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20140814_183457Nickel Creek’s first tour in seven years could not have passed through a better venue. On the road in support of “A Dotted Line,” their first studio album since 2005, the band spent an Aug. evening at Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre. This show was extra special as singer-songwriter Josh Ritter joined the bill for the second of only three nights together.

For this blogger, few events better signify the warm North Carolinian spring and summer like an evening at Koka Booth Amphitheatre. Sitting on 14 acres with a capacity of 7,000 people, the amphitheatre is encircled with hardwoods and pine trees. To the south, bordering the grounds, the shimmering Symphony Lake beckons visitors to picnic beneath the pines before and during events.

20140814_184718CobbleStone Courtyard, where the main entrance spills out, serves beer, wine, sandwiches, pizza, ice cream and other snacks.

20140814_183614Crescent Area houses Crescent Café, where guests can purchase beer, wine, mixed drinks and hot sandwiches. The amphitheatre sells table seats in Crescent Area featuring wait staff service.

20140814_18342120140814_183520A new wrinkle for me was the addition of three food trucks, and each show is sponsored by two local breweries. I lucked into Natty Greene’s Pub & Brewing and Fortnight Brewing Company.

20140814_18460520140814_183917Koka Booth Amphitheatre gives patrons plenty of reason to keep coming back. Pickin’ in the Pines Bluegrass Series kicks off this year on Sept. 3 and continues every Wed. through Oct. 1. Between May and Aug., Koka Booth Amphitheatre hosts the outdoor movie series, WakeMed Movies By Moonlight. Beginning in late May, the North Carolina Symphony Summerfest runs for eight weeks. Raizin’ A Ruckus Country Music Series brings stellar country tunes every Wed. in July. Meanwhile, the venue books a star-studded lineup to play throughout the warm season. Past acts include Crosby-Stills-Nash, Alan Jackson, Duran Duran, The Avett Brothers, Ben Folds, The Lumineers and My Morning Jacket.

But on Aug. 14, Nickel Creek and Josh Ritter held the eyes and ears of my fellow Music Maniacs. At 7:30pm, Josh Ritter walked on stage. I’ve been seeing Josh Ritter live for 10 years, and this show marked the first time I’d seen him without a full band. He was joined on stage by Josh Kaufman, who added some dazzling guitar work for about half of Ritter’s set.

DSC_0073Ritter and Kaufman opened with the wistful “Monster Ballads,” setting the tone for his set: peaceful, honest and mellow. Lacking a big band, Ritter avoided the raucous songs in his catalogue, such as “To the Dogs or Whoever” and “Mind’s Eye,” to focus instead on the acoustic ballads which originally brought him notoriety. He strummed old favorites (including “Kathleen,” “The Temptation of Adam” and “Me & Jiggs”) and mixed in a few new unreleased songs, including my new favorite, “Cry Softly.” His songs tell stories of the Midwest, his literary style a unique blend of poetry and prose.

DSC_0061Ritter’s 2013 album “The Beast In Its Tracks,” a stripped down solo acoustic record, seemed destined to get lots of love from this type of set. Not surprisingly, Ritter closed his set with three songs off his newest release: “New Lover,” “Hopeful” and “Joy To You Baby,” a song about acceptance and moving forward. Ritter’s Midwestern croon had the crowd at ease and primed for the headliner.

Nickel Creek blended bluegrass with rock, pop and ragtime, creating a new genre dubbed “newgrass.” Members Chris Thile (mandolin), Sean Watkins (guitar) and Sara Watkins (violin) are all in their 30’s now (upright bass player Mark Schatz joins them on tour), but that same youthful energy that made them crowd favorites when they formed 25 years ago remains the hallmark of their music.

DSC_0091Nickel Creek began their set with their new album’s opening track “Rest Of My Life.” Ostensibly about waking up with a hangover following a wild party the night before, this song sounded to me like a metaphor for their career. Their first successful run as a band netted them, among many other awards, a 2003 GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Perhaps a hangover set in after so many years together, and now the band is waking up to a new life post-hiatus. “I’m coming to. I’m turning myself into something a little less promising, a little more useful,” Thile sang.

