From Home to Hollywood!

Kason Lester was a fixture on the last season of American Idol.

Yes, that American Idol. The televised talent show responsible for breakout artist-turned-superstars Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson.

Thousands of singers across the country tried out at open casting calls in hopes of making it on the small screen to be critiqued by Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan.

Kason made it, and despite the attention and newfound following, gives the glory to God, family, musical influences – and yes, his hometown.

  • AMERICAN IDOL - "208 (Showcase/Final Judgment)" - For the first time ever, "American Idol"'s iconic showcase round hits the road, heading to Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii, where the show’s Top 40 contestants take to the beach for incredible solo performances in front of a live audience and the superstar judge panel. Following the performances, it’s an emotional roller coaster in paradise as the judges sit down with each contestant to reveal their fate, culminating with the show’s Top 20 finalists. The search for America’s next superstar continues on The ABC Television Network, SUNDAY, MARCH 31 (8:00 - 11:00 p.m. EDT), streaming and on demand. (ABC/Karen Neal) KASON LESTER

Kason was raised in Lebanon, Tennessee – where his family operates Lester Farms. He discovered music at an early age. He’s always loved The Charlie Daniels Band and recalled his mom introducing him to the pop hits of Michael Jackson.

“I’ve wanted to create music and sing for as long as I can remember. I remember knowing that at 5-years-old. Growing up, I’d write songs and beats and guitar licks,” he said. “It wasn’t until I finally realized that nothing else was going to make me happy that I started really pursuing it. I ended up doing a complete 180 from what I was doing, built a recording studio in my apartment and decided to go to Belmont.”

In short, he started trusting that God would give him a path. He knows God also gave him a strong, supportive family. Kason is the son of Kevin and Teresa Lester and grandson of Bob and Fran Martin and Ken and Lynn Lester. His brother Mitchell started Lester Farms on Coles Ferry Pike.

“Their support is really what has allowed me to pursue music. I think most people go through some tough years growing up, trying to figure out what they want to do in life, as I did, and my parents stuck with me and believed in me the whole time – even when I didn’t believe in myself,” he said. “They even supported my metal band days and
would show up to my heavy metal shows in Nashville – even my Grandma!”

His family has watched American Idol since the show aired. Beginning in 2002, it was a hit on Fox for 15 seasons. “We’ve always love it and we used to have ‘Idol Nights’ watching it in the den,” he said. Last August, his cousin, Doug Corn, called to inform Kason that they were having open auditions in Chattanooga. After some convincing, Kason agreed to go try his luck.

“Mom and I drove down at 4 a.m. and I waited in the line of thousands of people until it was my turn. I played an original song and the producer loved it. The rest just kept rolling from there,” he said.

In October, Kason had the opportunity to play in front of the superstar judges. He commented that it was one of life’s coolest experiences.
This

“I received a ‘yes’ from all three judges and got my golden ticket to Hollywood,” he said. “I made it through all of the rounds in L.A. and was told I was going to Hawaii for the top 40.”

While in Hawaii, sitting on the beach, waiting to perform in front of Perry – Kason had a revelation. He was part of a national show – one he’s watched since childhood. “It’s surreal. The whole process was positive for me,” he said.

Kason said the exposure received from appearing on American Idol has been “mind blowing.”

“We’ve had people from all over the country come to the strawberry stand just because they saw us on American Idol. It’s opened up so many doors in the music business, as well. It’s given me the platform I need to make it a career,” he explained. “I thank God for the opportunity. I’m recording and writing music, playing shows – and this is just the beginning for me.”

Kason has played shows as far as Nebraska and is planning a tour this fall with his band.

“It’s an exciting time and a dream come true,” he said. Still, home will always tug at the rocker’s heartstrings.

“My hometown support has been a blessing. At my American Idol viewing party at the Capitol Theatre, there were so many teachers and people who have made a difference in my life, going all the way back to Mrs. Stephens – my kindergarten teacher,” he said. “Friendship Christian School has also played a big role in my life, giving me a strong environment to grow up in. I’m really thankful for it and for the people involved with it.”

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Moonlight & Magnolias…a look at the 2019 Phoenix Ball and Patrons’ Party

Since 1984, the first Saturday in June has always represented an evening of elegance, dancing, ballgowns, tuxedos, flowers, delicious food and a night of raising money to fund scholarships for the great students of Cumberland University.

By the time white tents start going up around campus, the Chairs and the Phoenix Ball Committee have spent months planning every single detail of one of Middle Tennessee’s premier fundraising events. Every detail, from choosing the theme and hiring the band to designing the invitations and curating the menu have been carefully planned to make sure the evening is perfect.

