Southern Agenda

What’s Happening in the South

Events in December and January across the region


Textbook Hospitality

Auburn University can certainly brag on its alumni—Bo Jackson and Apple CEO Tim Cook are just a couple you may have heard of. And at this very moment, future big-time hoteliers and marquee chefs just might be honing their chops at the newly opened—and booking up fast—Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, the learning lab for the School of Hospitality Management. “It’s extraordinary to see the students in their white chef coats and in their jackets in service, coming in and out of the teaching kitchen,” says Hans van der Reijden, the CEO of Ithaka Hospitality Partners, which runs the commercial side of the 142,000-square-foot space that includes the fine-dining restaurant 1856 (a nod to the year of Auburn’s founding), as well as the boutique Laurel Hotel & Spa, a coffee roastery, and a food hall. At 1856, freshmen and sophomores execute the à la carte lunch menu and work the dining room, while juniors and seniors handle the evening tasting menu. The chef in residence, Tyler Lyne, oversees the kitchen and harvests lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs from the rooftop gardens. Says van der Reijden: “We’re already seeing an incredible sense of pride from the community—we booked five hundred tables in one hour when we opened reservations,” adding that visiting alumni often bunk in the hotel for home games. “And on non-football weekends, I see a lot of local area codes on that reservation list.”


Design in Mind

Just about anyone who’s anyone knows about the fashion hubs of Milan, New York, Miami, and…Bentonville? Yes, the midsize Arkansas city has stitched itself into the style scene with a first-of-its-kind exhibition on the power of American design through the decades. “There are tremendously important opportunities to tell new stories about American fashion,” says Austen Barron Bailly, the chief curator at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, “and we wanted to seize that opportunity.” Crystal Bridges’ new show Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour (through January 30) displays ready-to-wear and couture clothing and accessories that have shaped American—and worldwide—style. A “rhinestone cowboy” Nudie suit, silk Hollywood gowns, and beaded high-heeled sneakers by the Native American artist Teri Greeves share space with garments by Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, and designers who are belatedly getting their due, such as Ann Lowe, the Black designer from Alabama who created Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic wedding dress in 1953.


Old-School Cool

Strolling through Ocean Reef Club, a luxurious private community in Key Largo, during its annual Vintage Weekend (December 1–4) feels like a trip back to glitzy yesteryear. Glossy wooden runabouts and yachts dock at the crystal blue marina; antique Bentleys, Model Ts, Thunderbirds, and GTOs mosey down the palm-lined streets; and 1950s military turboprop planes buzz above. With a few ticket packages available to nonmembers, it’s one of the rare times the public can hobnob in the private club, and costume parties, cocktail hours, parades, and nighttime aerobatic air shows performed by retired fighter pilots keep the entertainment rolling all weekend long. “The people exhibiting are collectors,” says Kyle Landers, the club’s director of member events. “When they were younger, they were collecting baseball cards; now they’re collecting cars or boats. Even if you’re not interested in cars, you can have a forty-five-minute conversation with a collector about why they chose this certain vehicle and the history of it, and you suddenly become hooked.”


Well Seasoned

That blissful man standing beside the opulent cheese, bread, and Ossabaw-hog ham display at Holeman & Finch’s cheese bar in Atlanta? That’s the hometown hero, chef Linton Hopkins: a James Beard Award winner, sure, but also a guy so passionate about food and community, he leaves the kitchen to hand out lagniappe slivers from the dining room’s magnificent fifty-five-pound wheel of Montgomery cheddar at every opportunity. This is the scene he’s setting at the beloved public house’s new location, designed by Hopkins’s wife and partner, Gina, in Atlanta’s Colony Square. (The original has been winning hearts farther up Peachtree Street since 2008.) Hopkins isn’t aiming to invent or redefine. His menu resurrects, preserves, and celebrates historic dishes, from sack sausages to the Crunchy Gentleman (a.k.a. croque monsieur, s’il vous plaît). “I love that timelessness of who we are,” Hopkins says. “And that doesn’t mean living in the past. I think it’s a beautiful future.”


After the Flood

In late July in Eastern Kentucky, the waters of a historic flash flood took at least forty lives, damaged countless buildings, and washed away priceless possessions. “We watched as the water rose and rose, just wondering how high it was going to go,” says Meredith Scalos, a director at Appalshop in Whitesburg. Since 1969, the media arts and education center—along with other cultural hubs like the Hindman Settlement School, open since 1902—has preserved the faces and voices of Appalachia. That day, Appalshop’s radio station, theater, and archives sat under six and a half feet of water; at Hindman, the archive room was breached and soaking. Volunteers and staff jumped to action, hanging 35-millimeter slides on clotheslines to dry and packing damaged items in freezers to suspend decay. Some treasures survived: a table by the prolific chairmaker Chester Cornett; handmade dolls by the Kentucky writer Verna Mae Slone; a quilt donated by a family of Black coal miners; 1920s photographs of teens square-dancing. Thousands more items are currently being conserved by volunteers and partners across the country. “We’ll be recovering from this for years,” Scalos says. She recalls an apple tree outside the main building. “It was totally underwater, but after the flood receded, it somehow still had its apples. When we saw those apples, we thought, we are still here. We can emerge from this, too.”;


