The Southern Agenda: February/March 2013

Tom Bower
by Steve Russell - February/March 2013

Goings-on in the South & Beyond 

Delta Darlings

Greenwood, Mississippi, March 17-20
What kind of literary event mixes scholarly lectures and historic tours with juke joints and hot tamales? The Mississippi Delta Cultural Tour (March 17–20), naturally, an annual four-day book-analia that explores the writers, food, and lore of the region. Organized by the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the tour is based in Greenwood, where participants visit the Turnrow Book Company for a talk on William Faulkner, tour the prehistoric site of Native American ceremonial mounds, and eat supper at world-famous Doe’s Eat Place. Other highlights include a performance of scenes from Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, a visit to the plantation house where Williams’s screenplay Baby Doll was filmed, a lecture on homegrown author Walker Percy given by literary scholar Marion Barnwell, a stop at Cat Head Records, and a can’t-miss outing to Club Ebony, the Indianola blues club owned by that laureate of the genre, B. B. King.


They don’t call Mobile the Azalea City for nothing. The pure horticultural spectacle that is the Azalea Bloom Out explodes to life at Mobile’s Bellingrath Gardens and Home sometime between February and late March, depending on, well, when winter gets the heck out of the way. Some 250,000 azaleas in a dazzling riot of pinks, purples, and speckled whites thoroughly blanket a sixty-five-acre spread in an assortment of varieties, including Formosa, George Lindley Taber, Ms. G. G. Gerbing, and Pride of Mobile. Yeah, the names are pretty colorful, too.


Bentonville is best known as the hometown of the world’s largest retail chain, but the Ozarks town of 36,000 is gaining quite the reputation as an arts mecca, too. Just over a year ago, Walmart heiress Alice Walton opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, a sleek, world-class home to more than two thousand important works, including Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter and Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of Dolly Parton. Starting this March, visiting art lovers can stay the night in the brand-new 21c Museum Hotel, a 104-room boutique property just off the quaint town square that, like other 21c locations in Louisville and Cincinnati, also houses rotating contemporary art exhibits. After all that culture, discuss favorite works over dinner at the Hive, 21c’s new restaurant to be helmed by chef Matthew McClure, a Little Rock native. Expect an emphasis on High South cuisine with Arkansas ingredients such as black walnuts, hickory-smoked hams, fresh-milled cornmeal, and local sweet onions.


If you believe certain best-selling novels, dusty old manuscripts and maps can harbor shocking historical mysteries capable of unleashing the forces of good and evil. For the bookworm turned sleuth, the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair (March 8–10) at the St. Petersburg Coliseum is the place to kick off your next adventure. Of course, less intrepid collectors are also welcome at the Southeast’s oldest and largest antiquarian book festival, where more than 115 respected dealers offer rare books, antique maps, prints, autographs, ephemera, and more. Go ahead, seize that beautiful fifteenth-century illuminated prayer book. Looking for a signed Hemingway? Not a problem. But you don’t have to have a fat checkbook to uncover treasures here; there are plenty of spectacular deals on hand, too.


Atlanta foodies are already intrigued by the in-your-face name of chef Kevin Gillespie’s new restaurant, Gunshow, which the heavily tattooed former Top Chef contestant says is inspired by his rough-edged Southern upbringing. But when the doors open in March, talk will most likely shift to the innovative serving style, in which ordering from traditional menus is bypassed in favor of choosing from actual plates of Gillespie’s seasonal, rustic-to-refined creations when they are whisked from the kitchen to your table. So you can forget scrutinizing your neighbor’s dinner selections; with this tableside service the staff at Gunshow is eliminating guesswork. Buttermilk dumplings and foraged mushrooms? Looks good. Wood-grilled cobia with roasted banana? Yes, please.