But that didn’t mean the band would forget the songs that made them famous. Only six of their twenty songs from their set list were off the new album. Old fans were treated to “The Lighthouse’s Tale,” “This Side,” “Smoothie Song,” “When You Come Back Down” and “Ode To A Butterfly.” New fans caught “Destination” and “21st Of May,” singles released ahead of “A Dotted Line,” as well as the humorous instrumental “The Elephant In The Corn.” After explaining that they’d been kicking around a cover song for a couple of weeks, Nickel Creek launched into Fleetwood Mac’s “The Ledge,” delighting the eclectic crowd.

DSC_0111Their two-song encore concluded at 10:30pm with the closing track from “A Dotted Line:” “Where Is Love Now.” “Where is love now?” they harmonized. “Out here in the dark?”

Clearly it was, and the crowd let them know it. Welcome back to N.C., Nickel Creek. In your absence, I never found somebody more like you.

To my fellow Music Maniacs: Miss the Nickel Creek and Josh Ritter show? Check out Koka Booth Amphitheatre’s concert lineup here and experience the stellar venue for yourself.

When dogs check into The Umstead Hotel and Spa with their owners in Cary, North Carolina, canine guests, big and small, certainly have something to wag their tails about. The hotel recently unleashed its passion for its four-legged guests with a new amenity: DogWoods

Umstead Dogwood DogThe Umstead Hotel and Spa created an enclosed playground for canines on the verdant grounds of its Five-Star property this summer. Named DogWoods, in a nod to the Dogwood trees indigenous to the area and to N.C.’s state flower, the Dogwood Blossom, the new playground offers plenty of space for running, jumping and fetching. Each pup gets some treats and a complimentary tennis ball in addition to the already-established indoor amenities: a plush bed, water bowl and additional doggie treats.

Umstead Dog AreaIt’s not uncommon for the hotel to have several doggie guests a week. Darah Whyte, marketing manager, said they wanted to enhance the hotel’s pet services. “We wanted to create a safe area where dogs could be unleashed and have some fun. They can be a dog. They can jump, bark and play.”

Umstead Dog Woods  AreaThe new DogWoods area is for hotel guests only, and is the only area on-property where dogs can be unleashed. Pets are not allowed in the restaurants.

The pet fee is $200.

Umstead Hotel and SpaThe hotel is a recipient of both the AAA Five Diamond award and Forbes Five Star rating. It has 150 guestrooms and suites, world-class cuisine, a luxury spa and a tranquil, outdoor pool, all in a serene, wooded setting.

Your dog will be begging to travel with you to Greater Raleigh so they can be pampered at The Umstead Hotel and Spa.

We have a great theatre scene in Raleigh! I took my children to see the North Carolina Theatre’s production of Disney’s Little Mermaid recently. It was outstanding and a wonderful professional production.

The local talent was amazing. My children and I were singing “Under the Sea” right along with Sebastian.

Curtis Brown photography

Curtis Brown photography

In my opinion, it was a great introduction to the theatre for my two kids (ages four and eight) without leaving North Carolina.

Since 1984, North Carolina Theatre has brought quality, Broadway-style productions to Raleigh by having regional performers work seamlessly with Broadway and national stars. All performances are located in downtown Raleigh at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, and performances typically run six nights with weekend matinees. We saw a Thurs. night performance with a cost of $37 per ticket.

Duke Center for Performing ArtsBroadway Series South, Carolina Ballet, and North Carolina Symphony also call the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts home. With Broadway Series South, touring productions come into town. Some performances are just one night while other shows run for a week.

There is usually a production performing at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts every week.

Duke Center for Performing Arts2Make plans to visit Raleigh this fall and holiday season to see a show!

For a complete list of productions, visit the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts calendar.

Make a weekend out of coming to Raleigh for a show, and book your hotel room here!

Duke Center for Performing  Arts 3See you at the theatre.

Follow Leigh Hines on Twitter and Facebook, or visit her blog here: HinesSightBlog.