Snipely the Best

Snipe hunting in South Louisiana is no fool’s errand. Wilson’s snipes are real birds, a migratory species that’s as tough to hit as a dove twisting into a cornfield. Think of a woodcock that relishes marsh and muck instead of tangled thickets, and you’ll have the picture. It is lauded for the table and cherished as quarry that takes little more than hip boots and a shotgun to pursue (the season runs November 2–December 4 and December 17–February 28). Unlike deer hunting, which is often a solo endeavor, says Ben Duplechain, wetland bird specialist for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, “snipe hunting is more of a social gathering. Most hunters go out in groups of three or four, walking to push the birds out of the marsh. It’s more of a get-together with friends and family, to flush a few birds and have a good time.” He adds that snipes resemble other shorebirds, such as dowitchers, and “correct I.D. is important when hunting, as many other shorebird species are not legal to harvest.” A hot spot for top-notch snipe habitat is the 44,000-acre Sherburne Wildlife Management Area, within the Atchafalaya Basin between Lafayette and Baton Rouge.


Surf and Turf

During winter weekends in Maryland, hungry crowds fill catering halls, church basements, and VFW lodges for bull and oyster roasts, regional celebrations with ties to Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. The spreads feature pit beef cooked over a charcoal grill that’s sliced to order and served alongside trays of Chincoteague oysters and other regional seafood. Historically, politicians hosted bull and oyster roasts on the Sunday before Election Day, explains Baltimore Sun columnist and city native Jacques Kelly. “They would use seafood as a way to get their constituents out to vote.” Now primarily charity fundraisers and neighborhood shindigs, the events pack the calendar from November through March. If you want to join a celebration, check calendar listings when the weather turns cold. “It’s not stuffy,” says Wayne Resnick, president of Martin’s Caterers, which has four locations and has hosted thousands of the events since his father founded the company in 1964. “It’s just a real lot of food.”


Stars Upon the Highest Bough

Hole-punched paper snow drifts down from the hands of vocalists, adding to the homespun holiday vibe at Belhaven University’s Singing Christmas Tree. Known as “the longest running singing Christmas tree in the world,” this Jackson tradition has been rooted in Yazoo clay since 1933. On the first Friday and Saturday of December, the capital city resounds with “Jingle Bells” and other seasonal classics as a thirty-five-foot riser built in the shape of an evergreen tree stands tall in Belhaven Bowl Stadium, the school’s football field. One hundred singers—community members, Belhaven students, faculty, and alumni—fill the stands. Choir members don robes etched with sparkles, reflecting the lights from the candles they hold. Spectators’ favorites include “Let It Snow” and “O Holy Night,” the latter performed by a soloist perched at the top of the tree. “The audience is as important as the tree itself,” director Tim Walker says. “It is a beautiful dance between the audience and the vocalists that I get to feel as a conductor.”

North Carolina

A Magical Gingerbread Village

Many of us who have tried constructing a gingerbread house have imagined a candy manor and ended up with more of a sugar shack, gloopy icing seeping out of cockeyed cookie walls. But competitors at the Omni Grove Park Inn’s Thirtieth Annual National Gingerbread House Competition in Asheville elevate their designs to soaring architectural heights. “It is not fair to call them gingerbread houses,” says the North Carolina chef and James Beard Award nominee Ashleigh Shanti, a judge at this year’s competition. “They are phenomenal. You are essentially walking into this fantasy wonderland where people’s dreams and imaginations have come to life.” Bakers from around the world gather at the grand hotel, lining sweet rooftops with cherries and piping icing along candy-cane doorframes, hoping to strike the perfect balance of creativity and craftsmanship to transform ingredients into artworks. Last year, the Merry Mischief Bakers, a group from Arizona and California, took home the grand prize with their entry, Christmas ’Round the World, an elaborate cookie-and-candy carousel encircled with cheerful fondant elves atop animals representing the seven continents, such as pandas, toucans, and turtles. Shanti and her fellow judges award the winners on November 21, but the entries will remain on view until January 2 for anyone who wants a glimpse—though not a bite—of the sweet inspirations.

