Arts & Culture

The Southern Agenda: August/September 2017

Goings-on in the South and beyond

photo: Tim Bower


Nuts for Boiled Peanuts
Luverne, Alabama, August 31–September 4

Twenty-five tons of peanuts can fill a lot of brown paper lunch bags, but not enough to feed the inhabitants of one goober-crazy town and the visitors who stop in for their boiled peanut fix each summer. “Last year, we sold out a full day early,” says Andy Compton, one of the organizers of the Alcazar Shriners’ World’s Largest Peanut Boil —a Labor Day weekend tradition for nearly five decades in Luverne, about an hour south of Montgomery. This year, to meet demand, they’re cooking twenty-seven tons. “We can go through a ton and a half in twenty or thirty minutes,” Compton says. For four or five days, the flow of customers is near constant—Birminghamians loading up on the way down to the coast, and locals hauling home forty-pound bags for the freezer. Compton says he usually gets to the open-air shed around three or four in the morning to tend the flames, and he’ll start selling to people who stop by en route to work just an hour or two later. The operation shuts down whenever people stop showing up, around ten or eleven at night. Why are people so crazy about these peanuts? “It’s just salt, water, heat, and time,” Compton says. “There aren’t any special ingredients. But when you do something every year for forty years, people come to expect it.” Show up in the first few days if you can. Chances are good, he says, they’ll sell out again this year.


Home Again

In 1853, the Woodruff House in downtown Little Rock included stables, open pasture, and a two-acre vegetable and flower garden. When Union troops captured the area, they turned the capital city manse into officers’ headquarters and a military hospital, which remained until the homeowner—the founder of the Arkansas Gazette—returned after the Civil War. The Quapaw Quarter Association, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting Little Rock’s historic architecture, launched its annual Summer Supper series on the Woodruff House grounds in late June. Ticket sales for the alfresco dinners—including two in July and August—contribute to the restoration and maintenance of the downtown property and a handful of other noteworthy addresses, including the Justin Matthews House, the site of the group’s finale event on August 24. Located almost directly across the Arkansas River from the Woodruff residence, the Matthews House was constructed in 1927 by Justin Matthews, Sr., one of the city’s wealthiest businessmen and most prolific builders. In those days, an invitation to dine in the sprawling Spanish colonial home would have been quite the coup. Now, with the mere click of a button on the Quapaw website, you can reserve yours.


Shell Game


There are a lot of things to love about Florida’s Forgotten Coast and Big Bend regions—great fishing, historic architecture, small towns, and friendly locals. And come summer, there’s yet another: scallop season. Though commercial harvesting of the bay shellfish—which are smaller and sweeter than sea scallops—was banned in the mid-1990s, from now until the end of September amateur divers can still scoop up enough for a tasty dinner. And if 2016 is any indication, it’ll be easy, fun work. “Last year was one of the best years I’ve seen, a bumper crop with the water so clear,” says Rick Davidson, a guide out of Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee, the state’s scalloping epicenter. Dozens of outfitters in the area are willing to take you out and show you the ropes. Mask, snorkel, and flippers donned, you’ll drop anchor near shallow sea-grass beds—typically during a slack tide for best results—and there in the warm water, no more than four to eight feet deep, you’ll be able to collect the scallops by hand or with a small dip net before dropping them into a mesh bag. Back on dry land, plenty of waterfront restaurants will prep the day’s catch. Davidson’s preferred recipe: “Grilled simply with some garlic and lemon butter.”


Pop Culture Pop-Up

Imagine if Andy Warhol—the man who introduced the “fifteen minutes of fame” concept—could experience social media and its steady diet of up-to-the-second news. “Warhol’s work straddled the worlds of art, fashion, media, music, and celebrity,” says modern and contemporary art curator Michael Rooks of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which is exhibiting Andy Warhol: Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation through September 3. “His influence is magnified today by our current obsession with all those things.” Many of the artist’s most iconic works were created by pressing ink through frames—the indelible Campbell’s Soup can and Marilyn Monroe’s portrait, for example, both of which are among the 250 pieces on display. “This retrospective shows the whole arc of his career while demonstrating how important printmaking was to everything he did,” Rooks says. Though the prints steal most of the spotlight, the show will also include mixed-media pieces and album art. The record covers will hang alongside listening stations playing cuts from Warhol’s famous friends the likes of Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones.


Party Ban

No matter where the chef J. Steven Brockman lives, you can bet there’ll be a garden. (On the Brockman punch list, a vegetable plot is right up there with running water.) You can imagine his excitement over the two-acre spread and heirloom apple orchard that came with his new gig as the executive chef at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, the nation’s largest restored Shaker community, just southwest of Lexington. The produce that sprouts from the ground there ends up in the kitchen of the village’s on-site restaurant, Trustees’ Table, and supplies special events such as the annual Hard Cider Bash, this year on September 9. “I work with our farmers so that whatever is coming from the garden goes straight onto the menu,” Brockman says. At the September party, he’ll dish out cider-glazed pork belly with grits, pumpkin bread topped with duck confit and cranberry apple relish, and butternut squash gnocchi with wild mushrooms, leeks, and fennel in a hazelnut brown butter. Spread across snacking stations, his creative culinary bites will complement a selection of local and house-fermented apple ciders made from historic varieties such as Black Twig, Grimes Golden, and Virginia Winesap. Drink up. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right?