This year is certainly no exception as the 2019 Phoenix Ball Chairs, Scott & Kirsten Harris, worked hard to raise the bar. Kirsten Harris explains, “We wanted to give a nod to Southern Elegance while also keeping the evening relaxed and glamorous. That’s why ‘Moonlight & Magnolias’ was the PERFECT theme for our year!” Based on reviews and attendance from the evening, Kirsten was right. The 36th Annual Phoenix Ball presented by The Pavilion Senior Living set records across the board.

This year’s ball had the highest attendance to date with nearly 500 guests and raised a grand total of more than $350,000. “One of the Chairs’ primary responsibilities is securing sponsorships and corporate donations,” says Scott Harris, “but this year the excitement and momentum made our job easy. We sold out of existing sponsorships early so we created new donor opportunities in order to meet the demand from businesses who wanted to be part of this year’s event.! In total we had 42 sponsors and donors.”

The Phoenix Ball Committee is the driving force of the annual event. Alongside the Chairs, this group gives input and direction every step of the way. Without them, the Ball wouldn’t be possible.

Of course, the event’s success can also be contributed to the Silent and Live Auction. A very popular part of the night’s festivities, more than 100 items were donated this year from businesses throughout Middle Tennessee.

The Pavilion Senior Living Community was the Title Sponsor for the 2019 Phoenix Ball. This wonderful facility gives so much to our community. The Pavilion took the opportunity to announce their new development Cornerstone Place at the event.

The evening began with cocktails in a Baird Chapel while guest browsed Silent Auction items.

The Dallas Floyd Phoenix Arena was transformed into an elegant ballroom with white draped walls, chandeliers throughout, an English Oak dance floor surrounded by a garden fit for any Southern mansion. At 7 pm guests were seated to enjoy a delicious menu that included, Charleston Shrimp & Grits, classic Blue Cheese wedge salad, Filet of Beef Oscar with orange-glazed carrots and Gruyere Potato Tart. A dessert buffet featuring classic Banana Pudding, Red Velvet Cake, Lemon Bars and chocolate bourbon pie capped off the dining portion of the event. 

After an exciting live auction, the Bourbon and Bubbles Bar and photo booth opened while guests danced the night away to classic tunes performed by 12 South Band.

The Patrons’ Party has become the 2nd hottest ticket in Wilson County and is a wonderful wrap-up event to The Phoenix Ball. This year’s Patron’s Party was hosted by Eric and Deanna Purcell. With more than 100 guests, this year’s event also broke records. The Purcell’s home offered a perfect location for a chic garden party.

Upon arrival, guests enjoyed signature cocktails and champagne and were invited to commemorate the event in the photo booth.

Attendees were led to the beautifully landscaped pool area where they dined on classic southern fare including fried green tomato BLTs, hot chicken and waffles, mini crab cakes, and Strawberry shortcake while the sounds of Amanda June & Cole Vosbury played in the background. The evening was capped off by a magnificent fireworks display.

Proceeds raised from the 2019 Phoenix Ball and Patrons’ Party will go directly into Cumberland University’s scholarship program. This enables more students to benefit from the superb education offered by the university. To learn more or to be a part of next year’s event got to www.PhoenixBall.com

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River City Ball 2019

On a night like no other in Smith County, River City Ball hosted their second annual event on Saturday, May 11.

This second fundraiser raised money for worthy causes with the extra bonus of a great night out with friends in the beautiful venue of Main Street in Carthage, under the stars on the lawn of one of the most historic courthouses in Tennessee.

River City Ball planning committee member Erika Ebel said the non-profit organization was inspired by the famous Phoenix Ball in Lebanon.

“We wanted something similar for Smith County,” she said. “We wanted to raise money for causes and have it be fun and classy. Our original idea was to have the ball on the bridge, but our courthouse is a gorgeous backdrop and one of the originals in Tennessee.”

This year’s event was black-tie and for ages 21 and up.
“Attendees were encouraged to wear a masquerade-ball-type mask,” said Ebel. She explained the River City Ball began last year with proceeds benefiting a special cause and local scholarships to seniors at each of the county’s high schools.

“Last year a portion of the proceeds benefited the Carthage Junction Depot restoration project,” said Ebel.

This year a portion of the proceeds will benefit Smith County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) and county high schools.

“There are a lot of needs in Smith County,” said Ebel. “There are a lot of worthy causes, different causes.”

The board chose CASA because of the great need in the county and how much good the organization does for local children, explained Ebel. “We like to find organizations that do good and this recognition and donation will be a good vehicle for CASA, as well as raise awareness for what they do,” she noted.

