The Southern Agenda

The Southern Agenda: April/May 2016

Goings-on in the South and beyond

Illustration: Illustrations by Tim Bower

  • Florida: Get a Piece of the Pie

    Orlando, Florida, April 29-30

    With her cream-cheese-and-coffee- topped Chocolate Buzz pie, Patricia Lapiezo of La Mesa, California, finally broke the three-year Southern streak of best-in-show winners at last year’s National Pie Championships in Orlando. It’s time to tighten apron strings, roll up sleeves, and get to work reclaiming that amateur-class ribbon. Anyone can enter the competition, so dust off the old family recipes for those coconut cream, lemon meringue, apple, peach, or pecan specialties. Or dream up an entirely new creation; pretty much anything is fair game. Two hundred (hopefully hungry) judges—professional bakers, food writers, and established home cooks—will empty more than a thousand pie tins by the end of the second day. Even if you don’t take top honors, you’ll leave with constructive criticism and helpful hints from the seasoned panel. Contenders can brush up for next year’s competition during lectures and pie-making classes covering everything from dough tricks to industry trends. If your appreciation for pastry is less about the making and more about the savoring, you’re in luck. Slices will be available for purchase at Saturday’s tasting—a fund-raiser for Give Kids the World, a Florida nonprofit that provides weeklong vacations for children with life-threatening diseases. So open up your wallet and dig in to a slice (or seven). Dessert never tasted so sweet.—

  • Alabama

    Spring Awakening

    Belinda’s Dream. Cherry Parfait. Hot Cocoa. Oh My! Those are just four of the fifty-some varieties of roses—in deep reds, dusty pinks, bright whites, and sunny yellows—unfurling this spring during the annual Rose Bloom Out at eighty-year-old Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, just outside of Mobile. The nine-hundred-acre property on the Fowl River includes a sixty-five-acre swath of manicured public gardens, where more than two thousand rosebushes should reach Instagramable perfection by mid-April. “My favorite is the Mother of Pearl,” says Linda Guy, Bellingrath’s hardworking rosarian. “It’s apricot-colored and always covered with blooms during the season.” Guy spends all year tending to the plants, and she expects this spring to provide a feast for the senses. “Many of the new varieties will be fragrant,” she says. (Contrary to popular belief, not every rose is.) For peak perfume, pay a visit first thing in the morning, when sunlight begins to warm the petals.—

  • Arkansas

    Get Sauced

    Bill and Hillary still lived in Little Rock when the Shack closed its doors in 1988 after fifty-four years in the barbecue business. It’s a pretty safe bet that the then governor and barbecue nut was a fan. And he had plenty of company: The slaw-topped sandwiches from the little shack—first located in 1934 in the shadow of downtown’s capitol building, later displaced in the late 1950s a few blocks over by a road-building project—had become legendary in Arkansas. Half a dozen restaurants in the area claim to have inherited the Shack’s recipes and methods, but only one man actually did—Joe Finch. And now, restaurateur Tim Chappell is working with Finch to bring the smoke-licked legend back to life, vintage recipes intact. The new three-story building, projected to open for its first customers in late April, will be larger than any previous incarnation of the famous joint, but Chappell promises not to mess with the essential elements of the beloved sandwich: lightly griddled buns, hickory-smoked pulled pork, thin-sliced slaw, and that thick, sweet Memphis-style sauce, steeped in decades of Natural State history.—

