Southern Agenda

What’s Happening in the South

Going-ons across the region in October and November

Illustration: Tim Bower

By Jim Beaugez, Larry Bleiberg, Heide Brandes, Caroline Sanders Clements, Kinsey Gidick, Gabriela Gomez-Misserian, Jennifer Kornegay, Lindsey Liles, T. Edward Nickens, and Jennings Cool Roddey


Greeking Out

During Birmingham’s Greek Food Festival (October 5–7), now in its fiftieth year, attendees devour some twenty-five thousand pieces of baklava, twelve thousand slabs of pastitsio, and a literal ton of rice (stuffed into grape leaves and sidled up to Greek chicken), all cooked by members of Holy Trinity–Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral. “It was created to give a taste of our culture, without the airfare,” says Elaine Lyda, a third-generation member. It also honors Greek immigrants, who a century ago gained a Birmingham food-scene foothold that grew into a stronghold of multiple Greek-owned restaurants, including Ted’s. That meat-and-three is celebrating fifty years, too, thanks to its South-meets-Mediterranean selections like mac and cheese alongside lemony Greek chicken. Owners Tasos and Beba Touloupis are proud of the milestone. “We see three generations eating here,” Tasos says. “We’re ingrained in this community.”


Diamond a Dozen

Earlier this year, a visitor to the Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro dug up a whopping 3.29-carat brown diamond, likely worth several thousand dollars, the largest found at the park in the past two years. Since 1972, when the site became a state park and one of the world’s only public diamond mines, it has produced some 35,000 shiny finds, including the impressive 16.37-carat Amarillo Starlight diamond. Fall usually offers a break from the heat as visitors search an open thirty-seven-acre field along the surface of a volcanic crater. And that’s not all that glitters in the state: High-quality quartz crystals hide just under the surface. At the numerous active mines in Arkansas, you’ll need a guide service such as Avant Mining, a favored gem-hunting hire for celebrities. “We’ve had Aaron Rodgers and actors Danny Trejo and Terrence Howard all come to mine crystals here,” says Avant’s Ciji Sampson. The company runs nearly two dozen locations, including the state’s only turquoise mine.


Crafts on Draft

When you mix a cocktail, open a bottle of wine, or tap a keg—or in the case of the Alys Beach Crafted festival (October 25–28), an eleven-gallon firkin cask—you’re pouring a story along with the drink. “It’s so inspiring to not only learn how the distiller makes a liquor, but then watch how the bartender uses it,” says Alexis Miller, director of events. Anchored by the Friday night Firkin Fête, in which brewers share a beer no one—including the makers—has tried before, this year’s festival will be peppered with seminars and demos. Hear from the likes of Neal Bodenheimer of New Orleans’ Cure and Miles Macquarrie of Atlanta’s Kimball House, who will discuss Macquarrie’s theory that creating a cocktail is a lot like piecing together a Mr. Potato Head. Also on the schedule: a maker’s market featuring art, pottery, and jewelry. “We want people to take things home with them, whether that’s cocktail tips for their next party or a treasure from the market,” Miller says. “It extends the story.”


Praline Dreams

A sensory wave washes over visitors as they walk into River Street Sweets in Savannah: the smell of chocolate and caramel bear claws stacked in the display case; a rainbow of ice cream, sprinkles, and taffy; the sound of children’s—and adults’—giggles as they sample treats hot out of the fudge pots. Savannah’s iconic candy shop along the waterfront marks its fiftieth anniversary this year. “We started out as a gift shop,” says Jennifer Strickland, who runs the store and its franchised locations with her brother, Tim. “It wasn’t too successful—and there were only six or seven businesses on the street at the time—but our founders, my parents and my grandma, believed in River Street.” In the seventies, a trip to Atlanta and a serendipitous fudge tasting by eleven-year-old Tim led to the purchase of two massive fudge pots and a shift in the business model. The Stricklands also started making pecan pralines, with fresh cream, sugar, butter, “and all Georgia pecans,” Tim says. “The oil in the pecans makes it so flavorful and cuts the sweetness.” Today those pralines account for about 40 percent of sales.


That Other Faulkner

Technicolor florals, piano-playing cats, and dancing goats dot the walls of the Headley-Whitney Museum in Lexington in an exhibition (through November 12) to honor the local legend and artist Henry Faulkner. The museum is also showing the short documentary Henry Faulkner: Poetry in Paint alongside over one hundred works, including some of the artist’s earliest and latest creations before his death in 1981. Portraits of roosters, butterflies, and his iconic bourbon-guzzling goat companion, Alice, provide a patchwork look into Faulkner’s imagination and his ability to find the sublime in his Southern surroundings. “A fun part of this adventure has been hearing the stories about him and how the work came to collectors,” says Christina Bell, executive director and curator. “Many pieces are family heirlooms that people acquired years ago and have never been exhibited. But when you see one, there is no mistaking it’s a Faulkner.”