On the night of the Ball, the historic court-house lawn and Main Street were transformed with a Phantom of the Opera type vibe. The big beautiful trees on the lawn were the backdrop for tents, a dance floor, lighting.

Guests walked a carpet and the band Naughahydes provided a mix of rock and bluesy music. There were silent as well as live auctions to keep the entertainment going all night.

The event was designed for guests to explore and move around the venue with a photographer on site for candids and vignettes where people posed throughout the evening.

Two Fat Men catered the linen table cloth dinner with dessert showcased with delicious strawberries donated by Catesa Farms. Think cheesecake and strawberry brus-chetta. Many sponsors including Citizens Bank supported the event and their cause.

The night was a marvelous success in the hopes of helping CASA in Smith County continue with their good works. And we can’t wait until next year!

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Town Square Social

Whether you’re looking for date night ambiance, award-worthy wings, or just a local place to have a brew – Town Square Social welcomes you.

Lebanon’s latest and coolest restaurant and bar, nested downtown next to The Arcade, is the brain-child of longtime friends-turned-business partners, Kyle Shaffer and Cody McCray.

  • Town Square Social owners, Kyle Shaffer and Cody McCray

Both men have a lengthy resume in the restaurant business. Shaffer, a graduate of Lebanon High School, spent 13 years with Corner Pub, while McCray, a graduate of Friendship Christian School, worked at Nashville’s historic Broadway honkytonk, Tootsies.

On their Sundays off, the guys would talk about someday opening their own place. Then they noticed the spot on the Lebanon Public Square.

In recent years, the Square has been more visible and vibrant than ever – thanks to the many businesses, including multiuse facilities like The Arcade and Capi-tol Theatre for example, who call it “home.” Lined with law offices, boutiques, antiques, hair salons and a coffee shop – the Square still lacked a sit-down restaurant.

“We saw the building and knew it was what we wanted. We wanted to keep the original design and not take away from the history of it. When it came together and the menu came together, we finally found our stride,” explained McCray.

Renovating the space took more than a year. The guys were careful to keep it true to its roots with exposed brick and hardwood floors which created a vibe that is both classic and cool.

They restored the front façade of the building to the original storefront and took part in the Main Street Façade Grant from the state of Tennessee.

Town Square Social officially opened for business on September 28, 2018. They said things are going very well in their first four months.

“We are selling a lot of food and a lot of drinks. The community has supported us. We couldn’t be happier, honestly,” said Shaffer.

Three of their most popular menu items are the burger, wings and fish and chips.

“Our wings are a best seller. People love them,” Shaffer added. “They are smoked, low and slow for six hours.

Most places fry their wings and are done in 15 minutes. Ours takes a long time to taste the way they do.”

Prior to smoking, the wings marinate for about 12 hours. Shaffer manages the restaurant during the day and McCray takes over at night.

“I hear a lot of comments about the food. ‘Those are the best wings I’ve ever had,’ is something I hear multiple times,” Shaffer said. “Shawn Smith (owner of The Jewelers in Lebanon) heard someone say their only complaint was it was so much food they needed a to-go box!”


McCray said one of the best reviews he’s gotten came from a producer out of Nashville.

“He was passing through town and someone told him to check out (our restaurant) on the Square. He liked it so much that he brought his girlfriend back on their fourth date here instead of someplace in Nashville,” McCray recalled. “I thought it was really cool.”

The gentleman is now in talks with Town Square Social to shoot a music video in their location.

Both men take pride in their work – and are very hands-on in managing the restaurant, working the floor and checking on guests.

“If there is an issue, (our guests) can reach out to us and we will do our best to make it right,” McCray said. Their latest addition is a drink menu.

“We have 10 cocktails that we have come up with. Those menus are getting printed right now. When you don’t have a menu, people are more apt to order a drink like Jack Daniels – because they recognize the name. Having a drink menu is a way to get those other great liquors and wines out there,” McCray explained. “We are looking to do off-site catering eventually.”

There is also some mystery surrounding the top loft space in the building. McCray and Shaffer teased that it could be used for live music and event space; however, remained mum for the mo-ment.

As Shaffer put it: “We are still working out some kinks.”

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Midway + mAGic = Memories. The Wilson County Fair is coming to town!

It’s getting so close. That time of year where kids relish getting to stay out late on school nights and testing their bravery by stepping inside steel contraptions with names like “crazy mouse” and “zero gravity.” While adults like to test the true effectiveness of Spanx by indulging in fried foods during those eight glorious days in August when the Wilson County Fair opens for business.

