Arts & Culture

The Southern Agenda: August/September 2018

Goings-on in the South and beyond

Photo: Tim Bower


Whiskey Women

“Women don’t need a pink drink,” says Kerri Richardson, president of the Louisville-based Bourbon Women Association. At least not Southern women. Peggy Noe Stevens, the world’s first female master bourbon taster, founded the group in 2011 to create opportunities to gather for ladies who appreciate America’s native spirit. And during the organization’s fifth annual Women Sip-osium Conference (August 24–26), more than 150 mothers, daughters, and sisters will descend on the Brown Hotel in Louisville for a weekend filled with whiskey-flavored workshops, field trips, tastings, and dinners. But don’t expect a sign on the door proclaiming, NO BOYS ALLOWED. “Men are welcome,” Richardson says, “as long as they’re okay with being outnumbered.” Friday’s festivities kick off with cocktails before participants depart on one of three off-site excursions, including a trip to Vendome Copper & Brass Works, a family-owned operation famous for its stills. Dinner follows at the historic Maker’s Mark distillery, but pace yourself because Saturday is packed until nightcaps. Start the day with Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe (cousin to Peggy) before joining New York Times columnist Robert Simonson in a discussion on spirits trends, and finally, pay homage at the church of Stitzel-Weller during the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience. Spring for a space at the evening’s President’s Sampler for the chance to sip from rare bottles hand selected by Richardson. She’ll be pouring a mid-nineties Wild Turkey (known for its “cheesy gold foil” packaging), a bottle of Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel (you can only find it in Europe), and an Anderson Club (a discontinued Heaven Hill vintage), along with three more still under wraps. Rest assured you won’t find Richardson’s selections at your local liquor store.


The Secret’s Out

Everybody has that one friend who always has the scoop on the next cool band before anyone else. Now, imagine that friend threw a music festival, and you’ve got the general idea behind Birmingham’s Secret Stages (August 3–4). “We call ourselves a music discovery festival,” says Sam George, who cofounded the fest with Jon Poor and two others in 2011. “We really want people to come here and find their new favorite band. We want them to experience something they don’t already know they love.” At just twenty-five bucks per day pass and VIP tickets as cheap as eighty dollars, the two-day festival is a steal. This year, George and Poor brought on two more bookers to help wrangle around fifty under-the-radar acts. They also relocated from downtown to nearby Avondale—Birmingham’s current “it” neighborhood—for better walkability from one show to the next. Intimate venues such as Saturn, Avondale Brewery, Forty First Street Pub, and the Hanger offer fans an opportunity to catch an act up close before it makes it big. “Of course, we love it when bands go on to do more,” Poor says. “We had St. Paul & the Broken Bones and Shovels & Rope early on, and we love that. But we’re also adamant that this music is good right now as it is.” Whom should you listen out for this year? Poor recommends Courtney Marie Andrews, a retro country voice likened to Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash.


Wheels of Fortune

With Walmart as the regional yardstick, biking hardly qualifies as big business in Northwest Arkansas, but the outdoor pursuit is growing—fast—and giving the economy a nice boost, too. Last year, more than ninety thousand two-wheeled tourists traversed the region’s ever-expanding trail system. Thanks to backing from, you guessed it, Walmart and its founding family, the area’s two-hundred-plus miles of bike paths will only continue to grow. With the wild beauty and rugged terrain of the nearby Ozarks, mountain biking makes sense here, but for years, only a small, passionate group partook. Then in 2006, the Walton Family Foundation gave the city of Bentonville the land for what is now the popular Slaughter Pen trail system, and trail building took off; among the newest, Fitzgerald Mountain in Springdale was completed this May. For beginners, the folks at Phat Tire Bike Shop in Bentonville recommend the Seed Tick Shuffle trail. They suggest Medusa or the more difficult Bush Push, a grueling climb named for former president George W. Bush, who tackled it in 2010, for more experienced riders. They’ll also rent you any gear you might need. If mountain biking offers too much adrenaline, pick up a road bike and pedal the nearby Razorback Regional Greenway, a thirty-six-mile paved track peppered with breweries and restaurants.


