The Southern Agenda

The Southern Agenda: June/July 2015

Goings-on in the South and beyond

illustration: Tim Bower

Carrying the Tiki Torch
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
June 10-14

From New Orleans to New York City, the tiki revival sloshes on. In the Sunshine State, though, the devotion to all things Polynesian (dining, drinking, and dancing) never really disappeared in the first place. At the fifty-nine-year-old Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, you can still sip tropical punches and snack on sweet-and-sour pork. One of the last of the grand Polynesian palaces that once covered the nation, Mai-Kai also helps host the annual Hukilau festival, a five-day bash fueled by mai tais, hurricanes, rum runners, and daiquiris. The lei-bedecked likes of cocktail scholar and author  Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and expert bartenders Martin Cate and the Straw Hat Barmen will coast into town for a long weekend that includes recipe swap meets, seminars, and parties centered on those retro pebble-iced drinks. You can dive into the three-hundred-year history of Planters Punch or watch tiki carving demos. During Hukilau, no aspect of tiki culture need go overlooked. Even those shirts. Mahalo, y’all.—


Your Day in Court

Monroeville isn’t Maycomb, the fictional setting of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s no secret that the small South Alabama town was the real-life inspiration for the site of Southern literary history’s most famous trial. This summer, both locales will reenter our imaginations when Go Set a Watchman, the much-anticipated, if controversial, sequel to Mockingbird, arrives on July 14. Assumed lost, the complete manuscript was recovered by Lee’s lawyer and will be printed as it was found—without edits. It follows a no-longer-in-overalls Scout Finch as she returns home to Maycomb from New York City twenty years after the death of Tom Robinson. Bookstores will no doubt be doing a brisk business. So will Monroeville’s Old Courthouse Museum. The brick building’s stately courtroom provided the model for the set where Gregory Peck delivered Atticus Finch’s moving closing monologue, and today its restored 1930s interior and museum are destinations for literary tourists and fans of Mockingbird’s film adaptation. Channel Atticus down front, or crouch in the balcony like Scout.—


Spreading the Gospel

Before Bentonville had Walmart or the impressive Crystal Bridges art museum, there was the First Christian Church. The brick building opened its doors just off the town square more than a century ago, when the northwest corner of Arkansas was still best known for apple orchards—not bastions of corporate America and high culture. Now the long-defunct church will play an important role in the city’s increasingly cosmopolitan second act when it reopens in June as the restaurant Belfry. In the kitchen: Matt Cooper, an on-the-rise chef, formerly of the Little Rock restaurant Cache, who will serve produce-forward fare. He’ll be joined by Carrie Spanton, a veteran of the New Orleans bar scene who will oversee the basement speakeasy, the Old 71 Club. Any new restaurant is a gamble, but it’s more than likely the folks involved here have said their prayers.—


Not-Just-On-Sunday Dinner

With tattoos from his wrists to his shoulders, chef Kevin Gillespie certainly doesn’t fit the mold of the Southern grandmother (most of them, anyway), but he sure can cook like one. The Top Chef alumnus, who owns the popular Atlanta restaurant Gunshow, spent his childhood tugging at his own grandmother’s apron strings. And after thousands of grueling hours in restaurant kitchens, two cookbooks, and a season on television, he wants to return to the down-home dishes his Granny Geneva served the family after church each week. At his new restaurant Revival, scheduled to open in Decatur this summer, he and his team will prepare à la carte lunches and family-style suppers. A full kitchen garden and a spacious yard complete the illusion of dining at Grandma’s house. It’s a modern meat-and-three grounded in decades of Gillespie family tradition.


The Greatest Show For Earth

Thirteen years ago, Louisville musician JK McKnight paid $500 to bring six local bands to the city’s Tyler Park. Now, with Shovels & Rope, Sturgill Simpson, Widespread Panic, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and forty other bands gracing the stages, this year’s Forecastle Festival (July 17–19) might be the hottest ticket in Southern music. And it underscores just how far the summertime gathering has come since its modest beginnings. Paying that success forward, Forecastle also helps raise money for environmental charities; a dollar from every ticket sold helps benefit groups such as the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust. Organizers haven’t forgotten their local musical roots either. The 2015 lineup includes hometown heroes My Morning Jacket and Houndmouth, from just across the Ohio River in New Albany, Indiana. Keep an eye out for band members at one of the festival’s late-night jams.—