The fair is about more than rides and fried foods. In fact, the Wilson County Fair, like state and county fairs around the country, began as a way to provide a meeting place for farmers to promote local crops to the general public. Wilson County Fair Executive Director Helen McPeak says the hard work farmers and exhibitors put into what they do is evident. “There is nothing better than the feeling of working hard getting your cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses ready all year just to show your animal or reap the rewards of growing and exhibiting your own fruits or vegetables, or spend hours piecing and quilting and all the many other exhibits people can enter in the fair just for the satisfaction of competing and winning that blue ribbon.” McPeak continues, “It’s not all about winning, just participating, getting to know others in the competition and making friendships to last a life time.”

The Wilson County fair is bringing the AG front and center with this year’s theme; mAGic Memories. According to McPeak the theme is an essential part of the planning process. “We use a different ag commodity to help promote the fair each year. That’s why AG is capitalized in mAGic. We are celebrating the Year of Milk in 2018. Dairy farming isn’t easy. What better year to promote milk and the three dairy farms operating in Wilson County.”

There’s plenty of mAGic Memories to be had during the fair too. “It’s magic when people make going to the Fair family time. There have been wedding proposals made during the Fair, even weddings. People travel for miles and visit family and friends just to make their annual trip to the Fair.” McPeak adds.

Reithoffer Shows has been secured as the carnival ride provider this year. Reithoffer is the oldest traveling carnival company and only five generational family owned and operated show, which has the largest, most modern inventory and unique one of a kind rides in America. In business since 1896, this will be their first time in Tennessee. With more than 50 state of the art rides-including the 65-foot-tall Euro Slide, thrill seeking kids and adults shouldn’t be at a loss for entertainment on the midway.

More than 1,000 volunteers contribute nearly 80,000 hours making sure that each of the 150 events and exhibits is successful and fun. “These volunteers are committed, passionate, dependable and the best volunteers in the world. They are talented and creative and always thinking of ways to make their areas better and coming up with new ideas to make it different and better.”

2013 holds the record for highest attendance at 589,229. “If the weather cooperates, I’m sure we will have more than 500,000 and who knows, we might even break the 2013 record,” McPeak says with confidence.

 

enter Valuable info about the 2018 Wilson County Fair

Fair dates August 17-25 Admission: $12 Adults; $6 Children 6-12 years of age; FREE Children 5 and under
You can purchase adult tickets online before the Fair for $10 if you purchase before August 16. After this, admission is regular price. You can also purchase MEGA TICKETS online for $25 which includes admission to the Fair and ride armband. These are offered for a limited time before August 16 and will not be available after this date. You can visit the Fairs website at www.wilsoncountyfair.net to see the different discounts, pricing and check out what days different events are held so you can plan your visits. Season Tickets are $45 good for admission all 9 days of the Fair, which is a $108 value. The Great Give Away is a popular event during the Fair. $1,000 will be given away on the nights of Friday, August 17, Sunday, August 19, Monday, August 20, Wednesday, August 23, and Thursday, August 24 at the fair, but the car, truck or tractor giveaway will be held on Tuesday, August 21 at 8:30 pm. But get there early to get a seat in the grandstand. You must present the winning ticket at the drawing within the allotted time. 2018 Wilson County Fair is presented by Middle Tennessee Ford Dealers as the title sponsor. Other premiere sponsors include Bates Ford, John Deere, TN Lottery, Middle Tennessee Electric Corp, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Tennova, Coca-Cola, Lochinvar, Farm Bureau, Demos.

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She’s doin’ it!

By Becky Andrews

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or perhaps not on social media, you’ve probably heard her commentary on everything from CrossFit to sick kids. She’s Heather Land or you may know her as the “I ain’t doin’ it” lady whose hilarious commentary has gone viral. It all started in September when on a whim she sent her friends a short video of what she really thought of CrossFit. That video, enhanced with a clever Snap Chat filter, has garnered more than 20 million views and caught the attention of some pretty big names in entertainment like country music superstar Miranda Lambert. A few weeks and additional videos later, organizations from across the country began reaching out because they wanted this funny lady to entertain at upcoming events.
It’s been nearly six months since that first post. Since then, Heather and her two children moved to Wilson County.
Even though she’s got a very busy tour schedule and kid schedule, she made some time to sit down with Wilson Living and answer a few questions, so we could get to know our new neighbor a little better.

