The Southern Agenda

The Southern Agenda: October/November 2014

Goings-on in the South and beyond

illustration: Illustrations by Tim Bower

Once in a Blues Moon
Carrboro, North Carolina
October 3-4

Not since roots music scholar Alan Lomax went south in pursuit of the blues has Dixie seen as concerted an effort to preserve our musical traditions as the ongoing one made by the folks at the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping lesser-known and impoverished Southern musicians. To celebrate the group’s twentieth anniversary, more than thirty of those artists will take the stage at the Music Maker Homecoming. Among them: the Deer Clan Singers of the Tuscarora Nation, who sing traditional Tutelo-Tuscarora and Iroquois dance songs; Drink Small, an acoustic bluesman with a sandpaper growl; and Ironing Board Sam, a fifty-five-year veteran of the road who earned his name when he began strapping his legless keyboard to an ironing board while performing. Stop by to see living proof that, despite a little damage inflicted by banjo-wielding Brooklynites, real-deal Southern roots music is far from dead.—


Greatest Hits You’ve Missed
A twentieth-anniversary playlist of must-listen tracks from musicians taking center stage at the Music Maker Homecoming concert.

Mardi Gras Mobile-ized

Back when the settlement that would become New Orleans was still a shabby little bayou outpost, the citizens of Mobile celebrated the very first stateside Mardi Gras. Over the course of the three centuries since, the Alabama port city has piled up plenty of party leftovers: elaborate costumes, crowns, masks, invitations, posters, even floats from various mystic societies. (Don’t even think about calling them krewes.) This year, the Mobile Museum of Art is placing hundreds of such artifacts on display in The Art and Design of Mardi Gras (beginning November 8), a new exhibit of memorabilia organized in collaboration with the History Museum of Mobile and the Mobile Carnival Museum. Taking up all 15,000 square feet of the art museum’s second floor, it’s a collection with as many colorful scenes as the festival itself, including a circular gallery showing nonstop projections of last years’ revelries.—

Modern Masters

What does Bentonville have in common with Manhattan? Not a whole lot, except that this fall both are epicenters of modern American art. If anyone still questions such a comparison, the curators at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art are out to prove them wrong with an ambitious new exhibit, State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now (September 13–January 19, 2015). The museum’s team spent a year crisscrossing the country—visiting almost 1,000 studios—in search of leading American artists at the top of their talents. Of the hundred or so who made the cut, around twenty-five are from the South. They include Delita Martin, a Little Rock printmaker whose family inspired her portraits of black women and girls, and Jeff Whetstone, a North Carolina professor whose haunting photography showcases the relationship between Southerners and the land—from duck hunters in the field to caverns covered in graffiti. For even more art, sleep nearby at the 21c Museum Hotel, the Ozarks iteration of Louisville’s design-forward boutique chain.—Vanessa

Cultivate Good Taste

Backyard gardening meant a little something different to Arthur and Ninah Cummer. After the Michigan lumber magnate and his wife moved to Jacksonville in the late nineteenth century, they enlisted some of the country’s foremost landscape designers, including the storied Olmsted firm of Biltmore and Central Park fame, to plan a stylish series of decorative pleasure gardens. This fall, the Kentucky native and sought-after landscape designer Jon Carloftis follows in the seed-strewn footsteps of his predecessors when he visits the estate, now the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, to lead A Day with Jon Carloftis (November 5). In the morning, he’ll discuss integrating artwork into personal gardens. Stick around for a long lunch on the banks of the St. Johns River. Or if you’re more the cocktail party type, come by in the evening for drinks, snacks, and a chat about gardening with style. Mr. and Mrs. Cummer would surely approve.—

Outsider Art

A trip to Thomasville in November is on every bird hunter’s bucket list, but for a few days at the end of the month, there’s even more reason to visit the quail capital: the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival (November 21–23). Some seventy sporting and wildlife artists from across the country will be in town displaying their wares—everything from watercolors to photographs to knives, hats, jewelry, and ties. It’s not just a good art show, either.

