Annual event returns for 70th year
If it’s the fourth weekend of September, it can mean only one thing — it’s time for Mule Days in Benson.
This year marks the 70th edition of Benson’s signature event, an event that began as a small gathering of mule owners that grew into what it has become today — the trademark celebration of the Johnston County town.
Once things get started on Thursday night, they won’t slow down until the last vendor closes up shop on Sunday afternoon. With an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 visitors over the four-day event, Benson becomes the most-populated town in Johnston County.
Last year’s event was postponed until October because of the storms which wreaked havoc in the area. But no delays seem to be on the horizon this year.
One of the centerpieces of Mule Days takes place at the Chamber Park and Arena on Friday morning, beginning at 9 a.m. That’s when the Mule Competition sees the best mule skinners bring their finest animals together to both entertain the audience and compete for the coveted Mule Days Belt Buckle and blue ribbon in 11 categories ahead of the naming of the Grand Champion Mule.
There are also four other divisions for donkey’s leading up to the champion donkey.
Following the competition there’s still plenty to see as the Mule Race take place at 12 p.m. There will also be a children’s stick mule race for kids 12 and under later in the afternoon.
While mules and donkeys are the celebrated animals, horse lovers won’t be left out either. This year, the Benson Mule Days Invitational Horse Pull returns to the festival. The pull will get underway at 2 p.m. inside the Nowell Smith Arena to round out the day’s competition.
Admission to Friday’s Mule Competition is $3 per person and $5 for two people. Admission for children 12 and under is $1.
The Mule Days Parade
While the Mule Competition will always be considered one of the main events of Mule Days, it’s the Mule Days Parade on Saturday which draws the largest — and perhaps most enthusiastic audience — as visitors line Main Street to await one of the largest parades in North Carolina.
With enough entries to keep visitors entertained for nearly 2 and a half hours, the Mule Days Parade features bands, lots of Shriners, floats and assorted entries such as antique cars and tractors and, of course, many horses and mules.
Following a lineup along Dunn Street west of Benson, the parade will step off at 10 a.m.
It all begins on Thursday night when nationally-known recording artists Confederate Railroad takes to the Singing Grove stage. The band, which earned notoriety for their country hits “Trashy Women” and “The Queen of Memphis,” will take the stage at 7 p.m. They will be preceded by the band Antique Outlaws at 6.
Thursday is only the beginning as Friday, Saturday and Sunday will see musical entertainment fill the air in and around Benson.
Gospel music from Highway 56 will be featured on the Singing Grove stage from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday.
The gospel music continues Saturday with performances by Gabriel’s Call and The Montgomery Family. The two groups will perform from 3 to 5 p.m.
If bluegrass is your style of music then you will get your fill on Saturday as well. From 12 to 3 p.m. the McDonald’s Live Bluegrass Afternoon in Benson takes to the Singing Grove stage and will feature Eric Strickland.
Music will become entwined with the Mule Days Rodeo both Friday and Saturday nights as The Jonathan Parker Band and the Justin West Band will perform following the rodeo on Friday and Saturday nights at 10 p.m., respectively. The dance is $5 per person each night or free with rodeo admission.
At 8 p.m., the American Legion Dance will take place with the Southern Storm Band performing. The Legion is located at 605 N. Wall St. in Benson and admission is $10 per person.
The downtown area won’t be left out either as D.J. Hugh Jackson will entertain crowds in the vendor area behind the Singing Grove on Friday and there will be Karaoke and dancing in the same location on Saturday night from 7 to 11 p.m.
Mule Days Rodeo
The Mule Days Rodeo offers three performances again this year and features rodeo clown Bryan Hope, announcer Matt McGee and featured performer John Payne, The One Armed Bandit.
A full slate of rough stock events, including bull riding, as well as cowgirl barrel races and cowgirl breakout roping will be under the lights Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. There will be a matinée performance at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Admission to both Friday night shows is $15 per person ages 6 and older with kids under 5 getting in free.
Admission for Sunday’s performance is $10 per person age 6 and up and kids 5 and under will be admitted free.
For fans of barrel racing there will a free event on Thursday starting at 6 p.m. with an exhibition and race at 8 p.m. It takes place inside Nowell Smith Arena.
Michael’s Amusements will provide the carnival rides for 2019. The carnival will be open all four days of the festival beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, with various sessions open throughout the festival. On Friday, the carnival will be open from 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday from noon to midnight and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.
Each day will feature $25 armbands good for unlimited rides with two sessions on Saturday from 12 to 6 p.m. and 6 p.m. to midnight.
The carnival will be located at its usual spot at 500 S. Market St.