 

WLM:
Where are you from originally?
HEATHER:
“I’m from Milan, in West Tennessee. After I graduated from high school in 1994, I hopped around a little bit and
eventually wound up in Pensacola, Florida and started classes at a bible college. That’s where I met my ex-husband.”
WLM:
How long were you married?
click HEATHER:
“We were married for almost 15 years. We were in ministry for a long time. I was a worship leader and he was a youth pastor. We worked at a church in West Texas for 10 years. After our tenure in Texas, we moved to Colorado Springs where I wrote and produced an album. I started homeschooling my kids at that time too. After some international travel with the church, the bottom fell out of my marriage. And here we are.”
WLM:
Going through a divorce is hard enough, but as leaders in your church, did that make it even harder?
HEATHER:
“It’s hard when you’re in ministry. I don’t know if it’s people from the outside or ourselves that hold unrealistic expectations. Probably both. Your are held to a standard and we just couldn’t meet the standard.”
WLM:
What was the standard?
HEATHER:
“I think in my mind it was perfection. How stupid is that? You know the American Dream. You have it all together.
I think that’s part of the problem too. We appear to have it all together on the outside…”


source WLM:
But on the inside?
HEATHER:
“Everything’s a mess. No one can keep up that act. I think some looked at me and thought, “How can you minister
to other people when you are fractured?” If we love the Lord, we minister out of our brokenness. That’s what I’m
doing. I don’t consider myself broken emotionally, but my marriage was broken. And that seems to be doing me and the people around me more good than when I was ever pretending like I had it all together.”
WLM:
How did you make the leap from Heather to the “I ain’t doin’ it lady”?
HEATHER:
“I had tried CrossFit in the past and I think one day I had noticed one too many “CrossFit Check-ins” so I decided to record a video. I sent it to a group of my girlfriends and they said I should post it online. I mean if you can check-in every time your feet hit that Cross-Fit mat, I should be able to give my thoughts on why I can’t do it. It was all in good fun. I remember posting it and going to a meeting at church. Three hours later it had been shared 15,000 times.”
WLM:
Your fanbase is huge. What do you think the appeal is for your fans?
HEATHER:
“That’s weird to hear. “My fans”? I have fans? Anyway, I think it’s honesty. It’s very freeing to be yourself. It’s less
exhausting. When you become who you were meant to be, you discover that the only person holding you back was
the old you. I know for me, I love when someone is honest enough to show their brokenness; people who will look at your wounds and say, “I’ve been there too. But guess what? We’re going to be ok. That’s all we need in this world. To know we’re not alone.”
WLM:
Tell us what’s next for you? Also, how can our readers keep up with you?
HEATHER:
“I’ve got a pretty busy tour schedule. We’ve also got some exciting things in the works. The best place to keep up with me is on social media. On Facebook @iaintdoinit or my YouTube Channel @Iaintdoinit

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Dancing from LA to TN

Mileles bring their love for dance back home

When you grow up in a small town, it’s hard to dream big. Your vision can be tunneled and sectioned off, and all you can see is what that small town in Tennessee wants you to see. Your biggest dreams can be reduced to simply making ends meet while you pack away all childhood hopes of becoming a rock star. Or an actress. Or a professional dancer.

Meet Justin and Marissa Milele. Wilson County natives, Mount Juliet High School alumnus and living proof that it does not matter where you come from or what obstacles stand in your way, but that hard work and putting your mind to something is a lot of what it takes to make your dreams a reality.

Just like their parents, Mark and Jamie Milele, the siblings had the perfect Southern small-town life. Their parents were high school sweethearts before they settled down in the same town they met, their son was the hometown football star and their daughter happily cheered on the sidelines. William Faulkner would have been proud.

But small-town life isn’t for everyone, and at a young age, you could see that it wasn’t enough for the Milele siblings. So they threw themselves into what they loved doing — dance — and they worked, strived and accomplished turning what they loved into a career.

And now, at the ripe young ages of 22 and 24, with roughly 15-plus dance credits in music videos under their belts, a position on Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” tour, multiple guest spots on the show “Nashville,” a “So You Think You Can Dance” season and 70-city tour, a highlighted position in Ricky Martin’s current Vegas residency and faculty memberships with Revel Dance Convention, the Milele siblings have made it a mission to share their message of hard work and passion, along with all of the lessons they have learned in their respective careers, with the young dancers in the greater Nashville area.

Established in 2016, the Milele siblings, along with their parents, founded and created their own dance studio, appropriately named the Milele Academy. They have only been in the competitive dance circuit for a year now, but in that year, they have won countless titles — both nationally and at state level, more than 17 choreography awards and scholarships and major recognition from the dance community as a whole.

With the academy’s motto of, “Bringing LA to Nashville,” it is the Milele’s hope to bring all of their industry knowledge and talent to the local youth who are passionate about dance.