Saltwater fishing legend Lefty Kreh talks craft and will be on hand for casting demos. Saturday night’s wild game feast and plantation bash gives enthusiasts ample opportunity to mingle. And, who knows, you just might meet somebody who knows somebody who can put you in a field to flush a few birds before you leave town.—

Sip and Stay

Best to take a cue from Keeneland’s Thoroughbreds and pace yourself at the Bourbon Social (October 10–12), a weekend-long whiskey affair in Lexington that begins with a day at the historic racecourse. You’ll need plenty of steam to navigate a full schedule of tours, tastings, and seminars led by local distiller Mark Coffman, of Alltech, and an impressive group of mix masters, including James Beard Award­–winning bartender Jim Meehan and craft cocktail pioneer Dale DeGroff, founding president of New Orleans’ Museum of the American Cocktail. The busy weekend’s main event is a sprawling Saturday-evening soiree with a twelve-bartender whiskey cocktail competition, as well as small plates from a cross section of liquor-loving Kentucky chefs and tastings from a lineup that reads like a who’s who list of Bluegrass State brands: Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Stagg Jr., Jim Beam, and others. After all that, there’s an excellent chance you’ll need that hair-of-the-dog Bourbon Mary at Sunday morning’s whiskey brunch.—

Feast Your Eyes

When the Dryades Market first opened in Uptown New Orleans, in 1849, it was one of the largest and busiest in the city. A hive of cooks, vendors, and shoppers, it continued to grow and reinvent itself until dwindling away like so many urban businesses in the mid-twentieth century. But a rebirth is on the horizon. Starting this fall, the old market will open its doors to hungry visitors as the new home of the Southern Food and Beverage Museuma collection of artifacts, oral histories, and cookbooks chronicling the many culinary and libationary traditions of Dixie. The new museum, which officially opens its doors with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 29, includes exhibits that go deep on barbecue, booze, and the bounty of the Gulf; a demonstration kitchen for visiting chefs; and a fresh incarnation of Purloo, the on-site restaurant where chef Ryan Hughes serves up daily helpings of Southern history with dishes ranging from Lowcountry-style she-crab soup to Georgia peach fried pies.—

Liquid Assets

If you are happiest in the presence of sawdust and salt water, congratulations: You’ve just found a small crowd of kindred spirits. The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, in St. Michaels, will celebrate its thirty-second Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival (October 3–5). For three days, boat enthusiasts of all sorts will be in town to compare and race their creations, compete for awards, and attend workshops and demonstrations manned by a team of experts from the museum and the Chesapeake Wooden Boat Builders School. For those guests who don’t have garages full of woodworking tools, the festival also includes live music and cruises. Thinking about investing in a boat of your own? This is a pretty good place to test the waters.—

Past Hurrah

In Natchez, a person can easily lose track of the year, even the century. So where better to browse some of the country’s finest antiques than the rows of preserved antebellum mansions in the city’s old steamboat hub during the Natchez Antiques Forum (November 6–8)? And while the shopping weekend offers plenty to tempt, there are also tours, seminars, and lunches for lovers of all things historic. Hear an educator from Colonial Williamsburg hold forth on the subject of French porcelain in the Old South, learn about antique paints from an interiors historian, and stroll through a handful of rarely seen homes. If you ever get accused of living in the past, you’ll be in good company here.—

Hold Your Horses

Consider this scenario: You have a young horse, and only six months to do what you can to mold it into an equine athlete before you parade it in front of a panel of judges and paying spectators eager to see what you’ve been able to accomplish. If that sounds tough—well, it is. But that’s the challenge posed to contestants in the American Horsewoman’s Challenge (October 3–5), a contest open to any female trainer ready to show off her skills. All you’ve got to do is watch the action unfold from the bleachers at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie. Between rounds of competition, there are workshops and demonstrations that’ll teach you a thing or two about the finer points of cowboy…er, cowgirl dressage.—

South Carolina
Fun and Game

On November 13, Charleston chef Marc Collins lets his imagination—and the ingredients—go wild at the Circa 1886 Wild Game Dinner, the restaurant’s yearly celebration of all-natural game delicacies. There’s the quail and venison you might expect, but also elk chops, fresh rabbit sausage, even chicken-fried alligator. Paired with wines and carefully selected accoutrements such as candied black walnuts, smoked cheddar Mornay sauce, and maple caramel, the dishes straddle the line between hunt-camp eats and the more refined fare you’ll find on any other night at the white-tablecloth restaurant—where, by the way, antelope has been on the menu ever since Collins arrived from the Lone Star State thirteen years ago.—

Pulling Strings

Hit the road in pursuit of Southern musical history, and you’d probably start in Bristol, the origin point of modern-day country music. Head southwest from there and you’d wind up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where some of the biggest names in rock and soul recorded in the 1960s and ’70s. That path leads right through Chattanooga, where the 3 Sisters Festival (October 3–4) brings together an impressive group of bluegrass pickers for one fall weekend. Headliner The Devil Makes Three leads a crew that includes the Steel Drivers, Balsam Range, the Del McCoury Band, and even a pedigreed crew of fiddlers from the highly competitive Berklee College of Music in Boston. Best of all, the whole thing is free—both days.—