Fish On

When Hurricane Irma, a Category-4 storm, arrived on Cudjoe Key on September 10, 2017, it delivered the Florida Keys what could have been a knockout punch. Lives were lost. Homes and businesses, too. But the folks there are a resilient bunch. And this spring, a mere six months after Irma’s 130 m.p.h. winds swept through, bringing six to eight feet of ocean water with them, an Islamorada landmark reopened. Cheeca Lodge & Spa—which first welcomed guests in 1946, attracting a roster of A-list anglers over the years, including U.S. presidents Harry Truman and George H. W. Bush—needed a sand-to-ceiling makeover. “The actual framework of the buildings was fine,” says owner Bob LaCasse. “The real damage happened to the drywall, the contents of the rooms, the elevators, the data cables—everything electrical was considered compromised. There’s a saying: ‘When in doubt, rip it out,’ and that’s what we did.” LaCasse kept all his employees on the payroll, working side by side with the construction crews and city officials. Today, in the expanded lobby and bar, you can see the water from any angle. There’s a new restaurant, Mia Cucina, and each of the property’s 212 rooms has a refreshed look. Outside, the hotel rebuilt its iconic 525-foot pier and, this summer, will add an oceanfront infinity pool. But the marlin, dolphin, tarpon, and tuna that earned the village its nickname—the sportfishing capital of the world—remain the real draw. Word is, with a six-month break in tourist traffic, the fishing is better than ever.

Tim Bower


Painting Outside the Lines

Raised on a Georgia farm, the folk artist Nellie Mae Rowe dropped out of school after the fourth grade. Sister Gertrude Morgan—New Orleans painter and poet—left before completing third grade. The Alabama-born mixed-media artist Howard Finster only made it to the sixth. Formal art training was out of the question. But despite their lack of schooling, all three—alternately dubbed folk, visionary, and vernacular artists—went on to wield serious influence within the landscape of twentieth-century American art. Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Outliers and American Vanguard Art finishes its run at Atlanta’s High Museum on September 30. The exhibit includes more than 250 works by eighty-plus artists and explores the relationship between trained and untrained artists in America. The show is arranged in rough chronological order from the 1910s to the present and is laid out across nine galleries, including one dedicated to the South. And because the High’s permanent folk art collection is one of the country’s most robust, the Atlanta exhibit is able to showcase additional works, including an incredible Howard Finster Plexiglas house.


Happy birthday, Arnaud’s!

“Almost all my greatest memories happened here,” says Katy Casbarian of Arnaud’s, the New Orleans culinary grande dame her family has owned since 1978, which celebrates its hundredth anniversary this year. “When my parents [Jane and Archie Sr.] bought the restaurant, it was on the brink of closure. They put all of their time into rebuilding it. My brother, Archie, and I played hide-and-seek in the dining room. It was an extension of our home.” And for generations of Crescent City residents and visitors, it has felt like home, too. The sprawling restaurant—there are seventeen dining rooms and two bucket-list bars—was founded in 1918 by Bertrand Arnaud Cazenave. His daughter Germaine, a former vaudeville performer, ran it from 1948 to 1978 before selling the place to the late Archie Sr. But many of the original Creole dishes remain on the menu—Oysters Bienville and Shrimp Arnaud among them. “We have evolved over the years to keep pace with modern tastes, but we’ve never strayed too far from our roots,” Casbarian says. Celebrate a century with the Casbarians at Germaine’s Champagne Luncheon (September 21) or break out the fancy dress for the Centennial Gala (November 29). Mark the milestone almost any day of the week by bellying up to the James Beard Award–winning French 75 Bar and letting the head bartender, Chris Hannah, mix you up just about anything.

Tim Bower


All Night Long

The oldest and longest overnight sailing race on Chesapeake Bay, the Governor’s Cup Yacht Race (August 3–5), hosted by the St. Mary’s College Sailing Association, is Maryland’s ultimate on-water test of wills and skills. Participating sailors traverse 68.6 nautical miles from the state’s current capital, Annapolis, to its former capital, St. Mary’s City. After a late-Friday start, it’s an all-nighter for most. Last year, ninety-nine boats in thirteen classes battled eighteen-knot winds for most of the course, but no matter the weather, Saturday’s finish combines regatta thrills with parade-like pageantry. “The boats are often on a downhill run at the end, so their spinnakers are out front, swollen with wind,” says Rick Loheed, assistant director of the college’s River Center. And while some rise at dawn on Saturday to watch boats arrive at Church Point, the real party drops anchor at noon when folks join the exhausted yet elated sailors for a waterfront celebration featuring swimming and live music along with barbecue and steamed blue crabs for pickin’.


