The Southern Agenda

The Southern Agenda: June/July 2017

Goings-on in the South and beyond

Photo: Tim Bower

Firepower on the Fourth
Clinton, Tennessee, July 4

Like dueling and bear wrestling, anvil shooting (a similarly dangerous if less deadly pursuit) fell out of fashion a hundred or so years ago. And while the folks at the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton are quite happy for the first two activities to remain relics of the past, they continue to mark the Fourth of July with an old-fashioned (and safely supervised) Independence Day Celebration & Anvil Shoot. “When the gunpowder goes off, that anvil will fly up seventy-five or a hundred feet in the air,” says the museum’s director, Elaine Irwin Meyer. “The earth shakes. You can really feel it, even miles away.” Anvil shoots were once a small-town tradition that served the same purpose as fireworks—to commemorate holidays, election results, and other special occasions. This twenty-first-century shoot (anvils will fly four times during the day: at 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 2:30 p.m.) provides the centerpiece of a throwback gathering that includes porch-picking musicians and demonstrations from blacksmiths, weavers, spinners, and woodworkers on the museum’s grounds. “We started doing the anvil shoot after we heard old folks in the community talking about it—ninety- and one-hundred-year-olds,” Meyer says. “Now we’re making new memories.”

The Iron’s Hot

Birmingham’s renaissance is going strong. For proof, look no further than the Sloss Music & Arts Festival, now in its third year. On July 15 and 16, Alabama Shakes, Widespread Panic, Sturgill Simpson, Run the Jewels, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Wray, and dozens more stars from all over the country will perform in the hulking industrial remains of downtown’s nineteenth-century Sloss Furnaces. “This might be the only music festival in the country with iron-pouring demonstrations,” says Jay Wilson of Red Mountain Entertainment. And, sure, the big names draw crowds, but this is Birmingham’s moment, remember? Which is why savvy festival organizers enlisted the tastemakers at locally owned Seasick Records to curate a stellar lineup of hometown acts the likes of Riverbend and Holy Youth. TrimTab Brewing Co. and a roster of Birmingham-area food trucks and restaurants will feed and water the music-loving masses. Spring for a VIP pass, though, for access to line-free bars, special viewing areas, and best of all, air-conditioned tents—after all, this is June in Alabama… at a furnace.

Master Glass

With just fire and lung power, the artist Dale Chihuly transforms molten sand into sculptural glass wonderlands displayed in hotels, museums, and botanical gardens around the world. This summer, his fantastic creations will sprout from an Ozark forest floor for the first time. Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville opens
Chihuly: In the Gallery and In the Forest (June 3–November 13), which includes an indoor retrospective that runs through August 14 and an outdoor exhibition that continues into the fall. The museum recently enhanced its trails to create a mile-long path with expanded areas for outdoor installations, which Chihuly’s sculptures will christen. Picture bright spears staked along wooded pathways, and glass tendrils curling around trees and other native plants, though specifics are subject to change. “When you’re working with a living contemporary artist like Chihuly,elements get tweaked as they’re installed,” says the exhibit’s curator, Lauren Haynes. “He uses the site as inspiration and moves pieces in the moment.”

South Beach Stunner

With its gracious four-column portico and Georgian details, Miami Beach’s Betsy Ross hotel—built in 1942 and named for the famous flag-sewing seamstress in a burst of World War II-era patriotism—has always stood out amid its flashier art deco siblings on Ocean Drive. When the Betsy–South Beach unveiled major renovations several months ago, the Miami Beach masterpiece had expanded to include the circa-1930s Carlton hotel, located just across the alley. All told, the completed hotel now features 130 guest rooms, a library, and two restaurants, plus a rooftop infinity pool that appears to drop off into the skyline as well as a giant piece of functional public art—an orb resembling a beach ball wedged between
the two buildings that hides the bridge connecting them. Even with all the updates, though, the Betsy will stay true to its buttoned-up roots this summer when the hotel celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary with a slate of readings from regional writers and poets plus twice-weekly classical concerts organized with the Miami Music Festival.

