By Laura Patterson
Dunn Daily Record
BENSON – The population of the Johnston County town of Benson will grow by a few thousand starting Thursday when its four-day festival gets underway.
It’s time for the 2021 Mule Days, a tradition that dates back to 1949, originated to celebrate the farmer and to “foster community spirit by incorporating the town’s main draft animal – the mule.”
Rodeos, mule competitions, arts and crafts, food vendors, carnival rides, camping, antique tractors, a parade, musical concerts and dancing will fill the town of Benson, along with lots of mammals of the four-legged variety in the equidae family — horses and mules.
Campers begin arriving on Wednesday when Chamber Park and Arena, located at 355 J. Lee Road, opens at noon.
A concert will take place Thursday night in the Benson Singing Grove on Main Street.
The John Norris Band will take the stage from 6 to 7 p.m. followed by country music singer and songwriter Wade Hayes from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Be sure to bring a chair to enjoy the free concert.
Michael’s Amusements will offer carnival rides throughout the celebration. The carnival will be at a new location this year. It will be located at 304 S. Lee St.
The schedule is Thursday, Sept. 23, from 6 to 11 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 24 from 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 25, from noon to midnight; and Sunday, Sept. 26, from noon to 5 p.m.
Unlimited ride armbands cost $25 each.
The Benson Mule Days Rodeo will take place Sept. 23-25 at the Chamber Park Arena, at 355 J Lee Road. On Thursday, Sept. 23, rodeo events will kick off with a barrel exhibition at 6 p.m. and open barrel race at 8 p.m. Admission is free on Thursday.
Rodeo events will continue at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 24-25. Admission is free for ages 5 and younger and $15 per person for ages 6 and older.
There’s a street dance from 8 to 11 Friday night featuring DJ Hugh Jackson on Parrish Drive behind the Singing Grove.
A favorite during every Mule Days event is the festival’s parade, which will start at 10 a.m. Saturday and run along Main Street.
The Malpass Brothers will perform for the McDonald’s Live Classic Country Afternoon in Benson from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Singing Grove.
The Benson Singing Convention is sponsoring a gospel sing Saturday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. The Johnston Community Choir is scheduled to perform from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. and the Hickory Grove Quartet from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
There will be karaoke and dancing from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday on Parrish Drive behind the Singing Grove.
A Mule Day Dance featuring the Jonathan Parker Band will be held at Benson Chamber Park Saturday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Admission is $5 per person. If you pay rodeo admission, admission to the dance is free.
On Sunday at 9 a.m., there will be a Cowboy Church Service in the Benson Singing Grove.
Visit bensonmuledays.com for a complete schedule of events.