Crowds out to greet ‘Moonshiners’ at store opening

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 9, 2013

SALISBURY — Traditionally, moonshiners kept a low profile when selling illicit whiskey in the rural South.
You’d have a hard enough time catching one, let alone asking for his autograph.
Saturday, four men from the Discovery Channel’s “Moonshiners” TV show made the trip from near Danville, Va., for an appearance at the grand opening of Salisbury Power Equipment on South Main Street.
Shelby Smith, wife of cast member Tim Smith, said previous public appearances have drawn “between 700 and a thousand.”
Organizers estimated that between 3,000 and 3,500 came out during the six hours the “Moonshiners” cast were signing autographs at the store.
Lee Withers, territory manager for equipment manufacturer Husqvarna, said the company arranged to bring the “Moonshiners” cast members to town.
Withers, also mayor pro tem of China Grove, said that on a scale of one to 10, the turnout was “like, an 18.”
Even after agreeing to extend the signing for an hour, Withers said, there were still so many people in line at 4:30 p.m. that they had to turn some away.
But, he said, the cast members did come outside to shake hands and sign as many autographs as they could before the doors were shut.
“We had people waiting on us when we got here at 8 a.m.,” store owner Chris Biesecker said, standing in the parking lot around 12:30 p.m.
“You can’t even walk in there right now,” he said.
For a good part of the morning and afternoon, the line snaked through the store, out past a line of lawn mowers and equipment, down to the road and along the sidewalk.
By the time Mark and Cheree McDaniel and daughter Maddy got their autographs, they said, they’d been in line for nearly two hours.
But they didn’t care about the wait. “It was worth it to see Tickle,” said Maddy, 9. “He’s funny and silly.”
Tickle, Tim Smith, Howard and J.T. are one team of moonshiners from Virginia featured on the show, which will be entering its third season.
They drove down just to appear at Saturday’s event.
“It’s a good day,” said Tickle, as the last of the autograph-seekers made their way through the store a little after 5 p.m.
The “Moonshiners” stars said they’d gotten a good welcome in Salisbury.
Tim Smith said the group enjoys seeing fans at events like this.
“Without the fans, we’re nothing,” Smith said. “This gives you that feeling of appreciation.”
They spent the day signing photos, T-shirts, flasks and other memorabilia.
Ashlie Bickford showed up with husband Kyle, but didn’t have anything for the guys to sign.
So Bickford, who said she’s seven months pregnant, asked the men to sign her tummy.
They said they’re fans of the show. “Just the history of it,” Kyle said.
As for the autograph, “We’re going to take pictures of it,” Ashlie said.
Scott Trull, of Monroe, drove up with friend Brian Haigler, of Mint Hill.
They’ve been watching “Moonshiners” since the very first episode, Trull said.
“It’s actually good, clean entertainment,” Haigler said.
The cast members stepped off the stage at one point to greet Gene Walker, of Concord.
Walker, 77, said he grew up in Morganton.
“I’ve witnessed most of the things they (the “Moonshiners” cast) have done,” he said.
“I was born into the moonshine business. I can relate to it, I know what they’re talking about,” Walker said.
Many said they came to see one or more of the personalities, especially Tickle.
But Sherry and Larry Hudson, who came up to buy a trailer to haul their motorcycles, had no clue.
“We didn’t even know Tickle and them was here!” Sherry said. “I called my daughter and told her.”
“I’d love to be able to wait and get a picture made with them, but we can’t,” Sherry said.
Biesecker said he was glad for the turnout, saying it made him feel he’d made “the right choice” for the audience he’s trying to reach.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.