If you’re planning a visit to Greater Raleigh, one of the most luxurious hotels I recommend staying at is The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary. Luckily, The Umstead Hotel and Spa caters to Foodies. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss The Umstead Hotel and Spa’s new discovery series, Artisan Confections. Its new pastry chef, Evan Sheridan will be featuring cooking demonstrations, tastings and industry intel.

Sheridan_Evan_84A6781The first event of the Artisan Confections series is on Sept. 14 from 3-4:30pm and will feature special guest Hallot Parson of Raleigh’s Escazú Artisan Chocolates. During this event, Chef Evan and Hallot will cover more information about “bean-to-bar” practices while attendees sample delicious chocolates, including Escazú’s newest micro-batch creation, “1631.” This new chocolate was inspired by the first-known chocolate drinking recipe, originating in Spain.

barsThe Artisan Confections class will include a demonstration of The Umstead Hotel and Spa’s coveted Crème Brûlée recipe, which is a crowd favorite at its restaurant, Herons. This recipe features Escazu’s goats milk chocolate. The best part about the class is that you get to ask Chef Evan and Hallot questions while sampling from an indulgent display station of chocolates, assorted desserts and Champagne.

The Artisan Confections series will continue with special events for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day and more. Each class is $55 inclusive of tax and gratuity. If you’d like to attend one of these great Foodie classes, make reservations by calling 919.447.4000.

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Photo by Ted Richardson

Festivalgoers, meet the Hopscotch music venues. Get the scoop on the dozen Hopscotch Music Festival 2014 venues below, plus some tips to help along the way.

City Plaza
Located in the heart of the center city, the artful City Plaza, with 50-foot programmed light towers, three sculptures from North Carolina-based artists and a smart design, is one of the premier and most popular spots for outdoor live music events in Raleigh. Experience Spoon, St. Vincent, Mastodon, De La Soul and more rocking downtown Raleigh all the way down Fayetteville St. and back at the plaza. Memorable Hopscotch moment in City Plaza: Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips shooting lasers out of a pair of giant hands all the way down to the North Carolina State Capitol. Located near an abundance of Foodie hot spots.

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Photo by Ted Richardson

Contemporary Art Museum (CAM Raleigh)
CAM Raleigh features an ever-changing collection of contemporary art and strives to inspire visitors with captivating works from some of the top artists today. The museum, in a repurposed early 20th century produce warehouse, honors the spirit of the former tenant by keeping fresh works moving in and out, showing visitors what’s current in the art world. Situated in the Warehouse District, chow down on delicious eats at spots such as The Fiction Kitchen and The Pit, before or after performances. And you can also grab a brew on your way at Crank Arm Brewing.

CAM Raleigh 2Deep South the Bar
Experiencing Deep South when you come to Raleigh for live music is a must. With lyrics covering the interior walls of the venue, look for the words from some of your favorite songs. Deep South certainly knows live music as it hosts concerts 365 nights per year. Thirsty? Deep South offers crazy-good local beers! Plus, catch some fresh air between performances at the venue on the outdoor patio and see an iconic view of the Raleigh Convention Center’s CREE Shimmer Wall.

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Photo by @kristenabigailphoto on Instagram

A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
A theater full of personality and class, the venue offers 600 seats, with the farthest balcony seat (yes, balcony seating for an “overhead” view of the stage) 70 feet from the stage. You won’t want to miss room-filling sounds from artists such as Phosphorescent, Future Shock, IIII and Celestial Shore. Located on the east side of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing arts, the walk to the venue makes for great photo/Instagram opps.

Kennedy Theatre at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
This 170-seat, 40×60-foot, black-box experimental theater fuses intimacy with energy and the deeply personal with the universal theater experience. In past years, the venue’s atmosphere has dramatically amplified the mood of the performances held here. Kennedy Theatre is going to be the perfect venue to catch Screature, White Lung, Power Trip, Ken Mode and more this year.

Kings Barcade
After relocating to Martin St. in 2010 following a three-year absence from the music scene, Kings Barcade has once again become a prime location to catch independent bands on the rise. A favorite of local musicians, this spacious club is not only a great place to hear music, but also a good place to hang out in the cocktail lounge downstairs, Neptune’s Parlour, which has become home to the venue’s arcade game collection. Muppets (yes, “The Muppets,” as in those funny-looking, puppet creature things) Statler and Waldorf catch every single show at the venue. Find them and say hello to them while you’re there.