“I like to think that we can inspire young dreamers to do what makes them happy and to work hard to make it happen,” Marissa says. “Teaching has always been a passion of mine, and I feel I’m able to inspire young kids — especially in a small town — that you can do what you love for a career.”

Giving their dancers a competitive edge is what draws most students to the academy. Not only because both Justin and Marissa are established names with well-established careers in the industry, but because both Marissa and Justin are still incredibly involved in it.

The pair are constantly working toward their dreams, auditioning and training, with no signs of them slowing down anytime soon. They are constantly traveling all across the United States — sometimes together, sometimes solo — to set choreography for other studios, participate in the Revel Dance Convention as faculty, and take professional jobs — most recently with Marissa being a featured dancer performing beside Demi Lovato on “Good Morning America” — all with the promise to bring their lessons back home to their dancers.

It should be noted that while Marissa and Justin are absent, the learning, training and growth for the students is not put on pause for even a second. Their parents, Jamie and Mark, step up to the plate to tie off any loose ends while a scheduled round of professional dancers, choreographers, Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders, members of the Nashville Ballet, additional contestants from “So You Think You Can Dance,” personal trainers, motivators, up and coming performers such as Bobby Newberry and talent agents from Bloc Talent Agency visit the academy to coach, prepare and counsel the students for their future careers.

This type of training is completely new for most people in the area. While there are students in the academy who view dance as a hobby and there are classes associated with it, the main purpose of the academy is to give the students the foundation for success in what they love doing.

But even with all of this success with the academy in its first year, owning and establishing their own business wasn’t always on the Milele sibling’s radar. Understandably, this wasn’t their original goal.

Justin had plans to take his love for football to the college level, while Marissa wanted to focus on her own career as a professional dancer. But flexibility and answering the door when opportunity knocks is one of many lessons the Milele siblings pride themselves in.

“I had thought I was going to head to college first and play football, but then I decided at 19 that I would use my dance training to pursue what I felt I needed to do,” Justin says. “We knew we wanted to do something good for the community, and of course, once we started the academy and saw that our vision was working, it became an even bigger dream to help so many dancers pursue their own dreams.”

“It has meant absolutely everything to me to see young dancers gaining confidence,” Marissa adds. “I used to struggle a little with being myself, but in time, I’ve learned to become who I want to be. So when I see so many of our dancers come into themselves and believe that they have accomplished something, it is truly life-changing.”

Most of Milele Academy’s classes are held in and around the Nashville area, with a permanent dance studio soon to be located downtown on Church St. currently in the works. But wherever these young dancers are training, there is no denying the magic and growth that is taking place in each and every class.

And if there is any singular lesson that comes out of the Milele Academy, it’s that dreams are not indigenous to any location. They are no longer secluded to only New York City and Los Angeles. You can start anywhere, even in a small area like Wilson County. You can make a difference anywhere, even if it is only within yourself. And that is enough.

Milele Academy is located at 805 Woodland St. in Nashville. For more information, visit Mileleacademy.com.

Written By Isabella Roy

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Taking the Stage

Centerstage Theatre brings community together with classic plays

Watching a favorite play, book or movie come to life on stage can be a captivating experience that’s not easily forgotten. Now, residents can enjoy that right here in Wilson County thanks to Centerstage Theatre Company.

Created by Mitchell Vantrease and Brady Quisberg, the community theater gives locals a way to participate in and watch plays. Centerstage began its first season with “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2016, and they’ve performed others like “Steel Magnolia,” “Fences” and “The Odd Couple.”

Their next production is sure to be another that people won’t want to miss. They will perform “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Living Word Family Worship Center in Watertown May 12-14 and May 19-21.

Though published in 1960, this classic still rings true with audiences today — which is one of the reasons they decided to perform this play.

“The subject matter is still relevant,” says Vantrease, who will direct the play. “Set in the 1930s, you’d think that things had changed. Believe it or not, it hasn’t changed as much as people want to think.”

The storyline of a black man being wrongly convicted of raping a white woman especially hits home, with Lebanon’s Lawrence McKinney experiencing the same injustice. (McKinney spent more than three decades in jail but was cleared through DNA evidence and released in 2009.) So it seems fitting that Centerstage would dedicate their production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” to McKinney.

This production will feature their largest cast to date, including 20 local — and diverse — performers, says Marilyn Bryant, who is involved with marketing and outreach for the theatre.

“We want to keep the community and inclusive spirit of the company by putting on productions where the cast can represent many ethnicities and include real people who want to perform wherever possible,” Bryant says.

Their cast includes several who have never been on stage before, and people with any experience level are encouraged to join their group.

