The Southern Agenda

The Southern Agenda: April/ May 2013

Goings-on in the South Beyond

illustration: Tim Bower

Presidential Vintage
Orange County, Virginia, May 4-5 

Here’s a shortcoming of most presidential history: It isn’t often paired with copious amounts of really good wine. The Montpelier Wine Festival (May 4–5) sets that straight with a full-blown vino-palooza on the rolling estate of James and Dolley Madison, in Orange County. Twenty-four Virginia wineries will pop their corks, including nearby standouts Barboursville, Reynard Florence Vineyards, and Horton Cellars Winery. And local chefs will lead demonstrations on cooking with wine. Madison’s historic mansion will be open for tours, so attendees can soak up knowledge about the father of the Constitution. If that doesn’t quite satisfy your oenophile urge, don’t worry; it’s officially wine fest season in Virginia. The next two weekends bring the Wine Festival at Monticello (May 11), smack in Thomas Jefferson’s backyard, and the Virginia WineFest (May 18–19) on the shady grounds of James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland.;;



How much creative fervor can you stuff into one historic building? Find out at Southern Makers (May 4), a one-day gathering at Montgomery’s Union Station Train Shed that brings together artists, chefs, farmers, brewers, architects, and designers to explore ’Bama-centric inventiveness through panels, workshops, and cooking demos. Workshops include foraging, cheese making, urban beekeeping, and Sewing with Alabama Chanin, in which participants learn stitching techniques alongside fashion designer Natalie Chanin. Hungry minds need to be fed, so participating chefs, including Wesley True (True, Mobile), Rob McDaniel (SpringHouse, Lake Martin), and David Bancroft (Acre, Auburn), will dish out gourmet tastings. Stop by the Billy Reid pop-up shop and the Market Place Bazaar to shop wares by Southern artists and craftsmen. Meeting your Makers never sounded so appealing.



If the Arkansas Literary Festival (April 18–21) were a novel, it would be one of those sweeping epics acclaimed for its rich characters, engrossing dialogue, and even a few potent plot twists. With more than eighty presenters, the fest’s panels, workshops, film screenings, plays, and book signings spill out of the Central Arkansas Library’s main campus into Little Rock’s River Market and Argenta Arts districts. You want literary heavyweights? Check out Pulitzer winner Richard Ford (Independence Day), Karen Russell (Swamplandia!), and National Book Award finalists Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) and Domingo Martinez (The Boy Kings of Texas). But Chuck Thompson, author of Better Off Without ’Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, should spark some real fireworks, or at the very least some lively debate.



During the weekend dinner rush, it can be tough getting into chef Jeff McInnis’s Miami restaurant, Yardbird. Especially since the Southern-focused spot, which is almost
 single-handedly reviving Southern soul food in South Beach, started raking in accolades in
 2012. But probably the most sought-after reservation slot is several hours later for McInnis’s Midnight Chef’s Table series, held twice monthly on the second and fourth Fridays. A small group of night-owl diners can score a seat around a communal table in front of Yardbird’s open kitchen once the regular dinner service finishes at—yep—midnight. For their patience, attendees enjoy a special meal, served family style and accompanied by a matched cocktail prepared tableside. Some nights, McInnis passes his Wüsthof to a guest chef (past chefs have included Empire State South’s Ryan Smith and My Ceviche’s Sam Gorenstein) and sits down to talk food and extol the virtues of sourcing ingredients from local farms and fishermen. Whoever said nothing good happens after midnight?



For one night at least, orchestra fans and musicians trade the concert hall’s fancy digs for picnic blankets and beach chairs. Hence the popularity of Callaway Gardens’ spring music event, Symphony on the Sand (April 26), when some seventy-odd Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians pack up their piccolos, violas, cellos, and oboes to perform outdoors on Robin Lake Beach. Whether they go for a $20 lawn ticket or a VIP lakeside table, fans can kick back and soak up the interludes and overtures under the stars. Of course, the whole thing culminates in a rousing fireworks display, since symphonies are sadly denied the use of exploding pyrotechnic finales when performing under a roof.