Bug Appétit

A visit to the newly reopened Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans starts and ends with butterflies: At the entrance, motion sensors trigger digital monarchs to swarm against a backdrop of Michoacán, Mexico—the real-life insects’ destination during the annual fall migration. The last exhibit is a glass-windowed garden where hundreds of newly transformed butterflies flutter among tropical flowers and over the meandering footpath. In between, some fifty other displays celebrate insects in a dazzling variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. “We’ve got huge scarab beetles, one of which is called a Hercules beetle,” says Zack Lemann, the insectarium’s curator. “We’ve got the largest katydid species in the world, which is bigger than your hand and yet so well camouflaged you don’t realize you’re looking at it.” There’s also a section devoted to native Louisiana bugs, and a station serving crispy Cajun crickets and a mango and apple chutney with boiled wax worms on a cracker. “Insects are highly nutritious, and a third of the planet relies on them as a protein source,” Lemann says. “Plus, if it’s coming from a kitchen in New Orleans, you know it’s going to be good.”

Frederick, Maryland

Lefty’s Final Cast

The late Bernard “Lefty” Kreh threw a long shadow, having inspired or taught outright more fly fishers than probably anyone else in history. The native of Frederick, Maryland, was a longtime Baltimore Sun outdoor editor, longtime Metropolitan Miami Fishing Tournament director, and longtime angling celebrity whose fame was unmatched in the second half of the twentieth century. Kreh died in 2018, and on October 14, a life-size bronze of the legend will be unveiled and dedicated at Frederick’s Culler Lake, where Kreh taught fly-fishing lessons in his early years. A nonprofit group, Friends of Lefty Kreh (FOLK), raised funds for the statue from private and public sources. Kreh’s likeness, a work by Maryland sculptor Toby Mendez, has hip boots, a fly rod in his right hand, and eyes searching the water. Kreh was a humble man “who probably wouldn’t have liked this kind of fuss,” admits Heather Templeton, a FOLK board member, Frederick native, and fly-fishing star herself who sometimes traveled and taught with Kreh. “But he would have been honored by what we are trying to do with education in his name.” The statue installment is the first phase of FOLK’s ongoing efforts to honor Kreh’s legacy of outreach. The group plans an annual conservation festival, with scholarship funding for students pursuing education or initiatives in the conservation field. To that, Kreh would have given a definite tip of his trademark long-billed hat.


The Thrill Is Back

The late B. B. King loved performing at Club Ebony in his hometown of Indianola so much, he bought the place. When the longtime owner Mary Shepard retired in 2008, King stepped in to preserve the historic chitlin-circuit club that Ray Charles, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, and King himself frequented—then promptly donated it to his B. B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, two blocks from where his remains are now interred. The museum spearheaded a fundraising effort to repair and restore the deteriorating club, and this past summer reopened it with a performance by Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. “When we had bands come through, it would really be jam-packed,” says Sue Evans, who was married to King from 1958 to 1966, and lived in the back of the club when her mother, Ruby Edwards, owned it in 1958. “Everybody wanted to have the tables and to dance. That was the only entertainment most people had.” Club Ebony’s full performance schedule will be available this fall.

North Carolina

Inch by Inch

Scoot over, Punxsutawney Phil. In quaint Banner Elk, during the third weekend of October, mountain folks by the thousands witness their own prognosticating tradition: the Woolly Worm Festival. According to local lore, the Woolly Bear caterpillar’s thirteen segments will determine the severity of winter in the Blue Ridge. Each segment represents a week of winter, and a lighter brown means a milder week; the darker it is, the more likely you’ll need to bundle up. In the 1970s, the editor of Mountain Living magazine, the late Jim Morton, wanted to share the forecast with his readers but noticed not all worms looked alike. So he started including them in the selection process that has become an eagerly anticipated event: Attendees can “race” wiggling worms in several heats to the top of a three-foot string. The winner qualifies to become the trusted forecasting worm. “There were at first maybe a hundred people to watch the race,” says Mary Jo Brubaker, the chair of the event, which has been taking place for nearly fifty years. “But after that, it just took off. We have families that come back every year to race worms. They even have team shirts.”