Double Feature

Food lovers and Faulkner fans, rejoice! Mississippi’s literary and culinary heritage is on full display this August at the Mississippi Book Festival (August 18). Held at the capitol in Jackson, the fest hosts more than 150 writers in lively panels and readings—and this year, the lineup looks like a Garden & Gun family reunion. Rick Bragg will talk about his mama’s cooking over ham biscuits, John T. Edge and the Louisville chef Edward Lee will ponder the evolving nature of Southern food, and Julia Reed will sit down with G&G’s editor in chief, David DiBenedetto. Also on the bill: National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward.

October brings another Magnolia State lit event: the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Fall Symposium in Oxford (October 11–13), which for the first time in a decade is open to both SFA members and nonmembers. Tickets go on sale August 1. Sit in on discussions led by modern Southern voices such as author Randall Kenan and poet Sandra Beasley, and treat yourself to one of the symposium’s two signature lunches prepared by Savannah’s Mashama Bailey and New Orleans’ Nina Compton. “If you read Southern literature and eat Southern food and drink Southern drink,” says Edge, director of the SFA, “you’ll find your people here.”,


North Carolina
Riding to Victory

Tryon—a tiny town on the edge of the Blue Ridge—might not be where you’d expect to find the FEI World Equestrian Games 2018 (September 11–23), the premier equestrian competition outside of the Olympics. In fact, the championships weren’t supposed to be here at all. The games were originally awarded to Bromont, Canada, but when
our northern neighbors dropped out, Tryon scooped up the honor. Each summer, for more than a century, the South’s horsey set has decamped to this foothills town, attracted by its cooler temps and excellent riding conditions. This year, they’ll be joined by more than seven hundred athletes from seventy countries and close to a half million spectators at the new Tryon International Equestrian Center. “It’s been an opportunity and challenge to pull this off,” says Sharon Decker, the center’s chief operating officer. “We’re not building anything not already in our business plan. We’ve just sped up the timeline.” For almost two weeks, the games will showcase the world’s top riders across eight disciplines—jumping, dressage and para-dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting, and reining. Saddle up—tickets are going fast.

Tim Bower


South Carolina
Rekindling an Old Flame

The architect Robert Mills was so confident in his skill that he put a fireplace in every room of Charleston’s Fireproof Building. The circa-1826 Palladian-style manse was the first structure in the United States designed specifically to limit the spread of fire and to protect a city’s public documents for posterity. Errant cinders posed no threat—not with iron shutters, thick brick walls, and a three-story-tall stone staircase. “This building has also withstood hurricanes and earthquakes,” says John Tucker, assistant director of the
South Carolina Historical Society. “But it’s long been time for its first big renovation.” In the last two years, the society, which temporarily relocated its headquarters from the site, has worked to bring the building up to date while maintaining its historic charm. (For example, as often as possible, workers removed and replaced sections of bricks instead of cutting into them to add new electrical.) When the made-over building reopens to the public on September 21, it will also include a new museum filled with three hundred years of journals, letters, maps, and photographs covering South Carolina’s art, cultural, sporting, and agricultural histories.


Hometown Pride

Memphis produces a powerful range of emotions. Consider Jerry Lee Lewis’s joyous “Memphis Beat,” Mark Cohn’s soulful “Walking in Memphis,” and Louis Armstrong and W. C. Handy’s sorrowful “Beale Street Blues.” These disparate sentiments inspired Jen Clarke and Kerry Crawford
to create 901 Day in 2012. Named after the city’s area code and the date of the celebration (September 1), 901 Day is a grassroots holiday during which residents and visitors celebrate everything they love about the Birthplace of Rock and Roll. “Memphis has a tough history, and life is hard for a lot of people here,” Clarke says. “So it’s good to take time to remember why we’re here and why we love it.” Restaurants and bars throw parties highlighting local food, drink, and music. T-shirts, beer buckets, and baseball tickets go for $9.01 across the city. The biggest event, though, is the New Memphis 
Institute’s Exposure. Part festival, part community-service activities fair, part celebrity kickball game, the gathering is held at the Memphis Redbirds’ minor-league baseball stadium. “Everybody celebrates in a different way,” Clarke says. “A lot of people come up with stuff spur of the moment—which is very Memphis, too.”