Take Note

Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis, and the Mississippi Delta are all lauded as cradles of Southern music, but Macon (often overlooked) deserves its place in the history books, too. Little Richard got his start singing in church here. So did Otis Redding. The Allman Brothers launched a Southern rock revolution from the Georgia town. And the locally founded Capricorn Records, which introduced the world to Duane and Gregg, brought national attention to other Southern acts such as the Marshall Tucker Band. The annual Bragg Jam (July 28–29), now in its eighteenth year, builds on that tradition with a weekend devoted to blues, Americana, and twang-tinged rock and roll. Mississippi bluesman Cedric Burnside will headline Friday night’s show at the Cox Capitol Theatre. During Saturday’s all-day concert crawl, more than seventy-five artists—including North Carolina’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival and dozens of other regional musicians—perform on sixteen stages across downtown, including at a record store, a pair of restored theaters, the gallery of Allman Brothers Band photographer Kirk West, and a handful of dive bars. “Musicians love to play in the old Grant’s Lounge,” says the festival’s president, Everett Verner, of one such historic venue. “It’s where young bands used to play for the Capricorn Records guys and try to get signed. Everyone from the Cars to the Police played there and got shot down.”

Spread the News

Kentucky culinary legend holds that, back in the 1930s, Johnny Allman’s (a long-shuttered Boonesboro restaurant) came up with the original recipe for beer cheese, a boozy cousin to queso and pimento cheese made with melted cheddar, beer, and spices. Since then, the tailgate staple has become a Bluegrass State go-to topping for burgers and pizza and a secret ingredient in everything from mac and cheese to, yes, chocolate cupcakes. “Just about everybody around here has a different beer cheese recipe,” says Rachel Alexander, the organizer of Winchester’s annual Beer Cheese Festival. “Some people’s recipes are so spicy they set your mouth on fire, and others are pleasantly hot. Some are smooth and spreadable. There are a million ways to make it.” On June 10 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., you can sample dozens of options from statewide vendors with the purchase of a five-dollar food ticket. And if you think your family recipe stacks up, enter it in the amateur contest.

BONUS: Get a recipe for Kentucky Beer Cheese

Pursuing Percy

“Bourbon does for me what the piece of cake did for Proust,” wrote the Louisiana-based novelist Walker Percy in Signposts in a Strange Land in 1975. These days, devoted Percy fans gather at the annual Walker Percy Weekend (June 2–4) in St. Francisville to toast his literary legacy with a glass of Kentucky’s finest. This get-together is no dry scholarly conclave. After a day of Percy-themed discussions touching on everything from the author’s passion for history (his best friend from childhood on was the Civil War chronicler Shelby Foote) to his involvement in the civil rights struggle, guests are invited to attend back-to-back shindigs on Saturday evening. A progressive front-porch tour with whiskey tastings is followed by a lively crawfish boil under sprawling live oaks. “The real reason I’m going is crawfish,” says the festival’s Tennessee-born keynote speaker, Harrison Scott Key, who is working on a new memoir following The World’s Largest Man, his hilarious 2015 tell-all about his father, “because the thing about crawfish is you have to drink beer with them.” A sentiment Percy would no doubt have appreciated.

High and Mighty

At 7:00 a.m. on July 4, 1827, a group of citizens seized by star-spangled fervor made the two-mile trek to the top of South Mountain outside Boonsboro, which celebrates its 225th anniversary this year. Accompanied by a fife-and-drum corps, the civic-minded group spent the day stacking stones gathered from the surrounding hills to build the first Washington Monument. The District of Columbia didn’t begin its towering tribute to our initial president until twenty-one years later. Battered by years of wind, rain, and lightning, the rugged thirty-foot-high memorial still keeps watch today over a stretch of the Appalachian Trail, thanks to a major renovation in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. This summer on July 1 at 11:00 a.m., almost two hundred years after work began, the Christian Ardinger Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution will host the Washington Monument Commemorative Ceremony, including a reenactment of that long-ago Independence Day. Bring lunch and a picnic blanket; the Blue Ridge mountain views are likely to tempt you to linger.