  • Georgia

    Now Playing

    Atlanta’s movie scene has grown a good bit bigger than when Deliverance helped swing Hollywood’s attention South back in the early 1970s. The Hunger Games filmed here. Captain America and Selma did too. But before tax breaks began bringing in blockbusters by the dozen, the Atlanta Film Festival (April 1–10), founded in 1976, was already busy celebrating the brightest up-and-coming indie artists from all over the world. In 2010, festival attendees got one of the first looks at Winter’s Bone, a gothic, Ozarks-set crime flick that helped launch the career of a teenage actress from Kentucky named Jennifer Lawrence. Last year, the audience favored an arresting documentary called Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi, about a college student suffering from depression whose disappearance mobilized a massive social media search. The 2016 schedule—which includes Speed Sisters, a documentary about the fearless women of the Middle East’s first all-female race-car-driving team, and Like Lambs, the fictional story of a politically motivated kidnapping at an exclusive American boarding school—will get your heart pounding without your ever leaving your seat.—

  • Kentucky

    Notes From Underground

    Stephen Bishop was the first to cross Mammoth Cave’s Bottomless Pit. Tours of the cave had begun in 1816, but other guides stopped short of the horrifying drop. Bishop—who was, like most of the cave’s earliest guides, a slave—wanted to press forward. On October 20, 1838, he laid a ladder across the dark expanse and stepped into a never-before-seen leg of the cavern. Today, Mammoth Cave National Park encompasses the longest known cave system in the world. “We’re already at four hundred and five miles,” says ranger Chuck DeCroix, though the public only has access to about ten miles of that, often via lantern-lit strolls or muddy belly crawls. As officials celebrate two centuries of tours this year, the marks that Bishop and several other enslaved explorers left behind remain visible. And after hours, deep in the guts of the cave, veteran spelunkers still turn up exciting finds. “When we ask the explorers how much could still be out there,” DeCroix says, “they tell us there’s no end in sight.”—

  • Louisiana

    Illustration: Illustrations by Tim Bower

    The Doctor Is In

    Are your azaleas atrophying? Foxgloves a flop? Dr. Raj Singh has seen it all, and once a year he offers his professional advice to frustrated gardeners of all ages and skill levels at the Spring Garden Show (April 2–3) in New Orleans’ City Park. Singh and his colleagues from Louisiana State University Agricultural Center aren’t easily stumped. “People can take pictures on their cell phones and bring them to us, and we’ll work on it,” he says. Samples work, too.

    Just please seal them inside plastic sandwich bags, the good doctor requests, to prevent infecting other plants. “We’re here to help you with everything from citrus to tomatoes to lawns,” he says. If your thumb is already a healthy vibrant green, join the fun anyway. At one of the nation’s oldest urban parks, you can browse plant sales, sit in on a lecture, shop the artists’ market, hop in the saddle of one of the “flying horses” on the antique wooden carousel, or curl up in the shade of one of the ancient live oaks, some of which have stood sentinel here for nearly a thousand years. So there’s surely hope for yours, even if it’s looking a little lackluster.—

  • Maryland

    Old Line Art

    The late Baltimore Sun critic John Dorsey wrote about art every day. But he was still surprised when he found himself in the subject’s seat for a portrait by a native Baltimorean artist named Raoul Middleman. “It makes me look a little too young, but it’s me,” Dorsey wrote. “And what amazes me is how this person has been able to capture so much when we really didn’t know each other at all before this afternoon.” Dorsey’s image is the centerpiece of New Arrivals: Maryland Artists, on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art until May 8. “It’s like he’s holding court with all these works by artists he knew,” says the exhibit’s curator, Rena Hoisington. That lineup includes eighteen other pieces from artists who lived and worked in Dorsey’s home state: a self-portrait by the film director John Waters; 1970s photographs of everyday East Baltimore residents captured by Elinor Cahn; and midcentury collages from mixed-media artist Keith Martin. “There isn’t any unifying theme besides where these pieces came from,” Hoisington says, “but somehow they work well together.”—

