Those searching for a low-key coastal destination with activities for the entire family should look no further than Oriental, North Carolina. “The Sailing Capital of North Carolina” is perched on the banks of the Neuse River, offering visitors beautiful natural vistas, community festivals, and an abundance of outdoor and maritime activities. From learning about the town’s rich history at the Oriental History Museum to kayaking on Greens Creek, Oriental has something for everyone.
The Croaker Festival is one of the top summer events in North Carolina, and it will take place June 30 - July 1 in downtown Oriental. The festival attracts more than 10,000 people annually, which is over ten times the population of the town. Patrons will encounter a large marketplace that features a variety of craft vendors from all over the East Coast. A baking contest will determine the best local culinary creations in a variety of categories. The Miss Minnow and Croaker Queen Pageant will crown local royalty, and regional acts will perform live music throughout the event. Children will love the Kids Carnival that comes complete with free rides and games. A parade will make its way through the streets of downtown Oriental, showcasing vibrant floats, costumed performers, and more. All attendees should make sure to stay for the fireworks show. The city spares no expense, and it’s one of the largest in the state. We got the opportunity to interview Will Conkwright, a representative of the event, to learn more about this family-friendly spectacular.
RAL: How long has the event been running?
WC: The 2017 event marks the 37th year of the Pamlico County Croaker Festival.
RAL: How many annual participants do you draw?
WC: Over the course of the two-day festival we attract about 10,000 people.
RAL: What demographic does your event attract? Children? Families? Couples?
WC: The Croaker Festival is a family friendly event that brings together all of Pamlico County’s residents. Pamlico County is a poor rural county in Eastern North Carolina, but Oriental is an isolated village (economically speaking) within the county. We strive to appeal to a broad range of visitors, those who prefer boutique items and those who prefer carnival type fare.
RAL: What makes this event unique?
WC: The sole purpose of the Croaker Festival is to raise money for nonprofits operating in Pamlico County. The Croaker Festival is also entirely run by volunteers. It's a grassroots community event in the purest form.
RAL: Take me through a day at the event.
WC: The event is on the Oriental waterfront which is worth the trip itself! We attract craft vendors from South Carolina to Delaware who set up booths beneath the old Live Oaks at the Lou Mac waterfront park. We’ve set up two areas for kids -- one offers free rides, and the other sells tickets. Attendees can watch the Croaker Queen and Miss Minnow pageants. Winners receive scholarship money for college. The parade happens on Saturday and showcases the cultural and economic diversity of Pamlico County. We have an annual baking contest and live music throughout the event culminating with a headline act on Saturday evening. This year we’re proud to announce the Masters of Soul as our headliner. The grand finale is a fireworks show that rivals those of much larger events. This year we’ve worked with the DOT to secure the Oriental bridge as the launch site, which will be a first for the event.
RAL: What can an attendee expect to find for local lodging?
WC: The Oriental Marina and Inn is the premier lodging choice in the area and is booked out well in advance of the festival. The River Neuse Suites is right in the middle of the festival and offers boutique accommodations with a waterfront view. They also get booked out well in advance of the event. We have a couple of B&B’s in town too: The Cartwright House and The Oriental Inn. The best place for finding information about lodging in Oriental would be VisitONC.com.
RAL: Does this drive business to your local economy?
WC: Absolutely. Events like the Croaker Festival provide a significant economic boost to the local economy. The long-term growth strategy and the reason I developed VisitONC.com is to make the area more appealing to events like this one. I think a quarterly event of this scale would do wonders for our local economy.
RAL: Does lodging hit max occupancy during the event?
WC: Absolutely. New attendees would need to book accommodations in Oriental well in advance. A great option though is Arlington Place which is eight miles outside of Oriental. They offer several amazing cottages through AirBnB. Thousands of additional people in a town with a population of 900 can feel crowded to many!
RAL: Why should people come to your event?
WC: This is Americana at it’s finest. Wholesome, clean, family fun. Even as we move towards more progressive options like the beer garden, the family feel will never leave. It's a safe place for kids. You’d never need to worry about losing track of them, and if you did, they’d end up being in good hands anyway!
People should come to the Croaker Festival to experience Oriental and Pamlico County. We’re off the beaten path and not on the way to anything which is both a blessing and curse. Oriental is a “best-kept secret” kind of destination.
For more information about the Croaker Festival, please visit the event website.