Joyful Noise

Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is one of a kind. At sixty-nine-years-old, he’s the only living musician who still plays Bentonia blues, an eerie, improvisational style rooted in the land at the eastern edge of the Mississippi Delta and commonly associated with the late Skip James and Jack Owens. He also runs Bentonia’s Blue Front Café, the Magnolia State’s oldest juke joint, which his family opened in 1948, selling sandwiches and moonshine and eventually inviting musicians to play there on weekend evenings. Holmes is such a singular figure that the U.S. Postal Service put an image of his hands picking a guitar on the stamp celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Mississippi statehood. You can meet the man himself at the Bentonia Blues Festival (June 12–17), which marks its forty-fifth year with nightly performances at the café and a Saturday concert showcasing national and regional blues musicians at Holmes’s family farm, twenty-two miles northwest of Jackson on U.S. 49. In 1970, Holmes and the rest of his clan started using the farm for weekend potlucks, jam sessions, and other family get-togethers. Today, the whole town turns out, and blues lovers from near and far are welcome, too. (Attendees have traveled from such distant locales as Australia and Japan.) “Because the festival started as a family reunion, it’s really like being at someone’s backyard party,” says Michael Schulze, who helps Holmes direct the gathering. “The audience can sit under the cypress trees by the pond, or visit the vendors for barbecue, tamales, and beer. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you show up, you are part of the community.”

North Carolina
Welty’s Other Works

Whether wielding a pen or a camera lens, Eudora Welty knew how to tell a story. Before she became a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, she took a job with the Works Progress Administration in 1935, traveling throughout rural Mississippi to photograph daily life. The images she captured would eventually inspire characters in the short stories that made her a fixture on library shelves around the world. Through September 3, the North Carolina Museum of Art, in Raleigh, will display eighteen of those early photos in its new exhibition,
Looking South: Photographs by Eudora Welty. Toward the end of her life, Welty donated her WPA photographs and others to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “In 1992, the department asked if she would produce this portfolio,” says Linda Dougherty, the chief curator, of the images shown in the exhibit. “Welty looked back at her work and curated what she thought were her most iconic pictures. She picked the negatives and even oversaw the printing process.” Welty’s portraits—of farmers, churchgoers, porch sitters, and sharecroppers—reveal the same quality as her writing: an extraordinary ability to empathize with people from all walks of life.

Fresh Take

From their giant size—up to fifteen feet wide—to their thought-provoking compositions, Kehinde Wiley’s paintings have set the art world buzzing. GQ, New York magazine, and the New York Times have all profiled the rising artist in recent years. His vibrant portraits, which reference historical paintings, replace European leaders such as Napoleon with contemporary African American, Jamaican, Haitian, and Indian subjects. From June 17 to September 10, art lovers have one last chance to see his show
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic on the final stop of its national tour at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. “It’s an exhibition that overwhelms if you see it in person,” says Michael Anderson, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs. Fifty-three pieces span two floors and give a sense of the artist’s evolving career. “Wiley reimagines who it is that can and should be depicted in large classical paintings,” Anderson says. “What he’s really doing is rewriting an absence in art history.” Grab a ticket during the opening week for a chance to meet the artist.

South Carolina
Polo Royalty

Aiken, South Carolina, might be small, but its place in polo history looms large. Since 1882, the sport of kings and other equestrian pursuits—fox hunting and steeplechasing—have drawn social-register heavyweights (Vanderbilts, Astors, and Whitneys, to name a few) to Aiken’s warm pine-scented
landscape, earning it the nickname the Winter Colony. The sport stuck: Whitney Field is now the oldest continuously played-upon polo field in the United States. Celebrating that illustrious past, this year the Aiken Polo Club—which enjoys an international reputation as a hub for the top players, breeders, and trainers—will host the Polo Museum Cup 2 Goal tournament (May 30–June 11) to benefit the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame in Lake Worth, Florida. And you don’t have to roll like a Rockefeller to get the primo Aiken experience; general admission runs just five bucks, and twenty-five more buys you refreshments and a spot in the shade.

