The swing state that helped sweep President-elect Donald Trump to victory will celebrate the inauguration with Carolina-made moonshine and networking. And don’t forget the biscuit bar.
The once-every-four-years inauguration is centered on the new president. But in Washington, the after-parties and balls timed with the event draw hype long after the main stage is rolled away.
The North Carolina State Society, a nonpolitical D.C.-based group, will host its annual inauguration black-tie event Jan. 21, bringing together N.C. businesses, the state’s congressional delegation, state officials and other guests.
They come for the music – courtesy of Greensboro-based band the Black and Blue Experience – and the elbow-rubbing with Washington influencers. Organizers expect around 1,000 attendees at Washington’s waterfront Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.
The event is a popular one with North Carolina-based businesses.
“It never hurts to know people. Especially, if you meet people in a friendly social environment. That’s always much better if you have to ask for something later,” said Jamie Bartholomaus, owner of Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem.
Foothills is a sponsor of the N.C. Inaugural Ball and will be offering up four of its most popular brews for the party. The beers will be delivered through Foothill’s usual distributor in the Washington and northern Virginia areas.
While the brewing company has a physical presence only in Winston-Salem – home to a brewery/tasting room and a separate downtown brewpub – its beers are available year-round on draft and in retail stores in five other states plus the District of Columbia.
“Beer is all about local. We’re not local in D.C. Really the main focus is to tie in the community there,” Bartholomaus said.
Foothills has been a vendor at smaller events in the area but the upcoming ball is the biggest it’s participated in so far in Washington.
“Generally we stay out of the political realm,” Bartholomaus said. “But everybody drinks beer – whether you’re Democrat or Republican.”
Other North Carolina vendors contributing to the event are more experienced with the epicenter of American politics.
The Identify Yourself marketing and promotional items business in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, has worked with the state society operating in D.C. for several years. For this year’s inaugural ball, owner Alex LeFever said, they have several surprise items for guests made to fit the presidential atmosphere. In years past, the group has delivered customized Washington ball invitations, mason jar party favors, T-shirts, napkins and stadium cups for N.C. State Society events.
LeFever said he appreciated the business even though the event was nearly 300 miles away.
“I wish more people would buy locally. It keeps us in business,” he said. “It’s important to the economy to keep those dollars in the state.”
Besides direct business, the inaugural ball helps raise the profile of North Carolina businesses, said Scott Maitland, president of the North Carolina Distillers’ Association.
Maitland opened the Tar Heel State’s first distillery, TOPO Organic Spirits, in 2008 in Chapel Hill. By the middle of 2017, he said, the state expects to be home to 70 distilleries: makers of gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, moonshine and more.
It’s Maitland’s first time attending an inaugural ball but he’s not new to politics: He was Florida campaign manager for presidential candidate Ross Perot in 1992. For the inaugural ball, he’s invited all N.C. distilleries to send bottles of craft-made spirits to display and provide as samples.
“I think it’s really neat for the policymakers,” he said. “And it’s nice for folks to get a real taste of Carolina and to know that we are truly making world-class spirits here in North Carolina.”