Since 1981, Raleigh’s Crape Myrtle Festival has worked to support and give back to the community and those affected by and living with HIV/AIDS. In almost 30 years of service, the organization has raised over $1 million dollars for area charitable organizations.

Despite the tough economic climate, this year’s organizers say they’ll be working hard to see that the festival is a success. With the help of featured entertainer Leslie Jordan, organizers will likely meet their goals.

This year’s chair, Ron Stephenson, says he first got involved when his friend, Kevin Colgan, signed up to be chair of the 2008 event. At the end of last year’s festival, he was asked to chair the operations for the next year.

Stephenson says he’s excited to be able to honor the past of the festival while moving into the future.
“The festival started off outside and it was moved inside many years ago,” Stephenson says. “I’ve heard so many different people say they wished it was still outside and that they had more time to socialize.”

Stephenson is helping to make those wishes a reality. In a departure from recent events, the Crape Myrtle Gala will be split between entertainment and food inside Raleigh’s All Saints’ Chapel and a silent auction outside.

“I was going to try to incorporate all that into one gala,” he says. “If you want to be outside, you can be outside. If you want to attend the performances inside, you have time to do that, too.”

Leslie Jordan in the Triangle

Drag Bingo
Benefiting the Alliance of
AIDS Services-Carolina

When: July 31, 6 p.m.
Where: Durham Armory
220 Foster St.
Durham, NC 27701

Tickets: $17
Tickets can be purchased at several
locations around the Triangle.
Check for ticket
outlets, or call 919-834-2437, ext. 21 to reserve your seats.

Crape Myrtle Festival Gala
Benefiting area HIV/AIDS
service organizations

When: Aug. 1, 7 p.m.-11 p.m.
Where: All Saints Chapel
110 S. East St.
Raleigh, NC 27601

$35 in advance
$45, at the door
Tickets can be purchased at and at Raleigh stores White Rabbit and Passage Consignment (cash only).

Stephenson says the economy hasn’t had too much of a negative impact on fundraising or planning, although individual donations have been down.

“Our host party this year, which is one of our larger events, did not have as many hosts this year, even though we actually lowered the host levels,” he says. “We did not see as many hosts as we have in the past.”

Corporate sponsorships, Stephenson says, have helped to make up for the difference.

“We’ve been fortunate that we have had a lot of great companies donating products and services for us, like the caterers, the flowers, stages,” he says. “More companies have really done things that I thought wouldn’t be possible. Going into this, I was afraid that we’d get no donations.”

Skyy Vodka, Fleurtations Weddings & Events, The Mint, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, Food Lion, The Independent Weekly and Q-Notes are among several sponsors, also including nightlife venues Legends, Steel Blue and The CC.

Recent events held to support the upcoming Crape Myrtle Gala included two June events at Flex and a July fundraising night at The CC, both in downtown Raleigh. The group has also held several parties, including a “CMF Idol” at Durham’s Steel Blue.

About Leslie Jordan
In 1982, Leslie Jordan stepped off a Greyhound bus from the hills of Tennessee, said “hello” to Hollywood and has never looked back. With hundreds of television shows, films and commercials to his credit, he has become a familiar face on the entertainment scene.

Jordan is the 2006 Emmy Award Winner for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his delicious portrayal of “Beverley Leslie” on “Will and Grace.” Television audiences will also remember him for his recurring roles on “Privileged,” “Ugly Betty,” “Boston Legal,” and “Reba.”

Feature film audiences will recognize Jordan from his performance as “Brother Boy” in Del Shores’ adaptation of his play “Sordid Lives’” with Olivia Newton-John, Delta Burke and Beau Bridges. He is reprising the role in the television series based on the play and film for the cable network Logo. Other upcoming feature film appearances include “Love Ranch” in a wonderful scene with Helen Mirren directed by Taylor Hackford.

On stage, Jordan won the Ovation Award, The Garland Award and The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his portrayal of “Preston Leroy,” the aging, sodden barfly in Del Shores hit play “Southern Baptist Sissies.”

Jordan has enjoyed considerable success as a writer. His book “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet” for Simon and Schuster is currently in bookstores. Material from the book formed the basis of a 90-minute one-man show, which had a successful 45 city book-signing/performance tour in 2008.
— Biography adapted from Jordan’s official website,

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.