A Really Grape Time

After a decade of explosive growth, the Lone Star State is now home to more grape varieties than any other region in the world. “We have so many different terroirs,” says Paul Bonarrigo, of Messina Hof winery in Bryan. “Almost any kind of grape can grow somewhere in Texas.” Messina Hof, situated on a hundred-acre spread, is one of seven estates on the self-guided Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail, located between I-45 and U.S. Highway 290 northwest of Houston. While there’s never a bad time to sip a Texas tempranillo (made with one of the state’s most popular grapes), harvest season might be the best occasion to get to know the state’s wine from the roots up. For two weekends in July, the Bluebonnet’s special Harvest Trail allows you to do just that. Enlist a designated driver, crank up the air-conditioning, and enjoy pours and snacks at all seven stops. And plan to stay awhile, maybe even stomp some grapes. “Texas winemakers are all about hospitality,” Bonarrigo says. “We don’t just want you to buy a bottle and get out. We want you to feel like you’re part of the process.”

Leading Light

Moody seventeenth- and eighteenth-century oil paintings of horses and hounds are well represented at Middleburg’s National Sporting Library & Museum. But you’ll find modern examples on the walls, too. “We’re always looking for artists who can bring the sporting art tradition into the present day,” says Claudia Pfeiffer, an NSLM curator. Collectors—from William S. Farish (former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain) to the trustees at Keeneland Race Course—will tell you that few accomplish that as well as the Polish-born, Kentucky-based painter Andre Pater. Forty-eight of his oils, pastels, and charcoals of horses, hunters, gundogs, and other scenes from the stables and field make up
Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light, on display until August 13. “Pater is a phenom in his understanding of light and motion,” Pfeiffer says. His present-day paintings are brighter and bolder than those of his predecessors, but his passion for the sporting life is built on centuries of tradition. “When you walk through our core collection after you leave the Pater exhibit,” Pfeiffer says, “you will definitely see where his inspiration is coming from.”

Washington, D.C.
What A Gem

If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, Marjorie Merriweather Post was mighty popular. The American socialite and businesswoman—and one of Cartier’s top customers—was known to drape herself from arms to ears in priceless jewels and dress up like Marie Antoinette for costume balls at her Palm Beach home, Mar-a-Lago. (You may have heard of it.) And she threw many a lavish soiree at her twenty-five-acre Hillwood estate in Washington, D.C., which remained the Post Cereal heiress’s home base until her death in 1973. This summer, much of Post’s jewelry collection, considered one of the planet’s finest, returns home to Hillwood for
Spectacular! Gems and Jewelry from the Merriweather Post Collection, opening June 10. It’s the first time her assemblage will have its own exhibition—she donated many pieces to the Smithsonian to form the bedrock of its gem gallery. The loot, totaling nearly sixty pieces, includes a pendant brooch with more than 250 carats of carved Indian emeralds and a dazzling ruby-and-diamond floral brooch made by Van Cleef & Arpels with its famous invisible setting. Naturally, the exhibition opens with a black-tie gala (June 6). “The thing about Hillwood…you don’t dress down,” says Kate Markert, the museum’s executive director.

West Virginia
Dog Days of Summer

Hot dogs are serious business in West Virginia, where a classic slaw dog means a ballpark frank on a steamed (not toasted) bun, topped with spicy, finely grained chili (more a thin sauce than a stew), creamy slaw, chopped onions, and yellow mustard (the last two optional)—ketchup and pickles need not apply. But even in a region with such rabid devotion to its take on the all-American classic, Huntington has a unique claim to fame, says Kym York-Blake of the annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival: “Unlike so many other places, Huntington still has all these decades-old, family-run hot-dog joints.” Locals realized more than a dozen years ago that those restaurants and drive-ins deserved celebrating. Stewarts Original Hot Dogs, Frostop Drive-In, Midway Drive-In, and Sam’s Hot Dogs are among the dozen vendors that will set up downtown on July 29 for a day of summer fun that includes wiener-dog races, a dog costume contest, and competitions in hot-dog eating and root-beer chugging, in which contestants race to the bottoms of half-gallon jugs. (“You have to wash hot dogs down with something,” York-Blake explains.) Bring your kids, your pets, and your appetite—plus a roll of antacids.