler’s Grove Festival in Union Grove, the North Carolina Wine Festival in Clemmons, the Lake Lure Arts & Crafts Festival and the Garden Jubilee Festival in Hendersonville.
“Memorial Day is just the beginning of summer,” Tuttell said. “Travelers can set their own pace to enjoy outdoor adventure and leisurely recreation, to soak up urban energy or unwind at the spa. With the extra-long summer, there’s time to return to favorite pastimes and also immerse yourself in something new.”