Due Time

Jesse Griffiths is the sort of renegade chef who, though he might buy whole animals from his friendly local rancher, will also head to the woods himself in search of wild boar, and who brines his own Texas-grown olives instead of settling for store-bought. For the past several years, he has cooked a series of pop-up dinners across Austin, under the auspices of his Dai
Due Supper Club, and conducted roving classes on fishing and whole-animal butchery at the same time. Now this man of many culinary pursuits is finally settling somewhere, so you won’t have to chase him down to taste slabs of spit-roasted pork, game pâté, and fresh cobia. The Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club will be a full-time retail space, with fresh meats, sausages, and charcuterie, plus a restaurant serving three meals a day. Griffiths’s insistence on using only local goods extends even to the tiles at the new shop, which were custom-molded in, of all things, old tofu containers. At least they’re stamped with the proud outline of the Lone Star State.—

An Apple, A Day

Typically, picking an apple means selecting one of the seven or eight varieties on offer down at the Piggly Wiggly. But for the folks at Foggy Ridge Cider, picking an apple means choosing from a kaleidoscopic array of hundreds of varieties, some nearly lost to time: Tremlett’s Bitter. Cox’s Orange Pippin. The sweet, rich Harrison, which was a favorite of colonial cider drinkers from New Jersey to the Old Dominion. To understand the appeal for yourself, head to Dugspur on October 4 for the Apple Harvest Celebration, a tasting at which you can sample a range of the cidery’s fabled heirloom fruits—and sip plenty of hard cider, too. Nursery owner Eliza Greenman will be on hand to identify “mystery apples.” If you can’t name the variety hanging from the limbs of your backyard tree, bring a sample and see if you can stump her.—

Washington, D.C.
Skillet Labor

For more than a decade, some of the best chefs in and around our nation’s capital have gathered once a year in the Ronald Reagan Building to take part in a frantic, no-holds-barred competition for culinary supremacy. No, this isn’t some sort of farm-to-table fight club, although the winner does take home a brand-new pair of boxing gloves. The Capital Food Fight (November 11) is a fund-raiser for DC Central Kitchen, which feeds thousands of low-income and at-risk residents each year. In addition to the onstage cooking competition, judged in past years by such food-world celebrities as Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, dozens of local restaurants will be in attendance with small plates to keep onlookers fed. Eat up—knowing that you’re helping the rest of the city eat, too.—

West Virginia
Drawing Rooms

To interior designers of all stripes, the late Dorothy Draper is an American icon. She splashed her famously vibrant color schemes everywhere from the restaurant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the interiors of mid-century jets flown by TWA. These days, her protégé Carleton Varney sits at the head of Dorothy Draper & Co., and on November 8, he will lead a daylong workshop during the Dorothy Draper School of Design at the Greenbrier hotel in White Sulphur Springs, perhaps the most famous space decorated under Draper’s impeccably tasteful eye. Over the course of two sessions, attendees will learn the basics of interior design and how to apply those lessons to refreshing their own homes. Spend the night on-site at the ultra-luxe resort and refresh yourself a little, too.—

Hot Seats

At Dasheene, the newly reopened restaurant at St. Lucia’s Ladera resort, reservations go beyond time and date to specific table. There are only four with completely unobstructed (and, in the daylight, completely glorious) views of the Pitons, the island’s twin peaks, and the Caribbean beyond. The choice tables were formerly reserved for guests of the resort, but now you—and your trusty Amex—can book one of them whether or not you’re staying the night. And why wouldn’t you? The posh mountaintop resort routinely tops hotel best-of lists, and chef Nigel Mitchel, a native of St. Lucia, paints a sophisticated culinary portrait of the island that’s nearly as stunning as the scenery: sweet potato and coconut soup, roast conch and pickled vegetables, and jerk poulet sausage.—

Beyond the South
Strings Attached

Warren Hellman loved bluegrass almost as much as he loved his native city. To show his appreciation, the San Francisco venture capitalist, described in one obituary as a “banjo-picking billionaire,” gifted his city a free bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park. First held in 2001, it was originally called the Strictly Bluegrass Festival. And while the name has since changed to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass to reflect a more diverse roster, not much else about the three-day hoedown has: The fest is still entirely free, without corporate sponsors, and remains one of the largest gatherings in the country for fans of American roots music. From October 3 through 5, take in a roster reliably peppered with legends along the lines of Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, Robert Earl Keen, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. This year’s lineup lists the likes of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Nikki Lane, Lucinda Williams, and Buddy Miller. That’s a whole lot of twang for the Bay Area.—

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