  • Mississippi

    Racing Ahead

    Don’t think a bunch of hard-living, whiskey-swilling, pork-belly-eating chefs can make it to the finish line of a 5K? Chef John Currence, of City Grocery and other Oxford restaurants, isn’t so sure himself. “We’re going to have an award for any chef who actually finishes,” he jokes. “It’s likely that I’ll come in last.” The early-morning race is one of several events Currence has planned for his first Move On Up Foundation fund-raiser, Light in April (April 8–9), proceeds from which will help fund grants for Mississippi organizations promoting healthy eating habits and exercise for children. Currence won’t have to go it alone, though. Hugh Acheson, Sean Brock, John Fleer, and Edward Lee are among the award-winning chefs coming to town to cook intimate, one-of-a-kind dinners in eight historic homes. Even if you don’t manage to break a sweat on the racecourse, you can still burn a few calories at the closing party: Birmingham, Alabama, blue-eyed-soul outfit St. Paul & the Broken Bones are playing.—

  • North Carolina

    A Taste of the East

    Anybody who watches Vivian Howard’s award-winning public television series A Chef’s Life knows a little bit about the food scene east of I-95. But say you’ve never heard of Craig Love, Dean Neff, or James Doss. Well, there’s no better place than the Wilmington Wine & Food Festival (May 5–8) to get to know the anchors of that city’s on-the-rise food scene. It’s a low-key event that gets a little bit bigger every year, with a raucous Friday night of whole-hog barbecue and contest-winning cocktails before Saturday tastings of bites from area restaurants, washed down with wines and local beers. Close out the weekend with the high-low pairing of sparkling wine and the best food-truck fare in the Carolinas. “We have a fun, growing culinary scene right now,” says Chrissy Bonney, the festival director. “Nobody has really hit it big yet.” Be there before they do.—

  • South Carolina

    Ponies in the Pines

    A course like a time capsule that’s only used one weekend a year, for a horse show where spectators snack on cucumber sandwiches and sip sweet tea, in 2,100 pristine acres of longleaf forest? The Aiken Horse Show in the Woods (April 1–3) may sound like something out of a period piece, but it’s no relic. As the show marks a hundred years, it’s more popular than ever, largely because it hasn’t changed all that much since its inception as a springtime showcase for Aiken’s equestrian elite. Over the course of three days, horses in forty-seven classes will trot, canter, and leap over fences in the shade of Hitchcock Woods, one of the nation’s largest in-town forests. The casual event is free and open to the public, but you can secure a ringside view of the action with a ticket to one of the daily luncheons under the Hitchcock Tent. Even if you aren’t particularly inclined to equestrian pursuits, simply pack a picnic and enjoy the scenery. There aren’t many spots like this one.—

  • Tennessee

    Rock Solid

    According to one legend, rock and roll started with an accident. In March 1951, three years before Elvis Presley arrived on the scene, Ike Turner and his band got a flat tire on the way to record with Sam Phillips at his Memphis studio. As they rummaged around for the spare, the guitar player’s amplifier rolled out of the trunk and hit the pavement—hard. “Most producers would’ve canceled the session, or found another amplifier,” says Michael Gray, one of the curators of Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips, a collection of recordings, photographs, studio equipment, and more on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville until June 13. “But Sam was always looking for original and distinctive sounds, so he went with it.” The fuzzed-out notes that came from that amplifier made their way into “Rocket 88,” the chart-topping hit made popular by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats (featuring bandleader Turner on piano). The pioneering producer’s other big-name protégés—including Presley, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis—did their part, too. “He gave opportunities to people who might not have had them otherwise,” Gray says.—

  • Texas

    Bottoms Up

    Given the prominence of Oskar Blues, you might not have even known the label produced “craft” beers, like such cookout staples as Dale’s Pale Ale or Mama’s Little Yella Pils. Founded in Longmont, Colorado, in 1997 by the road-tripping Alabama native Dale Katechis, Oskar Blues Brewery got its start during the first wave of small-batch brewing. But Katechis and crew were always thinking big: In 2002, they became the first artisanal outfit to put their craft brews in cans instead of bottles. Three years ago, Katechis returned to Southern soil to open a brewery in Brevard, North Carolina, a city that, like its Colorado counterpart, has a vibrant music scene. Now he’s launching a third location in one of the country’s live music capitals. Scheduled to open in late April, Oskar Blues Brewery Austin will have a 5,000-square-foot taproom and music venue showcasing local and national acts. It’s dwarfed by the sprawling 50,000-square-foot brewery Katechis is also opening, which will make enough beer to supply the whole state—and maybe test the loyalty of Shiner Bock or Lone Star lovers.—