1a8a52661Lincoln Theatre
A haven for singer-songwriters, rock fans and a plethora of cover bands year-round, this former movie theater is home to one of the best sound and lighting systems in the area. Music Maniacs can get up-close-and-personal with Hopscotch artists stage-side, or watch from a variety of levels for multiple views. Don’t miss Raleigh’s American Aquarium (Sept. 4, 10:30pm) or Demon Eye (Sept. 6, 9:30pm) perform at the venue. Catch Sun Kil Moon, Witch Mountain, Mark McGuire and more here as well over Hopscotch weekend

485970_10151453665774367_1192793866_nThe Pour House Music Hall
You may feel a bit like Harry Potter skulking around Knockturn Alley the first time you walk down the narrow alley and through the door of this Moore Square institution. Open nearly 365 days a year, The Pour House Music Hall plays host to bands of all genres, from bluegrass to metal and reggae year-round. But the place isn’t called The Pour House Music Hall for nothing. The venue is known for its well-stocked bar and variety of quality beers on tap, so go thirsty.

1a8a68821Slim’s Downtown
Slim’s may be your quintessential hole-in-the wall venue. Blink as you’re walking past its downtown Raleigh storefront and you might miss it. Inside you’ll find one of the area’s more shoulder-to-shoulder venues as patrons crowd the narrow stage and line the stairway to get a better view. Check out the small lounge with a pool table upstairs to get a game in (you might have to get in line). Local brews offered include Aviator Brewing Company and Big Boss Brewing Company, and the venue offers them at surprisingly affordable prices. Must be 21+ to enter.

Slim'sThe Hive (at Busy Bee Cafe)
The Busy Bee restaurant originally opened in 1913, serving breakfast and lunch to Raleigh’s downtown crowd. For years after the cafe closed in 1925, the space was used for an auto parts tore, a hardware store and more, and in 2009, the building underwent an extensive renoviation, reopening as Busy Bee Cafe and The Hive (second level of Busy Bee Cafe). Named one of America’s 100 Best Beer Bars this year by Draft, this local hot spot offers some of the best of craft brews and, in addition to Hopscotch performances, hosts live music events year-round such as the PineCone Bluegrass Jam. Must be 21+ to enter.

hive2Tir na nOg
With a prime location in Raleigh’s Moore Square, Tir na nOg is part restaurant, part bar and part venue. Catch a performance, taste local brews and dine on some killer Irish fare. Its Pub Classics include Ye Olde Celtic Nachos, Scotch Eggs, Guinness Wings and more. And it’s right next to The Pour House Music Hall, so if you’re catching shows there, hop next door for a bite to eat.

1a8a02181Vintage21
On Sept. 4-6, during the evenings, Vintage Church’s downtown Raleigh location will turn into a Hopscotch Music Festival music venue. See noise genre music here and more (if you haven’t exprienced the noise genre–Hopscotch is the place to do it). Spacey rock jams are also on the bill here.

Wanna’ know how to get to the venues? The festival website has a venue map to plan ahead with that also includes parking lots/garages, Larry’s Beans Veggie Shuttle sites and SiteWork Art sites.

Haven’t purchased tickets yet? Get them here!

If you’re looking to cool off on a summer day in Greater Raleigh, I suggest paying a visit to the Kona Ice of Raleigh truck.

The Kona Ice truck is brightly colored and hard to miss on the streets of Greater Raleigh. With more than 80 amazing flavors of Hawaiian shaved ice, there’s something for everyone on the truck. The great part about treating yourself to this cool dessert is that Kona Ice is dairy and gluten-free with only six grams of sugar per serving. Plus, you can make your own flavor combinations using Kona Ice Truck’s Flavor Wave System.

IMG_1243I enjoyed combining two of the flavors to create a strawberry margarita Hawaiian shaved ice. The hardest part was deciding what to order! There are many flavors ranging from cotton candy to wedding cake. You’ll definitely find something to enjoy.