Back to Nature

If Texas is like another country within the United States, the Hill Country outside of Austin is like another nation within Texas—a historic blend of Spanish and German influences, and a climate, terrain, and vegetation all its own. Two recently opened retreats let you experience it in a new way. The first is Treehouse Utopia, four tree houses overlooking the crystal-clear Sabinal River in the small town of Utopia. The luxury lodgings are the product of a serendipitous meeting between Pete Nelson, the host of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters, and Laurel Waters, head chef at the Laurel Tree restaurant, just south of Utopia. “There’s nothing like being in a tree,” Waters says. “You feel a peace, a oneness with nature.” Unless you’re height-averse; in that case, the Denver-based hospitality group Collective Retreats has opened the doors…er, flaps…to its first Hill Country offering, a collection of first-class tents overlooking Montesino Ranch near Austin. The draw of a tent, says the founder, Peter Mack, is how it connects guests to the land. “The breeze flows through; there’s the pitter-patter of rain on the roof and waking up to the scent of Hill Country,” he says. Spend a few days in either of these oases and you won’t
just have vacationed in Hill Country, you’ll have absorbed it.,

Tim Bower


The Need for Speed

You might never race a Formula One Ferrari through the narrow streets of Monaco, but as of this spring, you can live out the thrill of open-cockpit racing courtesy of Formula Experiences at the Virginia International Raceway in Alton. Founded by Peter Heffring, an amateur driver and motor-sports enthusiast, the outfit offers the only Formula One-esque driving experience of its kind in North America. The cars you will handle—a 2018 Radical SR1, a 2018 Ligier F4, and a 2018 Radical SR3—are professional machines. On the straightaway, you can reach speeds of up to 135 miles per hour. “It’s quite a ride,” Heffring says. Groups are limited to twelve—first-time drivers welcome—and there’s one instructor for every four participants, so drivers get plenty of one-on-one guidance. A two-day package includes twelve driving sessions, a nighttime ride-along with a pro, a stay at a trackside villa, and two resort activities, including sporting clays. “VIR is sort of a racing country club,” Heffring says. Only with much faster “carts.”


Washington, D.C.
Words Matter

When the British burned the fledgling Library of Congress in 1814, Thomas Jefferson sold the government his personal collection. Sadly, two-thirds of that original grouping was lost in another fire, in 1851. We imagine Jefferson would be more than mollified by how the library has recovered since—it currently houses 38.6 million catalogued books and more than 70 million manuscripts. With that kind of scholarly sway, it’s no surprise that the roster for the library’s 2018 National Book Festival (September 1) reads like the New York Times best-seller list. Jefferson biographer and G&G contributor Jon Meacham will discuss his latest work, The Soul of America. And Ron Chernow, who profiled Alexander Hamilton in a 2004 biography that was turned into a Broadway musical you may have heard of, is back with a book on Ulysses S. Grant. The festival also delivers Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Jennifer Egan, who will delve into her newest, Manhattan Beach, set in the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II. Before you go, make like our third president and pick up a few titles at the book sale.


West Virginia
Bowled Over

The moment David Powell witnessed Irish road bowling for the first time, he knew what he had to do: import the sport to his home state. The game, which dates from the seventeenth century and is scored similarly to golf, involves chucking a small iron-and-steel ball toward a finish line more than a mile away on scenic country roads. West Virginia, Powell knew, had plenty of those. Moreover, his mother’s Mountain State hometown—coincidentally named Ireland—hosts an annual Irish festival he thought would provide a perfect venue. After traveling to County Cork, Ireland, “a road-bowling hotbed,” Powell and friends formed a club and began sharpening their skills. They connected with road bowlers in New York and Boston, and joined the international organization Bol Chumann na hEireann. Witness the competition at this year’s North American Region Road Bowling Championships (August 3–5) at Blackwater Falls State Park. Viewers walk alongside players and, during downtime, can try their hand at tossing. The team with the fewest throws wins—the game and some of the most curious bragging rights.