  • Virginia

    Horsing Around

    For most of us, the horse has all but disappeared from day-to-day life. In Loudoun County, though, there are still farms, foxhunting stables, and Thoroughbred barns where the ties between horse and rider have hardly changed in two centuries. Step back in time on the self-guided Hunt Country Stable Tour (May 28–29). More than ten private estates will throw open their gates to guests. Expect rolling pastures, mountain views, winding creeks, centuries-old homes, and of course, horses. “You’ll see foxhunters, endurance horses, steeplechase—a lot of disciplines,” says tour organizer Betsy Crenshaw. It’s not all horses, either. Stop by Trinity Episcopal Church, in Upperville, before you leave to meet foxhounds with bloodlines that date all the way back to antebellum days.—

  • Washington, D.C.

    Made By Hand

    Maybe these days the words craft fair conjure images of amply tattooed hipsters hawking homemade green-juice concoctions and “jewelry,” but the Smithsonian Craft Show (April 21–24), the most prestigious event of its kind in the country, is considerably more deeply rooted—and a lot more exciting for collectors both serious and casual. The Southern-bred headliners include jury-selected artists such as Todd Leback of Charlottesville, Virginia, known for his minimalist furniture; Chattanooga, Tennessee, ceramist Shadow May, who creates contemporary pottery and sculpture; and Richmond textile artist Andrea Donnelly, who hand looms scarves in modern geometric patterns, to name just a few. In total, 120 of the country’s best woodworkers, glassblowers, and knife makers, among others, will ply their trades inside the National Building Museum. Even if you aren’t looking for a hand-hewn bowl or custom boots, these talented folks will make it hard to leave empty-handed.—

  • West Virginia

    Well Watered

    The Cheat River Festival (May 7), near Albright, takes place at the site of one of West Virginia’s worst environmental disasters. When an abandoned mine twice sent washes of acidified water into the Cheat’s network of creeks and streams more than twenty years ago, miles of river died. But residents took action. Over the past couple of decades, Friends of the Cheat has worked diligently to revive the river, partnering with organizations to test the water and install and maintain more than a dozen treatment systems. The group’s work is far from done, though. Deserted mines similar to the one that caused the nineties spills still threaten the watershed, which attracts rafters and kayakers who paddle the area’s adrenaline-inducing rapids and anglers who cast pools for native brook trout and stocked browns and rainbows. Luckily, thousands of folks continue to turn out in record numbers for the festival, an annual day of bluegrass and boat racing that helps raise much-needed funds to keep the dedicated conservationists afloat. If you appreciate clean water, this festival is for you.—

  • Beyond the South

    A Case of the Blues

    There’s no wrong way to play the blues. Son House used an acoustic guitar, B. B. King an electric. Other famous bluesmen wailed on everything from the piano to the harp to the saxophone. There’s Delta blues, Chicago blues, and country blues, among others. Dion Brown, the head of the new National Blues Museum (opening April 2) in St. Louis, welcomes them all, and more. “The blues are an internal feeling,” Brown says. “They mean something different to everyone, which is why this museum is heavily interactive.” Throughout the 16,000-square-foot space, instruments from washboards to guitars offer aspiring musicians and curious visitors the chance to bang out a few riffs before polishing them in the museum’s mixing room.The $13.5 million complex—complete with tech-forward galleries that explore blues history and a theater for live shows—is backed by such marquee names as Morgan Freeman, Buddy Guy, and Jack White.—