Hot Streak

Frog Bone. Hot As U Want. Papi Joe’s. PepperSmack. PuckerButt. Those are just a few of the vendors plying their peppery wares in the land of hot-sauce giants Tabasco and Crystal at the Louisiana Hot Sauce Exposition in Lafayette (July 18–19). Seventy additional exhibitors will compete for audience attention, selling everything from straight-up hot sauce to salsa, barbecue sauce, and chile-spiced jerky. It’s a worthy destination for barbecue fans, too. The Cajun BBQ Bash will take place outside Blackham Coliseum on the first day of the exposition—it’s a Kansas City Barbeque Society–sanctioned event with a big payoff: The winner will move on to the American Royal World Series of Barbecue. Home cooks who want to bring the heat should check out culinary demos inside to find out how much more you can do with a bottle of the spicy stuff than dousing your breakfast scramble.—



Chesapeake Comfort

During Baltimore’s nineteenth-century boom, the industrialist John Gilman erected the turreted, ivy-covered brick mansion that houses the new Ivy Hotel, which will open in June in the tony Mount Vernon neighborhood. Each of the eighteen rooms is sumptuously decorated and equipped with a fireplace. There’s a tearoom, a music room, a spa, and a garden meant for strolling, making the boutique boardinghouse a comfortable refuge for travelers arriving to experience Baltimore’s ongoing renaissance. An overnight stay includes breakfast, afternoon tea, and evening cocktails. For dinner, forget calling an Uber; one of the hotel’s in-house drivers will drop you off at any of Baltimore’s buzzed-about restaurants or bars—you can’t go wrong with a Spike Gjerde–run establishment. And at the end of the night, the hotel’s gas lanterns will welcome you home.—


Miss Eudora’s Birthday Party

Eudora Welty was not only a Pulitzer Prize–winning author. She was also a green-thumb gardener, published photographer, and amateur astronomer. Academics have dissected her prose and expounded upon her literary prowess in hundreds of classrooms. But the first Welty Biennial (now through July 3) may be the most apt tribute yet to one of the great minds of the twentieth-century South. Set in her hometown, Jackson, the festival explores wide-ranging themes to match those found in Welty’s works—from constellations to plantation ruins to classical music. Photography and sculpture exhibits and tours of the author’s home (the interiors remain exactly as they were in 1986 when Welty donated her house to the state) run throughout the celebration. There’s also a conversation with leading Welty scholars in early June, and a dramatic reading with Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis, one of the stars of Steel Magnolias, as the commanding Cora from Welty’s short story “Asphodel.” It’s the sort of creative gathering Welty, a lifelong student, might have loved—if only the famously private writer wasn’t its focus.—


North Carolina
Here’s to Brew!

Back in 1995, Carolina Brewery was one of the founding fathers of the Tar Heel State’s now-booming beer culture. University of North Carolina graduate Robert Poitras has been making small-batch suds there since today’s beer-swilling hipsters were hanging out on the monkey bars. This year, the brewery will celebrate its twentieth anniversary with grateful nods to the locals who have long supported its two locations in Pittsboro and Chapel Hill. Every Saturday from now until September, the Pittsboro location will host free brewery tours in the afternoons and live music in the evenings. The company’s culinary salute to two decades in business is the 20th Anniversary Local Burger—made with cheese from Chapel Hill Creamery, locally baked potato buns, and beef from cattle raised on grains left over from the brewing process. Wash it down with a pint of the newly released 20th Anniversary American Pale Ale, a hoppy blend with a fresh grapefruit aroma.—


Lake Effects

If you already plan to get a few kicks on Route 66 this summer, stop for a few more on Lake Overholser, just about a mile off the nation’s most famous highway. After decades of disrepair and then a major renovation, the Route 66 Boathouse is once again the best place to see Oklahoma City’s Boathouse District by water. You can rent paddleboards and kayaks, procure tickets for the just-opened zip line, and take advantage of more than thirteen miles of shaded trails for cyclists and joggers. (North Overholser Drive, on the lake’s north shore, follows the original 1926 section of Route 66, before the roadbed was moved in 1928.)  Grab your flip-flops and sunscreen—got to prevent parched prairie skin. The fun begins in June, when Riversport Adventures, which runs the Route 66 Boathouse, starts welcoming guests for the season. There’s also an Olympic-style, eleven-acre white-water park in the works—set for completion in 2016.—


