Fifty years after Williams Lake opened to live bands, an eighth annual reunion set for August will mark a last hurrah to gather and reminisce about the times enjoyed at the local hotspot, and bid it a bittersweet farewell.
Event organizer Robert Honeycutt promises the biggest reunion yet and expects tickets will go quickly for the Aug. 15 Williams Lake Dance Club bash at the Agri-Exposition Center.
“In the beginning I was only going to do one concert,” said Honeycutt, “but it turned out to be such a success. We sold out in two and half days, 10 weeks in advance, for that first show. I was going to do just one, and now this is number eight. I just think it’s a good time to end it. I wanted to end it on a high note and go out on top.”
No expense is being spared for the final show, with The Impressions, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group that has sold over 60 million records, headlining the reunion along with N.C. Music Hall of Famers The Embers featuring Craig Woolard.
“Everyone I talk to is excited about The Embers and The Impressions, especially,” Honeycutt noted. “I just felt like we should go out on top together. The Impressions are going to draw people who have never been to one (of the reunions).”
A social and free pig picking will extend from 3-6:30 p.m. that day, with entertainment provided by The Imitations and DJ Robert Stroud of “Boogie Shoes Radio Network,” 1170 WCLN AM and 15-year-old recording artist Danielle Johnson also singing the National Anthem and a couple other selections. John Moore, of WNCT 107.9 FM, will serve as the master of ceremonies.
The headlining musical entertainment extends from 6:45 to 11 p.m.
Honeycutt spearheaded the first reunion in 2008 and the event has regularly sold out, as big names — the majority of which played Williams Lake during its heyday — have entertained a capacity crowd.
While it now stands vacant, Williams Lake was the place to be back in the day, boasting an incredible list of entertainers who played the venue, including Pieces of Eight, Buddy Skipper and The Jetty Jumpers, The O’Kaysions, The Majestics, The Tams, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, Jackie Wilson and many others.
Williams Lake was open from 1932 to 1970 off U.S. 13 in the Mingo Township and owned by the late Clayton and Lillian Williams. From 1932-36, it was a place where families would go swimming and picnicking. In 1936, a jukebox was hooked to a generator, a sign of things to come.
The place would stay open from Easter to Labor Day until Honeycutt took over, managing Williams Lake from 1965-69 and bringing in all those big names to rural Sampson.
“I don’t think we appreciated what we had,” said Honeycutt. “We got used to seeing The Tams and Maurice Williams. Who would’ve ever thought that Jackie Wilson would play out here in the woods of Sampson County, or The Platters? It was a heck of a lineup. We just didn’t realize — and we didn’t think to take pictures.”
With people getting older and no younger generation with a direct link to Williams Lake, Honeycutt knew the time was coming to wrap up the party. When last year’s event was less attended than the previous six — the annual event averages 650-strong and 2014’s event had less than 500 attendees — he saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to make the eighth go-round the biggest and best of the bunch.
Honeycutt said it will be a fitting tribute to a club that has a special place in the hearts and minds of many.
“It was just a special time even though we didn’t realize it. We realize it now and I think that’s one of the reasons this reunion has been such a big success,” he noted. “We didn’t know what we had back then. Now it means a lot more to us than it did back in those days. It was a special place.”
He praised the dedication and support by the many who have offered their time, expertise and resources to the event, especially those who bought tickets year in and out.
“I just wanted to thank everybody who’s been a part of it. It’s unbelievable the people that keep coming back. The 19 tables around that dance floor, I think two of them have been given up in seven years,” said Honeycutt. “I enjoyed putting on a show for them and I wanted to give them their money’s worth every year.”
Along with the response he gets from the old Williams Lake crowd, and the nostalgia, fellowship and good music the bash brings each year, Honeycutt said a large part of what has fueled the reunion over the years is the positive impact it has on the community.
The seven reunions have raised $45,000 for various charities and local community organizations.
That includes generous gifts to Relay for Life, the Sampson County Department of Aging, the Lions Club, the Shriner’s Childrens’ Hospital Fund, the Wounded Warriors Project, the Sampson County Meth Task Force, scholarship funds and other causes.
“It’s all gone to a good cause,” said Honeycutt. “I just feel good that I got great help, was able to do this and give the money away. From day one, it was a nonprofit.”
Additionally, he credited Ford of Clinton, Sessoms Jewelry, R.A. Jeffreys of Goldsboro, Select Bank and others who are sponsoring this year’s event, as well as Gerald Davis, who came up with the idea for a reunion. Honeycutt ran with that idea, but without the help of attendees, sponsors and those who offered their time and resources, it would not have been possible, he said.
“They are the ones who made it possible to give at least $45,000 to charities,” he remarked. “That’s one of the reasons I hate to give it up.”
When he was organizing that first reunion in 2008, some questioned whether a $40 ticket would get a lot of takers. Through the tireless efforts by Honeycutt, who sought to schedule quality shows while covering all his own expenses, there were plenty — and he’s hoping for many more to close out the final chapter.
“It’s been a lot of fun and I hate to bring it to an end,” said Honeycutt, “but it’s not going to go on forever and everyone appreciates what we’ve done. It’s been a good trip.”
Priority tickets go on sale this Tuesday, June 9, extending until Monday, June 15. Tickets are available to the general public on June 16. Tickets are $40, including the social and the show. A cash bar will be available.
For more information or to inquire about tickets, call Robert Honeycutt at 910-214-2858 or the Sampson Agri-Exposition Center at 910-592-7200. Those interested can also visit williamslakedanceclub.com or the “Remember Williams Lake” Facebook page.