South Carolina

Courage of Convictions

Robert Smalls might still be an unfamiliar name to some—but a new team of artists aims to change that. On October 6, the Charleston Gaillard Center will debut Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls, a play by Teralyn Reiter that traces the life of Smalls, who was born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina, and went on to free himself by commandeering a Confederate transport ship in Charleston Harbor. He became a businessman and politician who served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and helped found the U.S. public school system. “He was a complex figure: He was a legend and an outlaw; he was sought after and he was despised,” says JaMeeka Holloway, the play’s director. Holloway assembled an all-Southern team to bring Reiter’s script to life, including Grammy-winning composer Charlton Singleton. “As we celebrate Robert,” she says, “we will also celebrate the Gullah culture that created him.”


In-Flight Entertainment

Talk about a combo platter—Chêne Gear’s inaugural Chêne Film Festival (October 21) at the Radians Amphitheatre at Memphis Botanic Gardens will be part beer garden bash, part outdoor concert, and part SEC football watch party, all capped with a showing of six waterfowl hunting films that the sporting gear company Chêne commissioned. “I’m stoked about our mix of filmmakers,” says Dylan Farrell, the brand’s creative director. “A few are folks from outside the sporting industry. They see things differently, and there’s a sense of awe in their stories because they take nothing for granted.” Highlights include a piece about Green Berets and their relationship to duck hunting, and a documentary called 7-Mile Wound that depicts the campaign of a Stuttgart, Arkansas, dentist named Rex Hancock and his valiant efforts to save the Arkansas Big Woods. The party starts in time to catch the kickoff of a to-be-determined SEC game and won’t stop until festivalgoers vote for their favorite flick.


It’s What’s for Dinner

To get to Perini Ranch, a steak house and working cattle ranch in the tiny crossroads of Buffalo Gap, most patrons have to drive for hours through the plains and hills and oil fields of West Texas. “People have to find us,” says Tom Perini, owner/operator alongside his wife, Lisa. “It started as a negative but over the last forty years has turned out to be our biggest positive.” Since 1983, the spot has been a destination for devoted carnivores. “Beef is always the center of our plates,” Lisa says. The Perinis are celebrating the restaurant’s fortieth anniversary this year with an outdoor photo exhibit (opening September 28) curated by Michael Grauer of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. “The restaurant is under a row of live oaks, and so much of the experience is outdoors, so we wanted to make these photos come to life in that way,” Lisa says. Guests can walk beneath the trees with a margarita in hand as they peruse the archives, which, along with stills of cattle-dotted landscapes and guests from long ago, include a black and white of a younger Tom, smoking a cigarette and sipping a Schlitz, propped up in the bed of a pickup, naturally, against a case of beef.


A Ferry Tale

If the James River was the I-95 of 1800s Virginia, ferries were its Ubers. The state’s largest tributary was dotted with mom-and-pop poled barges, and James A. Brown wanted in on the waterway action. The entrepreneur began operating a ferry in the 1870s to attract clients to his fledgling general store three miles west of Scottsville. It became a transportation workhorse, moving travelers between Albemarle and Buckingham Counties for twenty-five years. As other ferries vanished with the arrival of bridges, Brown’s ride, known today as Hatton Ferry, hung on and now bears the distinction of being the last American ferry of its kind open to the public. “It stuck around because the bridge in Scottsville wasn’t built until 1910,” says Sterling Howell, programs manager of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, the ferry’s operator. The community’s appreciation for the old-timey watercraft keeps it afloat. Thanks to the historical society’s significant fundraising and custodianship, anyone can take the ferry free of charge Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., mid-April through October (water levels permitting).

West Virginia

Attention Span

Two years after the New River Gorge Bridge opened in 1977, a local army veteran made history when he parachuted from it to the riverbank 876 feet below. That leap of faith is now celebrated on the third Saturday in October during Bridge Day, West Virginia’s largest single-day festival. Some years, more than a hundred thousand people come out to enjoy the spectacular fall views of New River Gorge National Park, and one of the world’s largest extreme sports events. The parachuting is reserved for four hundred BASE jumpers (and those willing to pay $1,650 for a tandem jump). Others rappel or zip-line to the ground, says Marcus Ellison, who helps organize the event. During a six-hour window, jumpers leap off the bridge (or get catapulted if they prefer) every thirty seconds or so. After the airborne participants reach the ground or land in the river rapids, where rescue boats await, many rush back up to the bridge and do it again. Some get in six jumps in the day. “There’s this moment when your feet disconnect from the surface, this moment of stillness and quiet,” Ellison says. “And nothing else matters.”