“For us, our goal is to make theater accessible for anyone. Most of our actors were first timers on stage, which is really fun,” says Quisberg, who enjoys mentoring them on the different aspects of acting and being in theater. “It’s a learning curve for everyone and a really fun process.”

Mitchell Vantrease was one of the stars of their play, “The Odd Couple.”

Quisberg caught the acting bug while living in Arizona, which is how he met Vantrease. The two were both involved in theater while living out West.

Vantrease — a Watertown native — eventually moved back to Wilson County to be closer to family. And in interesting turn of events, so did Quisberg and his wife Samantha, who is the assistant director for their upcoming play.

Back in the same state, the two started looking for ways to get involved with a local theater. When they didn’t find one, they decided to create their own — and that’s how Centerstage was born.

This theater truly is a community project, relying on different residents for help with sets, props, costumes and rehearsal space, says Vantrease, who has even created a few shows of his own.

He encourages people to give theater a try if it’s something they’re interested in. “It’s not just on stage: You can help with costumes, effects or stage-managing,” Vantrease says. “There’s something for everybody.”

“We encourage community members to come out,” Vantrease says. “The arts are really important — not just to those who participate but also for people who watch.”

They will be offering acting workshops and seminars for community members, as well.

After “To Kill a Mockingbird,” they’re excited to produce “Charlottee’s Web” — which will be their first all-children’s production. They’re looking forward to getting more youth involved, Vantrease says.

Whether young or old, they hope everyone will come out to one of their plays.

“For a lot of members of the community, the first time they go to a live theater show is when they come to see us,” Quisberg says. “It’s neat to see a story they know told a little differently and in person.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” will be at Living Word Family Worship Center, 3633 Popular Hill Road in Watertown. It will be at 7:30 p.m. May 12-13 and May 19-20, and there will be matinees on May 14 and May 21 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $12 for students and seniors and $15 for adults. Like Centerstage Theatre Company on Facebook for more information, and visit Brownpapertickets.com for ticketing information.

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The Strawberry Patch

How this barn sale got its start in Middle Tennessee

Barn sales have been catching on in other parts of the country, but it wasn’t until Christy Stone created The Strawberry Patch in Hartsville that there was one in Tennessee.

The Strawberry Patch Barn Sale is a staple of the Middle Tennessee barn sale aficionado. It is big, well curated and situated in a beautiful rural spot in the countryside of Trousdale County, an hour east of Nashville. It was listed as one of Country Living Magazine’s seven barn sales to visit in 2015 (that’s countrywide), and in February of this year, it was a Reader’s Choice pick in Flea Market Style Magazine.

Not only does The Strawberry Patch continue to be among the best, but it was quite literally the first of its kind in Tennessee.

“I started having them in my backyard in 2010,” Stone says. “I think I had three at my house in Lafayette. In 2011, we moved the sale to the farm, and that’s when it started to get bigger, quick. I think the first preview party I had in the backyard we had like 50 attendees. Now, we get between 2,000 and 2,500 per event. One year, we had about 3,500 shoppers, but we haven’t come close to that again. We have 40 to 60 vendors.”

This year’s Strawberry Patch spring market will be May 4 to 6 at 1272 Starlite Road in Hartsville. It will run Thursday 5 to 9 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Stone was inspired by some similar events that were becoming popular out in the Oregon and Washington areas. She met a woman named Gina Bishop who was selling at the Country Living Fair in 2009, and the Bishop inspired her with her aesthetic and her “you can do it” attitude.

“She had the cutest booth set up there, and I just wanted to meet her. She and I got to talking, and she was telling me that she had a barn in her backyard and would sometimes sell her own stuff there,” Stone recalls. “And she basically encouraged me. She didn’t know me from Adam, but she said, ‘What are you waiting on? Just do it!’”

In the first year of operating her own sale, Stone also took a scouting and inspiration trip to Washington to see the mother of all sales, called Barn House Boys, which she still says is the best she’s ever seen.

“Never have I seen anything remotely close to theirs,” Stone says. “Everything just flowed — everybody had the same look. I liked it because it was easy on the eye, though I realize people sometimes prefer some variety.”

Trendsetting in Hartsville

Most of Stone’s shoppers don’t come from the county this sale is held in. They come from Nashville, Hendersonville, Lebanon and other places. Vendors tend to return year after year, having been carefully vetted by Stone’s discerning eye. Still, she likes to have 10 or 15 new vendors every year.

“I know that shoppers want to see something different,” Stone says. “Although many want to come back and buy from those they know, people don’t want it to be the same show every time. It’s not easy on new vendors, because shoppers tend to buy from people they’re familiar with it seems like.