Plenty To Do Downtown
There will be plenty to keep everyone happy and excited in downtown Benson as vendors row, Arts on Main, stable tours and rides in wagons and trams will all be a part of Mule Days once again.
Arts on Main will be an ongoing event throughout the day on Friday. Local artists, both young and old, will display their works to visitors on Mule Days.
They will include everything from paintings to sidewalk art on display from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. as well as an arts and crafts show in the EyeWorks parking lot on Main Street.
The annual barbecue sale will take place beginning around 11 a.m. and lasting until 2 p.m. on Saturday.
There’s also an antique tractor show and tours of the last mule stable in Benson.
For those with a desire to see more than just one event, there are two ways to get around town.
The first is the free tram rides which depart from Chamber Park, the carnival and the corner of Parrish and Elm. The rides will be ongoing throughout the festival and are free.
For those wishing to experience the namesake of the festival, there will be wagon rides each day. The rides are $5 per person and they leave from the Mule Stable.
70th Annual Benson Mule Days Celebration Schedule of Events
Thursday, Sept. 27
- 6 p.m. to midnight — Carnival rides open and runs through Sunday, 500 South Market Street.
- 5 p.m. to midnight — Free trolley rides, load at the corner of Parrish and Elm or Chamber Park or the carnival.
- 6 p.m. — Free barrel exhibition and racing, Chamber Park and Arena.
Free Mule Days Concert, Benson Singing Grove
- 6 p.m. Antique Outlaws.
- 7 p.m. Confederate Railroad.
Friday, Sept. 27
- 5 to 11 p.m. — Carnival rides open, 500 South Market Street.
- 9 a.m. — Mule Judging Competition, Chamber Park.
- Noon — Annual Mule Race and horse pull, Chamber Park.
- 3 to 6 p.m. — Mule Day Art on Main with Music on Main and Sidewalk Chalk Art Show, Main Street.
- 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Last standing mule stable in Benson tours, 604 E. Parrish Drive.
- 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. — Free trolley rides, load at the corner of Parrish and Elm or The Chamber Park or the carnival.
- 6 to 8 p.m. — Gospel sing featuring Highway 56, Benson Singing Grove.
- 8 p.m. to midnight — Music by DJ Hugh Jackson, vendor area behind Singing Grove on Parrish Drive.
- 7:30 p.m. — Mule Days Rodeo presented by SRA Double Creek Pro Rodeo, Benson Chamber Park 355 J. Lee Road (Nowell Smith Arena).
- 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. — Mule Day Dance featuring The Jonathan Parker Band, Benson Chamber Park.
Saturday, Sept. 28
- Noon to midnight — Carnival rides, 500 South Market Street.
- 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Arts and Craft Show, EyeWorks parking lot — Main Street.
- 8:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. — Free trolley rides, load at the corner of Elm and Parrish or the Chamber Park or the carnival.
- 10 a.m. — 70th annual Mule Days Parade, Main Street.
- Antique tractor show, following the parade in the Singing Grove.
- 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Barbecue Sale, Singing Grove by White Swan.
- Noon to 3 p.m. — McDonald’s Live Bluegrass Afternoon in Benson featuring Eric Strickland, Singing Grove.
- 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Last standing mule stable in Benson tours, 604 E. Parrish Drive.
- 1 to 5 p.m. — Wagon rides through Benson, leave from 604 E. Parrish Drive.
- 2:30 p.m. — Mule Days Trail Ride, departing from the corner of McLamb-Tart Road and J. Lee Road.
- 3 to 5 p.m. — Gospel Sing, Singing Grove
- 3 to 4 p.m. — The Montgomery Family.
- 4 to 5 p.m. — Gabriel’s Call.
- 5 p.m. — Benson Fire Department Golf Cart Giveaway drawing, Benson Fire Department.
- 7 to 11 p.m. — Karaoke and Dancing, Parrish Drive vendor area.
- 7:30 p.m. — Mule Days Rodeo presented by SRA Double Creek Rodeo, Chamber Park 355 J. Lee Road (Nowell Smith Arena).
- 8 p.m. — American Legion Dance featuring Southern Storm, American Legion Building 605 N. Wall Street in Benson.
- 10 p.m. — Mule Days Dance featuring The Justin West Band, Benson Chamber Park.
Sunday, Sept. 29
- 9 a.m. — Mule City Cowboy Church Service, Benson Singing Grove.
- 2 p.m. — Mule City Rodeo presented by SRA Double Creek Pro Rodeo, Chamber Park (Nowell Smith Arena).
- 3 p.m. — Bull Shot for The Pot, Chamber Park (Nowell Smith Arena).
-The Daily Record