This past Friday night, my husband and I took a romantic stroll through the carnival that’s part of the eagerly anticipated annual Slugburger Festival set up for the weekend just a couple of blocks from our house, in Corinth, Mississippi. We smooched on top of the ferris wheel and he won me a stuffed animal in the football toss and we walked arm-in-arm-in-cotton-candy and … aw, okay, you know that is all a big fat lie. I can’t fool you. Forget the romantic stuff. We did go to the festival, but naturally we bypassed the family fun and potentially romantic area and headed straight for the beer garden, where we loaded on Bud Light and rocked out to some great blues. But the carnival looked fun, in a scream-your-head-off-and-feel-your-stomach-do-flip-flops sort of way. And I know some of you are just now rejoining me after getting stuck at the words “Slugburger Festival” and wondering what, exactly, we and the good folks here in Corinth are doing and, more importantly, what we’re eating. I hope you read the link and learned that slugburgers are in fact an innovative and popular Corinth food item that people travel hundreds of miles for. And no slugs are harmed in the making of this sandwich, so it’s okay. But you’ve got to eat them hot and fast and please do not ask for catsup. That marks you as a non-slugburger connoisseur — or a Yankee. Not sure which is worse. Anyway, the festival continues tonight with country music, more carnival rides and all the beer and fried food your gall bladder will allow you to have you can eat.
I always forget that people come from all over the world to our little corner of northwest Alabama to see Helen Keller’s birthplace, Ivy Green, in Tuscumbia. I drive past the historic site practically every day and love seeing school buses and tour buses and license tags from All Those Other Places That Are Not Alabama. If you’ve never been, you’ve got to schedule a visit. The birthplace is down-home and low-key and you will learn so much. Everyone’s always amazed to see how small the cabin is where Anne Sullivan took her wild-child charge for some intense one-on-one training — and how close the building is to the Keller’s actual house. And the famous water pump is there, too. Now is a good time to come. It’s the Helen Keller Festival, a week of music, art, history, Southern culture and deaf/blind awareness. You also can watch an outdoor performance of “The Miracle Worker” on the Ivy Green grounds — essentially watching the story unfold on the very spot where it happened. Learn more at http://www.helenkellerfestival.com and http://www.helenkellerbirthplace.org/. And while you’re there, be sure to wander around downtown Tuscumbia. You’ll find a cozy local bookstore with real nooks and crannies and comfortable reading spots, a chic women’s boutique, an authentic drugstore where you can get actual old-fashioned milkshakes and malts and my favorite spot of all: A prom- and wedding-dress shop smack dab next to a feed store. I didn’t realize how incongruous this was until one day I saw some Folks Not From Around Here taking a photo. I personally don’t see anything weird about it, but then I’m someone who knows that when you order “tea” in a restaurant, it’s supposed to come in a long tall icy glass and be sweet enough that the spoon stands by itself. So there you go.
Saturday, the town of Madison, Alabama, officially welcomed fall with the annual Madison Street Festival. A gorgeous early-fall day brought out thousands of folks to shop arts-and-crafts booths, eat that tempting fried festival food (funnel cakes, anyone?), catch up with their neighbors and be entertained by folks like Older Daughter, who performed with her Huntsville belly-dance troupe. She is an awesome dancer (and that’s not just maternal pride speaking), and the group’s repertoire included a piece she had choreographed herself. Even 18-month-old Capt. Adorable seemed to recognize his mom onstage. At least, he sat still and watched in his stroller for about 15 minutes. Or maybe he was just fascinated with the balloons we tied to the handles. Balloon-decorated strollers were everywhere, as you can tell by the line parked outside the festival’s raptor show — balloons and pets were prohibited, although I guess young children were considered safe! Capt. Adorable almost came home with a pet, since he made friends with the oh-so-adorable puppies at the animal-shelter’s booth. I’ve got a feeling there may be a new addition at the Captain’s house soon. Read more about the festival at http://blog.al.com/breaking/2009/10/madison_street_festival_draws.html and http://www.madisonstreetfestival.org/
Oh my goodness. In my town of Florence, Alabama, the annual W.C. Handy Music Festival is the party of all parties. It’s a full week of music and dancing and getting out and being friendly with folks you may only see during Handy Week. You probably associate Handy with Memphis or St. Louis, but the Father of the Blues was born in Florence in 1873. In 1982 some local folks formed the Music Preservation Society to remember and honor the favorite musical son. The first Handy Festival was a weekend of music featuring Dizzy Gillespie. Now, it’s a week-long celebration of jazz, blues, gospel, country, rock-‘n’-roll and things I don’t even really understand but enjoy anyway. Music is everywhere during Handy Week — or just “Handy,” as the locals say. You can hear performances at restaurants, in parks, in stores, on sidewalks — anywhere a musician can set up. Most of Handy is free, although a few concerts have admission. Handy Week wraps up on a Saturday with a New Orleans-style street strut through downtown. Folks deck out themselves and their parasols — many marching for a cause such as breast cancer awareness — and strut their best stuff. So much fun! The two things I like best about Handy Week are 1) You can park yourself somewhere and sit and enjoy free live music for hours and 2) Everybody — and I mean everybody — gets out and has a good time. Tentative dates for 2010 are July 17-26. Put that on your calendar and check the W.C. Handy Music Festival site, http://www.wchandymusicfestival.org, for info and the TimesDaily site, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090725/VIDEO/907252012# for a video of the strut.
Come to the Alabama Renaissance Faire in Florence this weekend. You’ll love it! I promise there’s more than bellydancing there, but I can’t help bragging on my older daughter, who performs at the faire with her dance group from Huntsville. The Alabama Ren Faire is meant for families. It’s in the small downtown Wilson Park, renamed Fountain on the Green for the faire, and is very easy to get around. There’s no alcohol allowed, and everyone is friendly and helpful. And it’s free! You can come in costume or not. Everything has a Renaissance flair. Vendors selling jewelry, art work and crafts are in costume and all entertainment is Renaissance-style, with juggling, magic, singing and other music as well as bellydancing. The faire is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Check out http://www.alarenfaire.org/ and http://www.myspace.com/alrenfaire for details and other photos.
October is Renaissance month in Florence, Alabama, and the highlight of the month is the Alabama Renaissance Faire, Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 25-26, in downtown Florence’s Wilson Park — a can’t-miss family-friendly adventure. A prelude to the faire is the Renaissance Feast, held the weekend before. It’s a chance to dress up and pretend it’s 500 years ago, from eating authentic feast-type food to bowing before royalty as they enter the banquet hall. The best part for me is the entertainment, because for the past couple years my daughter’s bellydance troupe from Nomadic Tapestry Movement and Music Studio, in Huntsville, Alabama, has performed there. And once again this year they did a fantastic job. They always look as if they’re having so much fun dancing and sharing their love of dancing with audiences. I had a great time hanging out with my daughter (she’s the one in the middle of the photo) and the other dancers and musicians at the feast. Check out the studio at www.nomadictapestry.com — there’s a full schedule of classes and other events all year long. The dancers and musicians will perform again this coming weekend at the Renaissance Faire. But that’s not the only reason to come to the faire! It truly is a family event. It’s small and easy to get around, no alcohol is allowed, admission is free and education is a key element. You’ll find exhibits, art, crafts, your favorite festival food (deep-fried Snickers for me), period enterainment plus incredibly costumed characters roaming around. You’ll meet a troll, fairies, wizards, princes and princesses, monks, knights — all sorts of folks. Visit the Web site at http://www.alarenfaire.org/ to learn more and youtube.com (search “Alabama Renaissance Faire”) to see more.