WILKESBORO — Local residents can receive a discount on County Night during “Moonshine & Thunder – The Junior Johnson Story,” which will take place weekends in September at the Forest Edged Amphitheater in Wilkes County.
On Thursdays, citizens of Alleghany, Ashe, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin counties will receive $5 off the regular $15 ticket price by showing a driver’s license when attending the play on that takes place at the amphitheater which is within W. Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir.
Guests can enjoy the setting of the Fort Hamby Park as songs of crickets sing the sun to sleep while they anticipate a multimedia tale rooted in respect and reality.
“The show is a combination of live theatre and film,” said the show’s writer and director Karen Reynolds. “The audience feels a little like they are in a drive in movie with actual footage from the North Wilkesboro Speedway in its earliest stages and actual Daytona 500 footage courtesy of the NASCAR Archives.”
Reynolds is a life-long veteran of the theater with several minor professional roles to her credit including small roles in “Hidden Figures” and “Logan Lucky.” Reynolds also played “Aunt Betty” on ABC’s “Nashville” and on Sundance as “Ginny” in “Rectify.”
Another local outdoor drama “Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend” was also written by Reynolds.
“The idea was first brought up to me by friend Steve Critz,” said Reynolds. “I just kept finding reasons to write it.”
After learning that visitors to Wilkes ask about Tom Dooley, Junior Johnson, The North Wilkesboro Speedway and moonshine the most, Reynolds did a lot of reading and research.
“I started talking to Junior Johnson and his friends,” said Reynolds. “They were so great to share their history with me.”
“Moonshine & Thunder” tells the story of Junior Johnson and his rise from a moonshining family to a NASCAR legend thanks to the North Wilkesboro Speedway.
“The show chronicles Wilkes County’s moonshine history right through the transition that took place from out running revenuers to outrunning each other on a racetrack,” said Reynolds. “It deals with Junior Johnson’s early years as a boy in Wilkes, to his first big win in Daytona in 1960.”
Playing the adult Johnson for his fourth year is local actor Marty Roten, who has also played J.W. Winkler in “Tom Dooley,” the Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol,” and Demetrius in “A Midsummer Nights Dream.”
“I must say it’s a challenge [to play a real living person] because he is larger than life,” said Roten.
“Ten years ago I was fortunate to be invited to his home when he lived in Hamptonville,” he said. “He invited myself along with some others from the show to his famous breakfast that he use to put on in the mornings. From there I met him and just studied him, listened to the way he talked, mannerisms et cetera.”
According to Reynolds, Roten becomes Johnson. “He does an incredible job,” said Reynolds, “and makes the audience feel like Junior is really there.”
That may be because Roten and Johnson have a lot in common. “Making moonshine is in my blood,” csaid Roten, “my late great grandfather and late grandfather all made it.”
It also helps to play someone admires. “[It’s an] honor and privilege to portray JR Johnson, a man who despite his accomplishments he is still very humble,” said Roten. “He remembers where he came from and the people that helped him become who he is today. That truly speaks volume. I think its very important to always remember those things and JR truly does that.”
“Moonshine & Thunder” helps remember that history by sharing intimate stories rooted in the actual history of the area.
“I hope people can look and the struggles that the folks depicted in the show had to deal with.. and hope that it will encourage them,” said Roten. “No matter what keep fighting and never give up. These were real people and they survived and so will we. All we have to do is simply believe.”
From watching as the Johnson family loses a son to the moment when Johnson finally has his father’s blessing to pursue his dream, “Moonshine & Thunder” touches the audience’s heart, even while a moonshiner gets shot at while in the shower, causing the amphitheater to fill with laughter.
Although the personal history of the Johnson family is interesting, it is the transition from moonshine runners to race car drivers that will draw some to attend.
“Running shine evolved into racing,” said Reynolds, adding the film clips and theatrical performance will explain “moonshine and its Scotch-Irish history, and how NASCAR grew.”
“See how NASCAR racing truly began,” said Roten. “We have got old cars, moonshine stills, Good Ole Boys, along with the strong women that stood behind them and had their backs.
“It’s a story of Wilkes County history, family struggles, founding of the North Wilkesboro Speedway, and how a man went from a farmer, to a moonshine hauler, to NASCAR driver and on to becoming a living legend.”
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Jim Scruggs, who plays Robert Glen Johnson Sr. “Karen is a fantastic director and writer. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
“Moonshine & Thunder – The Junior Johnson Story” will take place Sept. 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30. Performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. with the gate opening at 6:30 p.m. for ticket sales, Will Call and concessions.
For more information including reserved sections for groups of 10 or more, go to www.bleumoonproductions.com.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.