Duck, Duck, Goose

Gueydan is a small town, but it’s a big-time duck-hunting destination. Located in the heart of Acadiana, southwest of Lafayette, the tiny community (population 1,400) was founded in 1884 by brothers Jean-Pierre and François Gueydan, who bought forty thousand acres of marsh “unfit for cultivation.” And that was exactly the point—the swampy marshland is a sportsman’s paradise, where mallard, pintail, canvasbacks, redheads, and wood ducks remain plentiful (geese, too). In fact, as of 1977, it’s officially trademarked the Duck Capital of America, thanks to the efforts of Les Dames de Gueydan, a local women’s club. “We get people here from all over the world, the hunting is so good,” says Jerrod Broussard, president of the Gueydan Duck Festival (August 24–27). The four-day fair is a good reason to scout the location while enjoying skeet-shooting tournaments, zydeco concerts, the state’s official duck- and goose-calling competitions, and an open-air cooking contest. Sample all the duck you want, then come back in season in November and bag your own.


Friend in the Field

In the mid-nineteenth century, long before golden retrievers became the United States’ favorite family pet, the dogs were bred as hardworking upland game and waterfowl hunters in England and Scotland. Even today, properly trained goldens (and Labradors, Chesapeakes, and flat coats) make standout hunting companions. “All retrievers are quintessentially loving dogs—always happy and loyal—who develop a special bond with hunters,” says Jackson Medel, curator at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury. The museum celebrates the singular pups with a new exhibit, Retrievers: The Hunter’s Best Friend, which opens August 4 and will display approximately thirty paintings and sculptures. The timing couldn’t be better. From September 22 to 30, Salisbury also hosts the Golden Retriever Club of America’s National Specialty, where the breed’s top canines show off their skills during tracking, retrieving, and other field trials.


The Write Stuff

The state that sparked the high-wattage imaginations of Faulkner, Welty, Foote, and Hannah continues to produce top literary talent. On Saturday, August 19, at the Mississippi Book Festival in Jackson, hear from such modern-day Magnolia State writers as Beth Ann Fennelly, Richard Ford, Greg Iles, Michael Farris Smith, and Julia Reed. They’ll join more than 150 additional authors for one jam-packed day of book talks, panels, Q&As, and readings. The annual book party, held on the lawn of the state capitol, celebrates the past, present, and future of Mississippi’s lofty literary tradition. Topics covered range from Southern gothic to new fiction to everyday entertaining. Thursday night’s early-bird kickoff event at Cathead Distillery will celebrate the new Mississippi Encyclopedia, a project that began back in 2003. It’s the first encyclopedic treatment—all 1,451 pages of it—given to the state since 1907. Finish up at the post-festival bash: a special live Thacker Mountain Radio broadcast on Saturday night. “We invite local blues legends to play,” says Holly Lange, the festival’s director, “and the party goes all night long.”


North Carolina

Chef Joe Kindred is taking over the lakeside joint where he grew up eating barbecue and fried bologna sandwiches, and he’s letting his flag fly for nostalgic food. Fried chicken sandwiches, popcorn shrimp, and skillet cheeseburgers are the current preoccupations of a locavore chef who has built his career on coming home—first with the much-ballyhooed Kindred restaurant, in his hometown of Davidson, and now with Hello, Sailor, a sunny spot with a three-tiered patio that is set to open in early fall on nearby Lake Norman. “Jack’s was the restaurant in this building when I was a kid, and I thought it was so cool to stop there for barbecue and hush puppies,” Kindred says. “I want my kids to have the same fun food memories I do.” North Carolina’s bounty of fresh produce won’t be ignored, though. “The menu will still be chef-driven and seasonal,” he says. To start, for example, he plans to offer two flavors of soft-serve: vanilla and local peach. Yes, you can order a swirl.


South Carolina

Armed with paintbrushes and pigments, Mark Catesby set out from England to Charleston nearly three hundred years ago. An artist with an explorer’s heart, Catesby spent four years paddling the Lowcountry’s cypress-lined creeks and picking his way through maritime forests to paint the
young colony’s exotic birds, reptiles, fish, and mammals. Despite the perils of transoceanic travel and centuries tucked inside the Royal Library, the paintings—forty-four of which are now included in the exhibition Artist, Scientist, Explorer: Mark Catesby in the Carolinas at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston through September 24— remain in remarkable condition. The brilliant azure of a blue jay’s feathers and the deep green of a jumping frog are as vibrant today as they were when Catesby put watercolor to page. “As often as he could, he sketched and painted from life,” Gibbes executive director Angela Mack says. “He tried to capture his subjects in the wild, and unusually for his time, he presented them in their natural settings.” Except for the rattler, found snoozing at the foot of his bed one morning. That sketch shows the coiled snake plainly silhouetted on paper.