IMG_1245I suggest checking the Kona Ice truck’s calendar on its website to see where they will be serving up these delicious treats next. The truck serves Raleigh, Wake Forest, Cary and Knightdale. Also, visit the Kona Ice store at Triangle Town Center & Commons just outside of the food court. The hours are Tues.-Sat. from 1-8:30pm, Sun. from 2-6pm and they are closed on Mon.

Grab a friend and visit Kona Ice for a sweet treat. The delicious Hawaiian shaved ice treats will certainly allow you to beat the heat this summer in Greater Raleigh!

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Nestled in downtown Raleigh is a true gem for families to experience. In my opinion, Marbles Kids Museum, a place where kids can imagine, discover and learn, is one of the best kids museums in the U.S., and I’m so glad it’s in my hometown because my kids can enjoy it often.

Marbles Kids' MuseumMarbles is a place where families can spend hours and feel as if they only touched the surface on all there is to do.

With a low entry cost of just $5 for age one and up, it’s one of the best bargains out there in family travel. If you are coming to Raleigh and have children under the age of 10, then you can’t leave town without a visit.

Marbles Kids Kid GridI also have a local travel tip for you if it will work for your family’s schedule. The museum is quite busy from 10am to 1pm, but after lunch, the museum clears out because, well, you guessed it…all the younger children need to nap. Typically, I plan about three hours to explore and we hit most everything, but between us, we could stay even longer. There is so much fun there.

Marbles Kids MuseumThis spring, Marbles welcomed the new multimillion-dollar Kid Grid exhibit, presented by ABB. This hands-on energy exhibit promotes early learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, inspiring the next generation of great minds through interaction and energy simulation to power up a bright future.

Around Town is always a blast for my kids. There is now a great new classroom section to help preschoolers prepare for school.

Marbles Kids Museum 2The new WTVD News Channel Helicopter has kids waiting in line for the controls.

Marbles Kids Museum HelicopterIt’s good to be a kid at Marbles. And parents, you’ll love seeing how much fun your kids can have learning through hands-on play.

With every twist and turn, there is something new for your children to explore.

There are plenty of restrooms, a picnic area for you to bring your own lunch, a coffee and snack shop plus Pogo, a kid-friendly restaurant on museum grounds.

If your day allows, you can also catch an IMAX feature movie or documentary at the Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre at Marbles. IMAX admission is separate, but you can include museum admission with the purchase of a movie ticket for an extra $3.

Marbles Kids Museum is located at 201 East Hargett St. There is a parking lot adjacent to the museum and plenty of parking decks nearby.

Marbles Kids Museum FunI look forward to seeing you and your kids having fun at Marbles Kids Museum!

Follow Leigh Hines on Twitter and Facebook, or visit her blog here:HinesSightBlog.

Let’s face it, sometimes you just need a burger. The Station on Person St. in Raleigh will certainly brighten up your Mondays with its $5 burger special.

Last Mon. I decided to give this burger a try. The special includes a double-patty burger with lettuce, tomato and onion. Plus, you have the option of adding sliced cheese, cheese spreads, bacon and other condiments. The burger also comes with a side of housemade chips or potato wedges.

After enjoying a brew from Raleigh’s Lonerider Brewing Company at The Station’s outdoor bar, my burger arrived. The presentation was perfect; a burger served on a wooden cutting board along with a mason jar filled to the brim with potato wedges.

With wide eyes and a hungry appetite, I went in for my first bite of the burger. Delicious! The juicy patties were cooked to perfection and I liked the soft, slightly toasted bun. Of course, I finished the whole burger and may have left one potato wedge standing.

If you’re looking for a great burger along with a fun atmosphere, definitely pay a visit to The Station. I’m a fan of the outdoor bar, especially during the summer months.

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I suppose Raleigh could be better…

Sure, it’s a Foodie’s dream, housing the likes of Ashley Christensen, named by the James Beard Foundation as 2014 Best Chef: Southeast. I know there’s a burgeoning art scene, boosted by the presence of North Carolina Museum of Art. And yes, Greater Raleigh lists nearly two dozen breweries. The city supports innumerable collegiate and professional sports teams. I don’t need to be reminded that Raleigh has more music than any destination in North Carolina. Its citizens are open-minded, well-educated and community-centric.

