Arts & Culture

The Southern Agenda: October/November 2018

Goings-on in the South and beyond

Photo: Tim Bower



One woman. One dream. That’s how Round Top Antiques Fair (October 1–6) got started in 1968. But today, fifty years later, Emma Lee Turney’s modest country antiques show is a massive twice-a-year mecca for interior designers, shopkeepers, and treasure hunters from all over the world. Spanning thirteen miles and centered in Round Top (population ninety), the festival attracts more than one hundred thousand shoppers to more than sixty locations—the original Big Red Barn, one of the fair’s first venues (and now one of two sites that require tickets), as well as tents, dance halls, and wide-open fields flooded with fine French armoires, early-American sideboards, Turkish rugs,
vintage jewelry, linens, original art, and much more. “There’s nothing else like it,” says Susan Franks, who now runs the event and bought the Big Red Barn from Turney in 2005. Still, the sprawl can be
intimidating. To start, Franks recommends closed-toe shoes that won’t give you blisters (your favorite pair of cowboy boots, perhaps) and comfortable, breathable clothes—“October in Texas can still be scorching,” she says. Nearby rooms are sometimes booked as much as a year out, but you can easily stay in Austin and drive out for the day. Just avoid the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 71 and take 21 to 290 instead, Franks advises. Arrive early in the week to miss the biggest crowds or visit late if you’re looking for end-of-show deals. Either way, bring cash. It always helps when you’re haggling for the best price.



Just three years after chef-owner David Bancroft opened the fine-dining-focused Acre in Auburn, the James Beard Foundation took notice—he earned his first Best Chef: South semifinalist nomination in 2016. Now Bancroft is synthesizing the two locales of his upbringing—Alabama, where his family has deep roots, and South Texas, where his parents moved when he was five—in Bow & Arrow, scheduled to start serving Auburn’s hungry War Eagle crowds in October. Bancroft describes the casual spot as “Texas smokehouse meets Alabama potluck.” Think brisket, turkey, and beef-back ribs sharing space on a tray with Tater Tot casserole, collard greens, and butter beans, with brownies or pecan pie for dessert. Outside, a parking-lot garden will yield figs and pomegranates—one destined for desserts, the other for margaritas. Inside, the setup sounds like something from Willy Wonka’s factory. There’s an automated tortilla machine (“like one I remember watching as a child in San Antonio,” Bancroft says), a glass-fronted hearth-style pit built by Kudu Grills of Macon, Georgia, and a “meat chandelier” festooned with smoked sausage. “It’s going to be a big, constant Sunday supper,” Bancroft says, “that happens to be around a fire.”



J. R. Cash started working in the cotton fields of eastern Arkansas when he was just five years old—he didn’t go by Johnny until he signed with Sun Records in his early twenties. The Man in Black never forgot his Delta homestead in the New Deal town of Dyess, a farming settlement that provided work to struggling families during the Great Depression. More than eighty years later, the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival (October 18–20) gathers on the same piece of “rich black bottom dirt” that Cash sang about in “Five Feet and Rising.” “The focus is not just on Cash and his music, but on the way growing up in an agricultural colony in the 1930s affected him,” says Ruth Hawkins, director of Arkansas State University Heritage Sites. Set around Cash’s boyhood home, which was restored in 2014, the three-day celebration includes film screenings, house tours, and a symposium about Cash’s life. The heart of the event is Saturday’s concert series—hosted by Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, and featuring Alison Krauss—and a fund-raiser to rebuild the farm’s barn, chicken coop, and smokehouse. “Festival performers and audience members can look to the side and see Johnny’s house,” Hawkins says. “It’s moving to watch from the same field where he grew up picking cotton.”

Tim Bower



Think of the sport of pétanque (“pay-tonk”) as a blend of bocce and horseshoes. Without lifting their feet, players toss silver boules toward a target called a cochonnet. Though French through and through, the game finds its American home on Amelia Island, a postcard patch of marsh in northern Florida that was at one point (1562) claimed by France. Now, the annual Pétanque Amelia Island Open (November 9–11) is the largest competition of its kind in the Americas, drawing hundreds of players from more than twenty countries to matches at Amelia’s downtown marina and spots along the Amelia River banks. Although the tournament has become a “pretty big deal” in the pétanque world, according to former organizer Kate Harris, beginners are welcome to play. “Pétanque can be learned in five minutes,” she says. “But you can play it for the rest of your life.”



It’s hard to be new-build construction in a city like Savannah with its ancient oak-lined squares that date to the 1700s. But the just-opened 167-room Perry Lane Hotel has already made itself right at home in the Hostess City of the South. How? By treating guests to a luxuriously good time. “The design of the hotel tips its hat to the logic and sequence of how you might move through a house during a party—from the entrance to the drawing room to the backyard,” says Jon Kully, the Perry Lane’s owner. Savor rabbit ragout with pappardelle or duck-liver mousse with pickled grapes at the Emporium, the hotel’s understated ground-floor brasserie, or pull up a stool at the Wayward bar, where a motorcycle hangs from the ceiling and ’80s punk plays. At Peregrin—the rooftop lounge scene conceived as a glam 1960s pool party—gaze from the bocce court over the rooftops of the historic district with a nightcap in hand, then tuck into bed beneath Frette linens. The hotel’s warm welcome extends to your pup, too—the Perry Lane is dog friendly.