A Whiskey Mixer

How does a low-key meeting of half a dozen friends and their favorite bottles of bourbon become a blowout whiskey tasting for hundreds of eager imbibers? “Somebody was talking about making our get-togethers more formal,” says Chris Thomas, founder of the inaugural Southern Whiskey Society gathering in Franklin. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we call up some of our favorite distilleries and see if they’ll join us?’” Turns out, it didn’t take much convincing. On August 5, more than thirty of those outfits—ranging from such bourbon bedrocks as Buffalo Trace of Frankfort, Kentucky, to experimental distillers like High Wire of Charleston, South Carolina—will head to the charming little town south of Nashville. Come for the all-day liquor samples, but stay for the food. Among the credentialed chefs showing up to man the stoves are Jeremiah Bacon of the Macintosh in Charleston, David Bancroft of Acre in Auburn, Alabama, and Jean-Paul Bourgeois of Blue Smoke in New York City. Of course, Thomas is already thinking even bigger. “If this goes well, we’ll grow it,” he says. “I’m envisioning a traveling whiskey road show.”


Desert Bloom

Marfa is a year-round haven for artistic free spirits, but each fall, the creative class descends en masse on the way-out-of-the-way desert town for a long weekend of camping, yoga, hikes, workshops, concerts, and barbecue when the hotelier Liz Lambert’s hip hangout El Cosmico hosts the annual Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love (September 28–October 1). Guests can bunk somewhere in the compound’s nomadic assemblage of vintage trailers, tepees, yurts, and safari tents. But they won’t spend much time sleeping. A perfect day at the festival might begin at dawn with yoga, and continue with a class in medicinal plants, a communal barbecue, and a concert under the stars. (Past headliners have included Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Kacey Musgraves, and Calexico.) There’s a lot going on, but regulars also take advantage of the isolation. “We have a lot of hammocks around,” says Isadora McKeon, one of the organizers. “We fully support just chilling out.”


Best in Class

You know that feeling you get when you return to your alma mater for homecoming? Graduate Hotels, a small chain of boutique college-town lodgings, aims to bring back that same happy flood of memories, but without the drag of shared bathrooms. Each property—there are hotels in Athens, Georgia; Oxford, Mississippi; and Charlottesville, Virginia, among other cities—layers in details that reference local tradition. The Graduate Hotel Richmond, the group’s latest bespoke retreat, is slated to open this summer. But you don’t have to be a Virginia Commonwealth University Ram to appreciate the Richmond hotel’s preppy-chic aesthetic, evident in custom plaid pillows, navy-blue guest-room walls, and other homegrown touches. “Arthur Ashe grew up in Richmond, so we have a wall of framed vintage chunky glasses like the ones he wore,” says Andrew Alford, the group’s chief creative officer. Why is there a portrait of an American foxhound hanging in every guest room? Other than the fact that it is the state dog of Virginia, Alford says, “Everybody loves a cute dog.”


Washington, D.C.
This Land is Your Land

D.C. needs a deep clean. This is not political commentary: We are referring, of course, to the detritus and weeds that accumulate at the city’s more than twenty national parks, monuments, and historic sites—from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the National Mall to Theodore Roosevelt Island and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a rare undeveloped patch of metro D.C. Over twenty million people visited the city last year, which means those much-loved destinations saw a whole lot of foot traffic. To help keep these District gems looking their best, clear your calendar on Saturday, September 30, for National Public Lands Day. Americans from coast to coast will be celebrating the patriotic holiday by building trails, yanking weeds, planting trees, and picking up litter. In 2016, more than two hundred D.C. volunteers spent the morning working in Rock Creek Park, the country’s third oldest national park, founded by Congress on September 27, 1890. This year, NPLD crews will return to Rock Creek to focus on invasive species removal. Wherever
you end up—many other sites will be hosting cleanups, too—it’s an opportunity to get your hands dirty making “America’s
cathedrals” shine.


West Virginia
Playing That Mountain Music

You don’t need a record deal to take the stage at the Appalachian String Band Festival (August 2–6) in Clifftop, which includes contests and concerts with both amateurs and pros. You need not be a musician to attend, either. Banjo pickers, fiddlers, guitar players, singers, and folk dancers from more than twenty countries and forty-eight states flock to the summer festival to celebrate the musical traditions of Appalachia, sure—but so do the fans. Onstage performances keep the venue, Camp Washington-Carver, which opened as the country’s first 4-H camp for African Americans in 1942, humming all day long. And pick-alongs and jam sessions keep it rolling well into the night. “There’s always somebody playing here,” says Caryn Gresham of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Stop by for an afternoon or pitch a tent (or book a hotel) and stay the duration.