The Southern Agenda: August/ September 2013

Tim Bower
by Steve Russell - August/September 2013

Goings-on in the South & beyond 

Long Live the King

Memphis, Tennessee, August 10–17
You don’t have to cultivate pork-chop sideburns to feel a connection to Elvis. Sixty years since the skinny teenager with a funny name walked into Sun Studio and turned a raucous new music into a global phenomenon, the King of Rock and Roll remains as much a part of Southern DNA as grits and greens. And there’s no more satisfying way to scratch the Elvis itch than by joining 40,000 fans (of all dedication levels) on a pilgrimage to the annual Elvis Tribute Week in Memphis. Naturally, the epicenter of official events is Graceland, where a main stage shows Elvis movies, and the famous gates open at dusk on August 15 to accommodate a legion of candlelight vigil participants. At the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, twenty-eight top impersonators go pompadour-to-pompadour to determine which rockabilly or jumpsuit-era Elvis most convincingly channels the King. This year, at the Orpheum Theater downtown, catch a fortieth anniversary enhanced screening of Elvis’s Aloha from Hawaii concert—regarded as the most watched broadcast by a single entertainer in television history. Round out your itinerary with stops at unofficial landmarks such as Lansky Brothers clothing store or divey Broadway Pizza, where memorabilia-
covered walls bear testament to the claim that “Elvis ate here.” Because in Memphis, Elvis never really leaves the building.

Each year, Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival (August 23–25) draws 10,000 film enthusiasts into the world of independent cinema. This year, though, organizers are sharpening the focus as the fest joins forces with 50 Years Forward, the community-wide commemoration of Birmingham’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement. Sidewalk kicks off with simultaneous screenings of Spike Lee’s 1997 Oscar-nominated documentary 4 Little Girls—chronicling the tragic 16th Street Baptist Church bombing—in as many as a hundred venues and places of worship across town. Of the two hundred other films set to screen, nearly twenty are part of the regularly scheduled human rights collaboration with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute—double the amount shown last year. Each is accompanied by an in-depth panel discussion. In another stroke of community synergy, Birmingham Restaurant Week overlaps the festival and offers prix fixe deals at top local restaurants. Beats popcorn and a soda.

Set to an excellent sound track, the Fayetteville Roots Festival (August 22–25) offers a concentrated dose of a lot of what’s best about this Ozarks college town—from the land’s natural bounty and beauty to the music scene’s gritty folk sound. The festival showcases an Americana-heavy lineup of national acts such as the Del McCoury Band and Arkansas native Iris DeMent, plus up-and-coming troubadours, including Joe Pug and the Honey Dewdrops, and plenty of local favorites such as 3 Penny Acre and Carter Sampson. Performances take place everywhere from the Walton Arts Center and the public library to a handful of clubs and listening rooms—even the city farmers’ market. When hunger strikes mid-show, forgo the concession stands; local chefs source ingredients from area farms to turn out creative snacks like free-range chicken wings with nectarine hot sauce, stuffed shiitakes, and lamb kebabs with goat cheese sauce. With all that and more, there’s a whole lot to cheer for in Fayetteville—outside Razorback Stadium.

If left deep in the Everglades amid gators, bobcats, and black bears, most of us would heed instinct and scramble straight up the nearest cypress. But not the celebrated Florida environmental photojournalist Carlton Ward Jr. The stunning wildlife portraits he captured last year as part of a hundred-day, 1,000-mile expedition through the Everglades and Okefenokee wetlands present perhaps the most compelling argument possible for preserving our untamed places. The resulting exhibit, Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: The Photographs of Carlton Ward Jr., will be on display throughout the Oxford Exchange marketplace in Tampa from September 2 to October 26. Need further proof that the lensman remains in one piece after his reptile-ridden journey? Stop by on September 19 to hear Ward speak about his Everglades adventures in person.


What could be finer than a bike ride through the Athens countryside in early fall? How about a bike ride with pit stops for fresh snacks along the way? Athens Food Tours’ next Agro Cycle Tour (September 15) is a forty-five-mile meander that includes ride-throughs and tastes at organic poultry producer Darby Farms and vegetable growers Foster-Brady Farm and Whippoorwill Hollow Farm. (For those who prefer four wheels to two, there’s also a driving option.) The grub depends on what’s ripe and ready, but expect menu items along the lines of mini tomato sandwiches and deviled eggs. Since cycling is a real calorie burner, take full advantage of the final stop—a field-fresh pizza party at the Your Pie mobile oven alongside a pop-up farmers’ market, where participants can stock up on the goods they’ve sampled that day. Ride to eat, eat to ride.

Even with big-name national musicians on the marquee, the real stars of the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville are the four-legged ones in the ring at the American Saddlebred World Championship Horse Show (August 18–24). The ultimate show horse, the saddlebred is descended from breeds that were brought over from the British Isles, cultivated in colonial America, and later crossed with Thoroughbred imports. Known for athletic ability and elegant form, saddlebreds were widely trusted as officers’ mounts during the Civil War. But you don’t have to bone up on equine history to marvel at the 2,000 sleekly groomed steeds, which compete in divisions including five-gaited, harness, and roadster for more than $1 million in awards.

A food-focused gathering in New Orleans might seem like a redundant concept, but the inaugural Farm to Table International Symposium (August 2–4) aims to stimulate the taste buds and the brain. Produced by the good folks at the Southern Food and Beverage Institute (SoFAB), the sprawling event corrals journalists, policy makers, chefs, restaurateurs, and average foodies for discussions on sustainability and food security. Outside, a food lover’s paradise brings the ideas to life, with demos by star chefs and mixologists (including Dale DeGroff, aka King Cocktail), an opening gala featuring the best of New Orleans’ food and drink, “Film Feast” screenings of food-related movies and documentaries, chef-curated dinners, and culinary tours. Come for the education, stay for the étouffée.