“When I’m considering a new vendor, I’ll look at how original it is — is it something new? You know, everybody wants to make signs, on pallets.”

However, she says she’s still surprised sometimes at what’s popular and sells.

“Some people really just love to buy a T-shirt that they’ve seen a dozen other women wearing. The average person is OK with wearing something that everybody else wears,” Stone says. “I have to remember that just because I wouldn’t wear something others are wearing doesn’t mean other people are that way.”

Fruit Tea Chicks

In addition to keeping up The Strawberry Patch, Stone’s new endeavor has her packing up and taking on the role of a vendor at other sales.

Fruit Tea Chicks is a simple booth with a simple concept: fruit tea from a secret recipe, served over ice with beautiful seasonal garnishes. People love it. Like with The Strawberry Patch, Stone seems to have found success just by packaging and presenting something that she herself was in love with.

“I just found an old diary entry from 2009,” she says, “where I was describing the barn sale and what I wanted to do, and I wrote that I wanted to sell my fruit tea there.”

There used to be a little restaurant and shop in Hendersonville where she would go and sit and read, enjoying their sandwiches and fruit tea. This was a big part of her life back when the sale was in the early stages. Many of the artisans she recruited to her first events were contacts she made at the little restaurant and shop, which was run by friends of hers.

But in the past few years, when she decided to make fruit tea into a business, she brought her own recipe into her home kitchen and started working on it until she felt she had something unique and inimitable, something truly her own. She planned for the Fruit Tea Chicks to be a little business that her teenage kids (Chloe, 14, Kailen, 13, and Stone, 11) could get involved in.

So far, it’s been a success. She recently sold 150 gallons of fruit tea in a weekend — one cup at a time.

Having done a year’s worth of events as a vendor, she’s now taking the Fruit Tea Chicks to another level: She bought a camper and is going to put the whole operation in there. As of now, she says setup can take about four hours — bringing in heavy coolers, carting gallons of premade tea and ice and setting up a tent. Once the camper is set up and everything installed, not only will she be able to set up and tear down quickly and make sales directly from the camper window, she’ll be able to make the tea onsite: a huge time saver.

It seems clear Christy is the kind of dreamer we’d all like to be. She can manage both ends of the creative process: picture something fabulous and actually get it done.

There’s no telling what that kind of a spirit will accomplish in the future.

For more information on The Strawberry Patch, check out their Facebook and Instagram pages, or visit Thestrawberrypatchtn.com.

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Homegrown Shopping

Watertown Mile Long Yard Sale celebrates three decades

What started out as a way to bring attention to local businesses and revenue to the city has now turned into one of the most popular events in the state, drawing nearly 20,000 visitors and more than 100 vendors from across the country. And on April 22, the Watertown Mile Long Yard Sale (MLYS) turns 30. That’s 30 years of bringing treasure seekers, young and old, to the city so many love to call home.

In 1987 (its inaugural year), the Watertown Mile Long Yard Sale included a few dozen vendors along a one-mile stretch of Main Street. This year, event coordinator and owner of Jim’s Antiques on the Square, Jim Amero, expects more than 130 vendors to set up shop along two miles of city streets.

As it turns out, Wilson Living has a close connection with the event. Co-founder Angel Kane’s mother-in-law, Nell Kane, along with Jackie Chitwood organized the very first MLYS in 1987.

With the spring sale just weeks away, Amero says everyone is preparing for what they hope will be the biggest MLYS to date.

“After being cooped up all winter, people can’t wait for the sale,” Amero says. “It’s a great excuse to get outside.”

From antiques, collectibles, furniture and dishware to fresh garden produce, homemade jams and jellies, there’s something for everyone. Perhaps even more interesting than the “treasures” are the people you will meet along the way.

“When you bring out thousands of shoppers and more than 100 vendors to an event, you are going to see some unique items and the stories behind them are even more unique,” Amero says.

With just a few vendor booths available for the upcoming spring sale, Amero is already fielding calls and taking reservations for the fall sale scheduled for Oct. 7. It might be a little hectic, but Amero wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The Mile-Long Yard Sale is great exposure for us. It’s a chance to introduce ourselves to new people. We don’t offer a put-on ‘come back again.’ We really want you to come back. And it’s another way to show our town off,” he says.

On April 22, as you stroll past vendors, you will be privy to incredible stories related to the individuals and the items they sell. While there’s no shortage of serious shoppers, most come to see the unusual and socialize. It is Americana at its best.

For more information, contact Amero at 615-237-1777 or visit Watertowntn.org.

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