South Carolina

Under Glass

It’s a rare gift to witness a historic garden take shape from the ground up, but that’s exactly what’s happening inside the new Boyd Foundation Horticultural Center at the Hampton-Preston Mansion in Columbia. Modeled on the estate’s original mid-nineteenth-century glass house that resembled an Old Patent Office garden building in Washington, D.C., the capacious greenhouse features propagation and interpretive sections as well as a central area for gatherings. It is also beginning to sprout an impressive historical collection of plants, including passion vine, which will, according to director of grounds Keith Mearns, “climb every available wall and railing to envelop the space.” Horticulturist Rebecca Townsend says that the team consulted 1860s records when deciding what to grow, and visitors can see fragile and rare plants such as Venus flytraps and fragrant geraniums. “This winter, the geranium scent will surround you the instant you step into the warmth from outside,” she says. “You can come by to watch us propagate perennials, woody plants, and annuals, and in the spring, we’ll bed the annuals outside, another first for us.”


Slaw of the Land

Lee McAlister won’t give you the recipe for his family’s famous poolroom slaw. “It started with my great-grandpa, and I’m the last person who knows how to make it,” says the owner of Honey’s Restaurant in downtown Fayetteville, a pool hall turned diner that celebrates its one hundredth anniversary in 2023. But he will offer some hints. “It’s a sweet mustard slaw, sweet and sour,” he says. “When the vinegar and sugar hit you, it’s magic.” Each week, McAlister makes some forty gallons to sell in local stores and to serve at the diner atop what are fittingly dubbed slawburgers. “People will say that their grandma has the recipe. They don’t,” he says. Although the joint ditched the pool tables in 2006, the Honey’s aura remains mostly the same as a century ago, and McAlister plans to keep it that way. “I’m fifty-six, but if I live to be a hundred and six, this place will still be open,” he says. “It’s like Willie Nelson’s guitar: It’s beat-up and it’s dated, but it’s still beautiful.” 931-433-1181


Zooming In

Among the huge collection of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century photography at Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum of American Art are thousands of portraits of Native Americans with stoic faces and dressed in traditional garments—mostly created by white photographers. But those works don’t reflect the vibrant and diverse work coming from Indigenous artists over the last few decades, says the Carter’s curator of photographs, John Rohrbach. Working with the artist, educator, and Navajo citizen Will Wilson, Rohrbach is now helping to expand the museum’s collection of contemporary Indigenous photography. A new exhibition, Speaking with Light (through January 22), highlights some of this work and how Indigenous artists are using a variety of multimedia styles to reflect on their responsibility and connection to the past, present, and future of their communities. Take Cara Romero’s Evolvers, which portrays a group of boys with sunglasses and head feathers running through a Western landscape dotted with tall windmills. Or a video piece by Alan Michelson, which shows the industrial creek that divides Brooklyn from Queens, New York, projected onto a screen of turkey feathers.


Screen Stars

It sounds like the setting for a Hollywood thriller: a radiation-proof Federal Reserve bunker stocked with untold treasure. But since 2007, the onetime nuclear-fallout facility tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains in Culpeper, Virginia, has belonged to the Library of Congress, which now uses nearly ninety miles of shelving and underground vaults to store the world’s largest collection of movies, television programs, radio broadcasts, and sound recordings. While most of the sprawling refuge built inside Mount Pony is closed to visitors, the archive recently relaunched its program that welcomes the public to watch movies in an art deco-style theater at its Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. The free weekend screenings range from classics like Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Flesh and the Devil, starring Greta Garbo. December’s offerings will have a snow theme, and in January, the theater will screen some of the twenty-five movies just added to the National Film Registry, an honor announced at the end of the year. The center’s moving image curator, Rob Stone, insists that movies are best on the big screen, experienced with others: “We want to show these films the way they were meant to be seen.”

West Virginia

Appalachian Airwaves

For two decades now, a weekend public radio show from Charleston, West Virginia, has helped unify and demystify one of the country’s most misunderstood regions, all while introducing listeners to wonders like a newly discovered Appalachian Mountain millipede named for Taylor Swift: the Swift twisted-claw, or Nannaria swiftae. Inside Appalachia, which marked its twentieth anniversary in 2022, has built a loyal fan base with surprising feature stories and deeply reported news coverage delivered in a friendly style that feels like a front-porch chat with a neighbor. West Virginia Public Broadcasting premiered the newsmagazine as a statewide project, but the weekly show quickly picked up a following beyond the Mountain State’s borders. Now it’s distributed to stations in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and listeners around the world download its podcast version. One night the show might profile the artist who developed the NO HATE IN MY HOLLER T-shirt and hashtag that spread across the region in 2017; another week it will dive into the hot-dog-topping sweet yellow slaw famous in Marmet, West Virginia. Producer Bill Lynch says that in the coming year, he anticipates episodes on how 1980s Appalachian trends endure in pop culture, and a “State of Folk” report examining how the folk arts continue to evolve. “More people are paying attention to the region,” he says. “We are a little foreign, a little exotic. We don’t necessarily go the way people expect us to go.”