For some folks, picking the right Derby hat is as important as selecting the right horse—maybe more important. So if you haven’t chosen a winner yet, it’s time to focus, people! Luckily, the inaugural KMA Couture event (April 11), at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville, provides a convenient opportunity to find the perfect topper while partying the night away. Start the evening with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a runway show and trunk shows by six to eight national and regional designers, including Christine Moore, the New York milliner whose designs have been worn by everyone from the hosts of The Today Show to racing royalty. Coordinate with handmade jewelry from Kentucky’s own Elva Fields. Sounds like everything required to Run for the Roses in style.



Not even the umpteen-stage Jazz Fest juggernaut can handle all the homegrown musical talent that springs from New Orleans (especially when the likes of decidedly nonnative Maroon 5 are also on the bill). Hence the need for Chaz Fest (May 1), a more intimate affair that takes advantage of the downtime between Jazz Fest weekends to showcase local acts at a funky compound in the even funkier Bywater neighborhood. Organized by local musician Alex McMurray and named for washboard whiz Chaz Leary, past Chaz Fests have included performers such as the Tin Men and To Be Continued Brass Band. A full bar fuels the ten-hour fest, and the grub ranges from veggie tacos to that irresistible staple of Big Easy music events—crawfish bread.



Proper daydreams of sailing around the globe should begin at water’s edge, not some high-and-dry convention center. That’s why the Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show (April 25–28) puts its seagoing stars into the drink along the Annapolis waterfront (aka Ego Alley). Started last year as a spin-off of the long-running United States Sailboat Show held in the fall, this event will showcase more than seventy new and brokerage sailboats ranging from dinghies to sixty-foot cruisers, plus more equipment and accessory vendors than you can shake a tiller at. Not quite ready to set sail? There’s also Cruisers University, a four-day educational program packed with dozens of classes designed to introduce landlubbers to life aboard a cruising boat, including hurricane preparation, the art of anchoring, and—ahoy!—punch mixology. show/home



Mama might have warned you to stay away from juke joints, but the tenth annual Juke Joint Festival (April 13) is hosted by the town of Clarksdale and other (fairly) respectable folks—surely everybody will be on their best behavior. A sizable chunk of the fest even happens in broad daylight, with live blues flowing from stages, cafés, galleries, and barbershops all over town. And with plenty of barbecue, catfish, and tamales being served up, no belly will go unsatisfied. When the sun goes down, the action flows to Clarksdale’s famously smoky and ramshackle joints, places with names such as Red’s Lounge, Messenger’s, and Ground Zero Blues Club. You’re likely to have the night of your life in one of them. After all, mama was wrong about motorcycles and skinny-dipping, too.


North Carolina

If heaven has a food court, it must look a lot like the Collective Spirits Wine and Food Festival (May 16–18), an annual event that raises upwards of $300,000 for the Bascom, a center for the visual arts  in Highlands. Consider the first evening: A whole host of the South’s finest chefs, including Susan Spicer (Bayona), Sean Brock (Husk), and Elliott Moss (the Admiral), partner with acclaimed winemakers from all over the world to serve guests a full-on feast in six luxurious mountain homes, where the only thing better than the food is the view. The next day, a walk-around wine market and tasting held on the terrace at the Bascom provides a blissfully easy way to stock the cellar. On the last night, a gala dinner is followed by an auction of such prizes as a trip to California wine country for four, and a 100-point private wine dinner—where no bottle has earned less than a critic’s perfect score—with a top chef.



The success of the first two stagings of the Oklahoma Craft Beer Festival proved that the state has a dedicated and growing community of craft beer lovers. This year’s fest (May 18), sponsored by TapWerks Ale House and Café and held outdoors in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown entertainment district, builds on that heady momentum, with proceeds to benefit the formation of the first Oklahoma Craft Brewers Guild. So whether you attend the early session (1–4 p.m.) or late one (5–8 p.m.), sample brews from across the South such as Abita, Flying Dog, and Shiner, but by all means lift an extra pint crafted by one of the local outfits, including Choc Beer, Marshall, Black Mesa, and Coop Ale Works. Remember, you aren’t just quenching your thirst—you’re building a better beer future.


