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    Manteo Comes Alive

    July 27, 2023

    Manteo is alive as it never has been before. The town has always been a go-to place for a lot of Outer Banks gatherings, but over the past two or three years it has blossomed into a very real center of arts and entertainment.

    Manteo waterfront aerial view

    Some of that has to do with VUSIC OBX, the locally-owned music promotion company that has done an amazing job of bringing national acts to the Outer Banks. Just about every week during the summer they have managed to bring in some of the best talent around to play at Roanoke Island Festival Park (RIFP).

    From the time it opened more than 30 years ago, RIFP has been a part of the mix. In the past, there have been music festivals there, and it is an outstanding outdoor venue with a spectacular view of Roanoke Sound as a backdrop. But VUSIC has really upped the game by bringing in some amazing talent.

    Last year they closed out the summer season with Gov’t Mule featuring Warren Haynes and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. It was a spectacular show.

    Warren Haynes of Gov't Mule
    Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule

    This year has been every bit as good with shows that include among other artists, Travis Tritt, although the July 27 show sold out quickly.

    What is happening, however, in Manteo includes far more than RIFP.

    Driving into the town, the new College of the Albemarle building and campus is a good example of what can be accomplished when local leadership works with the state to create something special.

    COA Ribbon Cutting for New Dare County Campus
    Ribbon Cutting for the new COA Dare County Campus

    Across US64, which is the main road running through the heart of the town, on the west side of the highway, is the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum. It’s a small museum but important in teaching the history of our nation, for the Pea Island Lifesaving Station was the first US Lifesaving Service station to allow an African-American to be the supervisor. From the first time Ricard Etheridge took the lead in 1880 until the station closed just after WWII, the station was staffed exclusively by African American Lifesavers and then the Coast Guard when the Lifesaving Service became the US Coast Guard.

    Tshombie Selby performing at Juneteenth celebration at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum, Manteo
    Tshombie Selby performing at Juneteenth celebration at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum, Manteo.

    It is downtown though that makes everything seem like magic and there is a reason why the downtown area is looking as good as it does.

    Main Street America is a federal program that is administered through the state. It’s a pretty big deal. The purpose of the program is to work with the towns to preserve what they have and use that to market its charm and beauty. Or, as the Main Street website describes it, the program is designed to help “…through preservation-based economic development in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.”

    A great example of what the Main Street program is all about was the renovation of the Pioneer Theater.

    When Buddy Creef announced in December of last year that he had to close the Pioneer, there was fear that a real icon of Outer Banks life would be lost forever. The Creef family had operated a movie theater in Manteo since 1918 and had built the theater in 1934.

    The Basnights, another local family, bought the theater, but there was a lot of work to be done.

    Through the Main Street program, design work was provided by students at UNC Greensboro.

    The theater may be better than ever now. A recent show by Chairmen of the Board Featuring Ken Knox sold out on the Friday and Saturday that the group was in town, and the venue proved ideal for a show featuring the blend of Motown and beach music that the group performs.

    Chairmen of the Board at the Pioneer
    Chairmen of the Board at the Pioneer

    The theater is still showing movies as well. In a tribute to longtime Manteo resident Andy Griffith, the first movie shown was A Face in the Crowd, considered by many to be the actor’s finest performance.

    A Face in the Crowd was followed by Casablanca, and seeing what is considered to be one of the top five movies ever made on the big screen was a real treat.

    There is, though, more to the town than a rejuvenated theater and some great music. NouVines which opened last year is a great wine bar that features live music and a truly fun trivia night.

    There is more music in the waterfront area. Poor Richard’s, which is a wonderful sandwich shop, hosts musicians from time to time. It’s a tight fit in the bar, perhaps even intimate, but it is a great time.

    The centerpiece of the downtown area—waterfront and downtown are interchangeable in this case—is the Dare Arts building.

    At one time it was the Dare County Courthouse, and it is a beautiful brick building perfect for displaying art and supporting the arts in general. The downstairs gallery is filled with works by Outer Banks artists, and the upstairs, what was at one time the court, is a large open room that can host up to 70 or 80 people for an intimate performance or a special art show.

    One thing that has not changed and has always been special about Manteo is the First Friday celebration that occurs on, well, the first Friday of every month. The event has a wonderful street fair feeling to it with food vendors and live music.

    Just one more reason to check out Manteo.