South Carolina
The Prints of Pop Art

Andy Warhol may have been born in Pittsburgh and made in Manhattan, but the artist shared more with his Southern brethren than floppy hair and the occasional bow tie. Some of his favorite subjects hailed from below the Mason-Dixon Line, including Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and Muhammad Ali. Dozens of the artist’s most famous works will hang on display at From Marilyn to Mao: Andy Warhol’s Famous Faces, at the Columbia Museum of Art from June 12 until September 13. Also on view: ten silk-screened portraits of Mao Zedong that an anonymous donor recently bequeathed to the museum. Unlike the other canvases, they will remain at the museum permanently, which puts them within sniffing distance of some of the Palmetto State’s world-class mustard-sauced barbecue. Warhol, a great lover of all-American comfort food, would surely have appreciated the proximity. We do, too.—


Watching Bluegrass Grow

Within the brick walls and stained-glass windows of Nashville’s so-called Mother Church of Country Music, Bill Monroe invented bluegrass, Hank Williams made his Grand Ole Opry debut, and Johnny Cash met June Carter. Given all the dusty boots that have shuffled through the Ryman Auditorium’s hallowed hallways over the years, it’s no wonder the building was due for a renovation. The $14 million overhaul, scheduled to wrap up at the beginning of July, will leave the Ryman’s historic nucleus unchanged but add a café and an exhibit space chronicling the history of the landmark venue. For a live lesson in regional musicology, visit the auditorium on Thursday evenings from June 25 to July 30 for the annual Bluegrass Nights, a series of string-heavy shows by such artists as Ricky Skaggs, Robert Earl Keen, and Vince Gill. We’d like to imagine the spirit of Bill Monroe pickin’ along in the rafters.—


Fire Power

Don’t sauce your barbecue chicken too soon. That’s the difference between a charred bird and a tender, juicy breast—and just one of the skills you’ll learn from the white-jacketed professionals at the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America. The biggest name in culinary education this side of the original Cordon Bleu, the school is offering a Grilling and BBQ Boot Camp (June 17­–18), which will take campers through the full barbecue spectrum from Carolina pulled pork to Kansas City ribs and Texas brisket, along with a grilled chicken pit stop and detours into potato salad and coleslaw. Careful: Once word of your newfound confidence at the grill gets out, you might end up hosting all the neighborhood get-togethers this summer.—


Back in the Saddle, Again

The colorful and sometimes controversial general George S. Patton was also a consummate athlete—and he charged into a whole different kind of battle during the annual Upperville Colt & Horse Show, where he regularly competed. Founded in 1853, the oldest horse show in the country runs for seven days—this year, from June 1 through June 7—plenty of time for the 2,000-plus riders, ranging from young athletes to Olympic hopefuls, and their mounts to compete in tests of skill and speed. Find a spot in the shade under the towering oaks to enjoy Sunday’s Jumper Classic, the show’s principal event. Watching thousand-pound animals launch over five-foot-tall hurdles is pretty serious stuff. When you need a little levity, head across the park for just-for-fun Jack Russell terrier races.—


Washington, D.C.
Screen Saviors

Last year, films covering everything from Glen Campbell to General Tso’s chicken made the festival big screen during AFI Docs (June 17–21).The pictures at the international documentary film festival regularly pull in the capital city’s political power players—senators, congressmen and congresswomen, even Supreme Court justices. (Maybe you’ll find out if Chief Justice Roberts prefers Sour Patch Kids or is more of a Milk Duds man.) This year, the premier documentary showcase will return to landmark venues across Washington, D.C., with a new but equally wide-ranging collection of documentaries selected by some of the greatest filmmakers in the genre—Ken Burns, Werner Herzog, Spike Lee, and Errol Morris all sit on the festival’s advisory board.—


West Virginia
Folk Heroes

Musicians Michael and Carrie Kline met at the Appalachian South Folklife Center in the 1970s. In July, the couple returns to Pipestem to sing at the center’s 50th Anniversary Folk Festival (July 17–19). They won’t be the only longtime acts performing. The Poor Taters, a West Virginia band with rock-and-roll swagger and bluegrass roots, have played there often. So has singer and civil rights activist Sparky Rucker. They’re all breaking cornbread together to honor the center’s devotion to the people of the mountains while celebrating the region’s traditional arts, crafts, cuisine, and natural beauty. Take a turn on the dance floor and then, in between sets, dig in to Mountain State specialties. We’re hoping for pepperoni rolls and soup beans with chowchow.—