Selmer, Tenn., is a small town near the Mississippi border where former-major-highways U.S. 45 and 64 (a once-popular east-coast-to-west-coast route known as Lee Highway) intersect. This brought more than traffic to Selmer — in the 1940s and ’50s, it helped meld the meeting of country, rock, swing and bluegrass into what’s known as rockabilly music. In fact, Selmer folks probably would much rather you think “rockabilly” when you think of their town instead of thinking, for example, “Buford Pusser.” And who wouldn’t want that? Downtown Selmer is a great spot for wandering around and poking around and discovering treasures such as the Rockabilly Highway Murals by Tennessee artist Brian Tull. Tull’s second mural was dedicated this past Saturday during the annual Rockabilly Highway Festival, held downtown and featuring music, art and Selmer’s version of the deep-fried doughburger called a slugburger. Go ahead — you know you want to try it.
As soon as I re-remember how to download photos from my new iPhone to my laptop (stupid technology!), I’ll share photos of Grandson Nolan’s fourth birthday — because that’s what we proud grandmas do and we don’t really care how many adorable children you see today because we know our grandbabies are the adorablest. So there. In the meantime, though, I want to brag on my adopted home of the Shoals, in northwest Alabama. This little corner of the state has produced probably more Very Important Folks than any other two-county area anywhere. From Glencoe, the 1840s stallion from whom practically all thoroughbreds are descended, to politicians, musicians, writers, engineers, athletes, designers, actors, humanitarians and real-life heroes through the years, the Shoals is known for its talented, determined and creative people. Take the “The Hunger Games,” for instance. We’ve got four — count ’em, four — connections to this blockbuster hit movie. Muscle Shoals’ favorite duo Secret Sisters sings one of the most haunting songs on the soundtrack; Grammy-winning duo The Civil Wars, half of which is Florence resident and University of North Alabama graduate John Paul White, has two tunes (one with Taylor Swift); UNA grad and middle Tennessean Jack White (no, not THAT Jack White) was the food stylist and UNA culinary student James Perini was the food-stylist assistant. Now, if only I’d been the one to figure out the next must-read young-adult fiction series, it would all be perfect. What about young wizards who are picked for a fight-to-the-death reality TV show? Or a mysterious castle that’s also a school for angsty teen vampires and a sullen but conflicted Alan Rickman? Or maybe …
I know I don’t look like it now — sitting here on the couch in my PJs at 7:30 p.m. with a glass of wine in my hand and basketball on TV — but back only a few years ago I was a hard-working & dedicated how-many-bottles-of-water-do-we-need-for-the-concession-stand type of Band Parent. I mean, I was fierce. I cleaned & cooked & chaperoned. I rode buses and made calls and sewed hems and tracked down lost gloves and errant plumes. Sound familiar? You, too? After our final band-geek-chick left the nest, it took forever to retrain myself — I didn’t have to hang around the school cafeteria scooping out ice anymore or keep handy at all times a bag of emergency bobby pins, safety pins, hairbobs, HotHands and Kleenex. So I was sort of surprised when I went to a recent reception for our retiring high-school director and realized that the band had carried on without me. And not only carried on but managed to pull off a great full-scale party without my help. Amazing. And gratifying. Because it’s somebody else’s turn now. We Old Band Parents have earned our retirement. After all, we’ve got wine to drink and basketball to watch. But I’m sharing the cute & clever ideas the New Band Parents came up with for this reception — we OBPs are proud of you, NBPs. Good job. Carry on.
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.
Muscle Shoals music is back in the news as two young duos grab everybody’s attention. You know that in the 1960s and ’70s, my town of Muscle Shoals was famous for its Southern-gritty rock-‘n’-roll sound, with dozens of hits coming from local recording studios. (You still hear stories about what happened with the Stones came to town.) Today, the Shoals is claiming some of its own young people as performers-to-watch … watch take off into meteoric success, that is. Such as The Secret Sisters, siblings Laura and Lydia Rogers, who are making waves as a 1950s-style new-age country-music duo. Their debut album, released this past fall, was produced by T-Bone Burnett. They’re touring and opening for folks such as Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn all over the country. Do not miss them if they come to your town. And don’t miss The Civil Wars, either. The duo of John Paul White, of the Shoals area, and Joy Williams, from California, is releasing its first full-length album this week. Known for a funky blend of Appalachian-folk and gospel and rock, Civil Wars first took off this past year when its “Poison and Wine” was featured on an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Since then, they’ve been on Jay Leno, have collected accolades by the ton and are embarking on a nationwide tour with many venues already sold out. Give these two a listen and you’ll be able to say you knew them when.
It’s Handy Week around here, which means that pretty much everybody’s walking around with “Sax in the City” T-shirts and portable chairs and saying things such as “If we go to the Listening Room in the afternoon and then Wilson Park for the Sundown concert, we can catch Handy Night at On the Rocks afterwards.” The W.C. Handy Music Festival honors Florence, Alabama’s favorite native son. Handy was born near the Tennessee River in 1873 and grew up to the rhythms of riverboats work crews and gospel music. And even though he left town as a young man, Florence was his home and he returned often before his death in 1958. Almost 30 years ago, jazz musician and Yale professor Willie Ruff, another Shoals native, helped form the Music Preservation Society to celebrate Handy’s legacy and worldwide influence and we’ve been partying ever since. The Handy Festival — everybody calls it “Handy Week” — is a 10-day bounty of music for all. While most music festivals are an intense two or three days of performances at a specific venue, Handy Fest is spread over dozens of locations in three counties. You’ll find music at restaurants, parks, churches, stores, libraries, museums, assisted-living and nursing-care facilities, law offices, coffee shops, courthouses, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the mall, random street corners and the downtown Florence parking deck. Among other places. And that’s not counting the actual concerts in actual auditoriums. There’s food, too, and dancing and theater productions and races and a car show and all sorts of fun. And the best part? Most of it is free and family-friendly. You don’t need a ticket or a badge or anything for most Handy events — you just show up and enjoy. But the real best part is that Handy Week is a common gathering place for everybody. And I mean everybody. You’ll see all folks of all ages and background and cultures dancing and laughing and having fun, brought together by music. Mr. Handy would be proud. Check out http://www.wchandymusicfestival.org/ and http://www.timesdaily.com/handyfest for details.
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.