South Carolina

How does a small Southern town best known for growing tobacco (and a lot of it) transform itself into an art destination overnight? By thinking big. Lake City’s first ArtFields festival and competition stretches for a full ten days (April 19–28) and uses the entire downtown as a gallery, displaying the work of artists from twelve Southeastern states inside dozens of local venues, from Becky’s Salon to Ward’s Comfort & Style Shoes. To raise the stakes, artists are vying for $100,000 in cash prizes—the most money of any art competition in the Southeast. Between choosing who wins the People’s Choice Award and its hefty $25,000 purse, festival-goers can also enjoy concerts, food trucks, lectures, a block party, and the two-day portrait battle, in which forty-eight artists compete in two-hour rounds, painting portraits of live models.



Our region continues to produce some of America’s finest writers, and anyone who disagrees should be soundly paddled with a hardcover edition of Absalom, Absalom! Or maybe just gently led to the Celebration of Southern Literature (April 18–20), a biennial conclave recently described by the esteemed literary critic Louis D. Rubin, Jr., as “the leading literary event in the South.” Formerly known as the Conference on Southern Literature, the event takes place at Chattanooga’s Beaux Arts–style Tivoli Theatre and is known for the approachable attitude of its in-the-flesh authors. This year’s stellar roster includes Garden & Gun contributors Clyde Edgerton, Jill McCorkle, and Roy Blount, Jr., participating in readings, book signings, and lively discussions such as “The Voices Behind Good Ol’ Girls” and “What Is Southern These Days?”



Rustic before rustic was the rage, the Old Settler’s Music Festival (April 18–21), in rural Driftwood, is one of Central Texas’s top music events, bringing Americana artists and fans together at two laid-back outdoor venues right across the road from each other—the Salt Lick Pavilion and Camp Ben McCulloch. This year’s packed lineup consists of more than thirty acts on four different stages, including popular draws the Del McCoury Band, Leftover Salmon, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Son Volt, and Justin Townes Earle. If you choose to camp, the area is known for easy access to swims in Onion Creek and fireside picking parties that last late into the night—expect performers to join in after sets. Given the festival’s proximity to Austin, though, don’t be shocked if you wake up Friday and Saturday mornings to find yoga sessions taking place just outside your tent.


Washington, D.C.

It’s only natural that upon encountering a great-looking piece of antique furniture, you want to touch it, to feel its craftsmanship and history. Prepare to mightily resist that urge at Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color (April 12–July 28), the first exhibition to fully explore the work and legacy of Day, a free African-American furniture maker working in North Carolina prior to the Civil War. The thirty-six pieces on display at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, including sofas, rockers, and bureaus, are characteristic of Day’s fluid style, a combination of the fashionable designs of the day and his own concepts. North Carolina high society clamored for Day’s work, and from today’s perspective, it’s enough to make an antique lover swoon. Just watch where you sit down.


West Virginia

Resembling a cross between garlic and an onion, the wild ramp is showing up in the kitchens of hotshot chefs well beyond the humble vegetable’s Appalachian stronghold. But for the folks in Richwood—the self-
proclaimed “Ramp Capital of the World”—the ramp’s allure has long been something to celebrate. Just follow the telltale pungent aroma to the seventy-fifth annual Feast of the Ramson (April 20). Two thousand pounds of spring-maturing ramps (ramson is the Old English name) are sautéed in bacon grease and dished up with ham, cornbread, brown beans, and sassafras tea for a hungry crowd that includes ramps veterans and first-timers alike. Catch the ramps recipe contest for some truly creative renditions such as Hillbilly chili, and to see if anyone can top last year’s big winner—a down-home onion-and-ramp casserole.