But if forced to make a choice between staying static and being dynamic, well, I’ll take a second helping of awesome, please.

Enter Shop Local Raleigh, an organization designed to support locally-owned, independent businesses. You may know them as the creators of Brewgaloo, one of the largest beer festivals in the Southeast. On their latest venture, they’ve focused on the continued revitalization of the Glenwood South district in downtown Raleigh by hosting Glenwood Live.

DSC_0011Glenwood Live is a free, seven week concert series that began Thurs., Aug. 7, at the intersection of Glenwood Ave. and W. Lane St. Each Thurs. evening through Sept. 18, a local band will play an outdoor concert from 5:30-8:30pm. The event’s location changes each week, cycling through the Glenwood Ave. intersections of W. Lane St., Tucker St. and North St.

DSC_0014Glenwood Live encourages families (and pets) to chill and relax in the warm summer evenings. The series is sponsored by Oskar Blues Brewery, DeMo’s Pizza and Clear Channel Media & Entertainment, so of course there’s plenty of beer, wine, food and even margaritas. Beginning on Aug. 14, Right Time Kids joins the fun to offer face painting, balloon animals and other child-oriented activities so that everyone stays entertained.

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DSC_0034On the inaugural day of the series, acoustic duo Chapel Hill Serenaders took the stage, playing traditional music from the Southeastern U.S. The band, composed of singer and multi-instrumentalist Cary Moskovitz and fellow multi-instrumentalist Ed Witkin, focused on music dating mainly from 1923-1935. Moskovitz recently finished recording a tribute to Papa Charlie Jackson, who was the first blues musician to make records when he signed with Paramount Records in the early 1920s, and the setlist reflected this infatuation. Their selections included old standards in blues, ragtime, jazz and Hokum.

DSC_0017Moskovitz stayed true to style by playing a 1930 Paramount banjo, a 1930 S.S. Stewart guitar made by Gibson and a 1950 Martin tenor guitar. He also employed a harmonica and kazoo. Witkin, who grew up playing the piano, brought the most interesting instrument of the two: a banjo he built himself while in high school in 1979.

DSC_0026Let me reiterate–this event is FREE. Bring the family. Walk the dog. Explore the streets of Glenwood South. Need to eat? There are plenty of options, notably Plates, Sushi Blues, Sushi O and MoJoe’s Burger Joint. Want a beer? Natty Greene’s Pub & Brewing sits around the corner and a new bottle shop, Stag’s Head, just opened at 106 Glenwood Ave. Inspired by the music and looking to get back into playing guitar? Harry’s Guitar Shop will get you going.

Embrace the growing scene on South Glenwood Ave. by checking out Glenwood Live. Visit the official website for the schedule and further information.

With the tagline “Imagine the Possibilities,” the town of Wake Forest, North Carolina, is (rightfully) proud of its newly-renovated performing arts and conference venue, the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.

P1160332As the town’s latest significant investment in the downtown municipal district, this multifunctional facility is the setting for visual and performing arts as well as community events. Sometimes called the Renaissance district, the area encompasses approximately 220 acres and extends from south of Holding Ave. to just north of Spring St., and between South White and South Franklin Sts.

P1160334The two-story foyer entrance and box office lead directly into the 4700-square-foot grand hall that accommodates 330 with lecture-style seating and around 240-plus for seated dinners.

P1160338This versatile venue includes curtains to improve acoustics, as well as a dance floor and bar area. It strives to be the perfect venue for concerts, plays, recitals, exhibits, meetings, expos, conferences and private celebrations.


Numerous amenities are provided, including a 535-square-foot performance stage, dressing rooms, staging area for caterers, an LCD projector, automated projection screen and monitors, computer ports for presentations and and wireless Internet.

P1160344Check out upcoming events at the venue here!

Located at 405 S. Brooks St. in the heart of Wake Forest.

Written by Creative Genius Kristy Stevenson. Follow her online.

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