The stage of the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center will once again be filled with live performances featuring artists of regional and national acclaim as the Sampson CenterStage Performing Arts Series returns.
According to Ray Jordan, Executive Director of the Sampson County Exposition Center, the series has been on a six-year hiatus, with the last season concluding in May 2009. With the county having to burden the cost of the series, and the economy’s downward plunge, Jordan said the series had to cease, leaving many people in Sampson County asking for the events to return.
“This move is being made due to the many requests received from individuals from across Sampson County,” Jordan said during a telephone interview Tuesday morning. “There has not been a week since the last CenterStage performance in 2009 that someone from our community hasn’t inquired about the possibility of bringing back Sampson CenterStage events to our community.”
According to Jordan, the Center will be starting slow in its efforts to present concerts and other events to the community. Events presented are being made possible due to creative partnerships forged between local organizations and with various talent agencies across the United States.
“The resurgence of Sampson CenterStage events will provide the citizens of Sampson County with the opportunity to attend performing arts events right here at home,” Jordan added. “It will provide a win/win for our county – our citizens will be afforded access to events that they would normally have to travel to other communities to attend.”
For now, there have only been two shows scheduled, with the first of those shows set on Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. This show will feature comedian James Gregory. The second show, which will be presented in partnership with the Sampson County Arts Council, April 15 at 7:30 p.m., will be Breakin’ Backwards — Soul Street Dance Company.
Eventually, Jordan added, his hopes, as well as the hopes of the Exposition board, are to return the CenterStage series in full effect, having a full agenda of different performances every month. That, he said, will come in time.
“It was nice when we could bring something from the arts to Sampson County,” Jordan shared. “The citizens want that back. They want to know that they can see good quality entertainment right here and not have to travel to Raleigh, Fayetteville or Wilmington.”
The Diners Club pre-performance dinner will be available prior to Gregory’s show. Diners Club ticketing is limited to 250 persons, with advance-purchase tickets required. Dinner tickets are in addition to performance tickets, and may be purchased at the same time as event tickets at the Sampson CenterStage box office.
James Gregory grew up watching stand-up comedy on programs like Jack Benny, Milton Berle and the Ed Sullivan Show. After some nudging from his friends, he started doing open mic stand-up in Atlanta and never looked back. Today he performs his down-home stories of food, funerals and funny relatives to sold-out theatres, casinos and corporate events, working 48 weeks of the year. He’s also a frequent guest on national radio shows including The Bob & Tom Show, Rick and Bubba and The Big Show with John Boy and Billy.
Early in his career he earned the moniker, “Funniest Man in America,” but, he’s quick to tell you, “At that time there were only 13 states.” His jokes are squeaky clean as, he says, “My mother wouldn’t let me tell them if they weren’t.” It’s the kind of show you could feel comfortable bringing your date or your grandmother.
What’s really unique about Gregory is his appeal to people of all ages, races, creeds and colors. It’s not unusual to see three generations rolling in the aisles. He comes off as that funny uncle that everyone gathers around at family reunions because he has the best stories – and he reminds people of their own families.
While his routines include such Southern subjects as covered-dish suppers, road trips to Stuckey’s, and the healthy aspects of fried foods, it’s a mistake to consider him a regional comic.
Houston-based Soul Street Dance is one of the most dynamic premier dance companies in existence. Their technical and artistic skills, stage presence and wit allow them to push the performance envelope to an amazing standard of excellence. Four male dancers perform their special contemporary mix of choreography to the popular music of the decades, ranging from Vivaldi to Michael Jackson.
To purchase tickets for either show, visit the Sampson CenterStage box office, located at 414 Warsaw Road, Clinton. Box office hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Tickets may also be purchased by calling the box office at 910-592-7200. For additional information about James Gregory visit his website www.funniestman.com. For more information on the dance group, visit www.soulstreetdance.com.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.