A small city in Kentucky is having a moment, and bluegrass music, unsurprisingly, is at its center. On the banks of the Ohio River, Owensboro has undergone a total revitalization since 2012, when its RiverWalk park opened. But the town needed something to tie together all the civic development. Cue the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the reinvigorated former International Bluegrass Music Museum, which celebrates its grand opening October 18–20 in a fifty-thousand-square-foot downtown space with multiple performance venues. After the International Bluegrass Music Association inducts five new members on Thursday, a Friday night performance by Sam Bush embodies the link between an earlier generation of bluegrass performers and today’s torchbearers, such as Yonder Mountain String Band, one of four groups playing a free show on the new outdoor stage Saturday. “It’s not just a cool concert that happens to be in Owensboro,” says Chris Joslin, executive director. “At our core, we’re all about historic preservation of the genre—the bluegrass music that sprang from this region.”



Good boudin is easy to find in Southwest Louisiana, Earth’s undisputed mecca for the Cajun creation of pork, rice, onions, and parsley tied in sausage casing. But the best boudin has a generous meat-to-rice ratio and strong seasoning and can only be found every October during Boudin Wars (October 27) in Sulphur, at least according to the slightly biased event organizer, Thom Trahan. The town takes its name from the element mined there a century ago, and inside its historic Brimstone Museum, ticket-holders taste samples from regional makers. Chefs, food critics, bloggers, and former winners assess the goods. “They judge based on flavor, presentation, spice, creativity, and texture,” Trahan says. To see the contestants on their home turf, plan a trip along the Boudin Trail, a route featuring dozens of the world’s top boudin holes around the region. And while it’s true that similar sausages hail from France and Germany, boudin has, over generations of Louisianans, evolved into a Cajun staple. “Boudin is an acknowledgment of our roots,” Trahan says, “with South Louisiana flair.”

Tim Bower



The same waterfowlers who coveted Lem and Steve Ward’s early twentieth-century decoys might not have been eager to actually share a blind with the famed Chesapeake carvers. Rather than taking aim, the brothers—always searching for ways to make their wooden birds more lifelike—often allowed their winged quarry to alight, observing their shapes and color patterns. Barbers by trade, the brothers had no real artistic training, but today Ward is one of the decoy world’s most recognizable, collectible names. The Ward Foundation was established in 1968 to preserve the brothers’ legacy and foster an appreciation for wildlife art. In Salisbury, the affiliated Ward Museum’s new exhibition, 50 Finest Decoy Makers Before 1950 (through February 22), honors the foundation’s fiftieth anniversary and includes antiques by a who’s-who list of carvers from the Chesapeake, the Carolinas, Canada, and waterfowling destinations in between. “We have sourced as little as possible from our collection,” says curator Jackson Medel, which means even museum regulars will have the chance to see something new. And if you’re a sporting-art antiquarian, check out the Golden Goose Auction on October 12, held in conjunction with the Chesapeake Wildlife Expo. Ward works, naturally, will dominate.



President Theodore Roosevelt famously spared a black bear on a 1902 hunt near Rolling Fork, inspiring the label teddy for plush bears. But in the toy’s oft-told origin tale, Holt Collier—Roosevelt’s intrepid guide that day—is generally overlooked. With this year’s theme, “The Incredible Holt,” the Great Delta Bear Affair (October 27) in Rolling Fork will bring his role out of hibernation. “It’s time Holt got his due,” says event coordinator Meg Cooper. Born into slavery, Collier was a Confederate sharpshooter and, according to lore, took more bears than Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett combined. Holt and Teddy impersonators will roam for photo ops, and true to Delta form, vendors will serve tamales and fried catfish. But the festival’s backbone is the conservation of natural resources and the native black bear (only recently removed from the state’s endangered species list); the organizers want to keep the animals’ plight in their sights. Tiny Rolling Fork expects up to six thousand folks, a turnout that proves the story still resonates. “It’s pretty awesome,” Cooper says, “since that’s more than the population of our entire county.”

Tim Bower


North Carolina

Her perspective-shifting art and ability to glide past gender barriers make Georgia O’Keeffe an ideal beacon for Matrons of the Arts, an initiative by the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. All year, Matrons programming has shown the contributions women make to the art world—not just as artists, but also as mentors and philanthropists. On October 13, The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art (through January 20) arrives at the museum and features thirty-five of the famed painter’s flowers and landscapes, coupled with works by contemporary artists who explore similar motifs. “Although she never wanted to be recognized as a female artist, just an artist, period,” says the museum’s chief curator, Linda Johnson Dougherty, “I think O’Keeffe would see the need for Matrons.” A concurrent woman-led exhibition at the museum: German-born Candida Höfer’s photographs.


South Carolina

Nineteen-year-old British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason has already given the performance of a lifetime—he played for the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex at this year’s royal wedding. But if you think he’s good, you should hear his sister Isata, says Lee Pringle, founder of the Colour of Music Festival (in Charleston October 24–28), who invited the siblings to the festival two years ago, before Sheku’s
regal moment. The gathering promotes classical musicians of color by means of a dozen concerts and a symposium series (along with correlating events in Houston, Pittsburgh, and Richmond in September). In South Carolina, singular musicians and conductors such as Ifetayo Ali-Landing and Jeri Lynne Johnson will perform in venues across the Holy City. This year’s theme is Baroque to Early Classical, and particularly work by Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a talented contemporary of Mozart who is nearly unknown in the United States.
“Classical music is expensive to present, and most orchestras don’t know black classical composers,” Pringle says. “But until people in the decision-making offices look like me, there’s a need for Colour of Music.”



All that remains of Monterey’s Standing Stone is a hunk of sandstone. Centuries ago, half a mile from its current location in a downtown park, the original nineteen-
foot dog-shaped monolith overlooked the Cumberland Plateau. “There were legends of how spirits made it, or how Native American tribes carved it, or how it had just been weathered that way,” says Julie Bohannon, the town’s cultural administrator. Before settlers arrived, tribes used the Standing Stone as a spiritual symbol and hunting trail marker. Time wore down the rock, and when railroad engineers were building a line between Nashville and Knoxville in the 1890s, they blew it up. Fortunately, forward-thinking citizens mounted a fragment on a pedestal in Monterey. “Every October, we celebrate our Native American heritage,” Bohannon says. This year, October 13 is Standing Stone Day’s quasquicentennial—125th anniversary—and the town is marking the occasion with a parade. A wreath and tomahawk will be placed in tribute to the stone. Weather-worn and craggy, it still draws pilgrims.



Wine was both the center of Thomas Jefferson’s social life and the bedrock of his second home. At Poplar Forest—the Blue Ridge retreat he built ninety miles south of Monticello—the wine cellar acted as the octagon-shaped home’s foundation. There, Jefferson stored bottles from Portugal, Spain, Italy, and France. “He always planned to cultivate his own wine in Virginia, too,” says Poplar Forest president and CEO Jeffrey Nichols. “He planted grapes, but we have no records that he ever succeeded in producing wine.” But the founding father would no doubt be delighted to discover that modern-day vintners have created a booming wine scene in his home state. Sample success when more than a dozen regional winemakers fill glasses at Poplar Forest for the Thomas Jefferson Wine Festival (November 17). A tasting ticket covers sips of each, but spring for a VIP pass for a private rooftop party and time rubbing elbows with local oenophiles. Jefferson thought wine had restorative properties, Nichols says. Breathe in the fall mountain air and sip a glass of Jefferson’s realized dream, and you can’t help but feel the same.


Washington, D.C.

On a roll call of recognizable Southern artists, Bill Traylor would probably not make the short list—or the long, for that matter. The Smithsonian American Art Museum intends to change that. On September 28, the museum opens Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor, an exhibition of the most extensive collection of paintings and drawings made by a person born into slavery. After spending most of his life working on farms in rural Alabama, first as an enslaved person and then as a paid laborer, Traylor moved to Montgomery in his seventies—around 1927. A decade later, he began illustrating bold, bright depictions of his neighbors, chickens, dogs, and horses, using discarded cardboard as canvas. “These are memories, dreams, and stories recorded in a way he devised for himself,” says Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the museum. “The work he left behind embodies a look back at plantation life, and looks forward at a rising African American urban culture.” Traylor’s life spanned eras, as does his art.


West Virginia

What possesses Ric Griffith to pile his historic mansion and lawn with three thousand jack-o’-lanterns? “Some as-yet-
unidentified mental illness,” quips the former mayor of tiny Kenova. It all started with just four carvings in 1978, and
every year, the pumpkins proliferated. “I couldn’t stop,” Griffith says. Four decades later, preparations for the Pumpkin House begin in late September, when a local farmer delivers custom-grown gourds to Griffith’s nearly 130-year-old Queen Anne–style Kenova home (it’s on the National Register of Historic Places). Griffith and his daughter spend weeks sketching designs onto pumpkins, and a horde of volunteers scoop and carve. On October 27, Griffith switches on tucked-inside lights to illuminate an orange glow of flickering faces—every president; cartoon characters; spooky and goofy ghouls. Up to fifty thousand visitors stream by each year until a few days after Halloween. The area’s coinciding Autumnfest bake-off and crafts festival add to the small-town charm, but it’s the families who return each year who delight Griffith. “It’s hard work, and my wife sometimes gets irritated with me,” he says. “But when people say the sight fills them with wonder like nothing else, it’s worth it.”

—Brent Crane, Elizabeth Hutchison,
Jennifer Kornegay, CJ Lotz, Phillip Rhodes, and Caroline Sanders