- April Walking Tours Start
- Alabama’s blooming and that means it’s time to take pictures
- Italian journalist visits Alabama to promote tourism
- Muscle Shoals Sound Studio’s interior almost complete
- The Hotel Finial open, ready for April cycling event
- Dining guide ranks Mobile, Decatur among ‘under-the-radar’ foodie destinations
- How Mother Angelica revved up Alabama’s tourism industry
- Photo slideshow “50 states, 50 dates: Romantic activities around the USA”
- Alabama represented in the nominee list for a USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice contest
- Hank Williams Honored With Memorial Plaque in WV
- Hank Williams Biopic ‘I Saw the Light’ Is First Film to License Country Legend’s Music in 50 Years
- Tom Hiddleston: This I Saw The Light moment was ‘one of the great joys of my life’
- Check your Vacation Guide listing today
- Alabama Tourism Workshop April 27
- Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events
April Walking Tours Start
Some 26 towns across Alabama will be on display during Saturday mornings in April as part of the Alabama Tourism Department’s April Walking Tours.
A variety of community leaders will lead the free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns. The hour-long tours will start at 10 a.m. on April 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30.
Towns and starting places for the April Walking Tours are: Athens, Athens Visitor Center; Atmore, Heritage Park; Attalla, Gazebo; Birmingham, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Butler, Town Hall; Columbia, Old Bank Building (April 2 & 9 only); Cullman, Cullman County Museum; Decatur, Rose Garden at Delano Park; Demopolis, Downtown Square; Elba, Chamber of Commerce; Enterprise, Farmers Market; Fairhope, Fairhope Welcome Center; Florence, various locations; Foley, Welcome Center; Heflin, Tom and Rebecca’s Park.
Huntsville, Constitution Village (April 2 & 9 only); Madison, Madison Roundhouse (April 16 & 23 only); Mobile, Cathedral Basilica; Montgomery; Montgomery Area Visitor Center; Mooresville, Mooresville Post Office; Pell City, Public Library (April 9, 16, 23 & 30); Prattville, Prattaugan Museum; Selma, Selma-Dallas County Library; Sheffield, Sheffield Municipal Building; Shelby, Iron Works Park; Tuscumbia, ColdWater Bookstore.
The tours are being coordinated by Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department. “Alabama is the only state in the nation to hold statewide, simultaneous walking tours. These walking tours are a great way to get out and enjoy the spring weather and find out about the history of our state. We have done more than 2,000 walking tours since the beginning of the program thirteen years ago and they keep increasing in popularity every year,” Jones said.
More information about the April Walking Tours is available on the Alabama Tourism Department website at www.alabama.travel.
Alabama’s blooming and that means it’s time to take pictures
To paraphrase an old song, Alabama’s Bustin’ Out All Over. That means it’s time to get those cameras out and take pictures. Here are a few helpful hints on how to get the best images for your efforts.
Take only interior images between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Old Sol is just too brutal at that time of day to get good outdoor shots. When shooting exteriors make sure the sun is shining on the object of your lens. Taking a picture in the afternoon of anything facing east doesn’t usually yield good results.
Also, attractive people can add a lot of interest to your images. Make sure they’re wearing solid and bright-colored clothing. Shorts and blue jeans should be worn only when they are appropriate to the location and/or event. Have them face the camera and appear to be having a wonderful time – if they’re really having a great time that’s a bonus.
In tourism, as in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Try to frame the images so that the location, attraction, event or other subject is obvious to the viewer.
Of course the Alabama Tourism Department always wants to get new images so, once you’ve captured all those green trees and flowering shrubs with your camera, you can send them to us. We are looking for images that are at least 4” X 6” and 300 dpi.
Contact Peggy Collins at 334-242-4545 OR email@example.com for information on how to send them.
Italian journalist visits Alabama to promote tourism
Simona Sacri’s trip to Alabama is a result of a visit by the Alabama Tourism Department and the Travel South USA organization to Italy last year to promote Alabama and the south to tour companies and journalists.
Italian journalist and blogger Simona Sacri toured Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham last week as part of her trip to the southern USA. Sacri, who has the site www.simonassacri.com is one of Italy’s top bloggers. She has been selected by the Italy Visit USA Association for best travel blog and was the winner of the 2015 Media Award by the same organization.
Sacri is using the hashtag #myTravelSouthUSA during her journey. In a website posting she said that she will show the complex and authentic experience of the old South through the in-depth exploration of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Sacri started her trip in Jackson, Mississippi and then traveled to Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham before traveling back to Mississippi on her way to Louisiana.
In Selma she posted a photograph of the Edmund Pettus Bridge with the message “Travel to learn. Remembering the ‘Bloody Sunday’ and all the difficult moments of the civil rights movement.” In Montgomery she posted a photo of herself in front of the downtown civil rights mural with the message “Today I’m in Montgomery, Alabama to discover the Rosa Parks Museum and the end of the trail of Martin Luther King march. Emotions and so many things to ponder, can’t wait to write about.”
In Birmingham she posted a photo from inside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with copy that read, “My journey across Civil Rights and their stories arrives in Birmingham, Alabama. I have a dream.”
The local tourism organizations of Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham helped the Alabama Tourism Department with her trip. Travel South USA and Alabama’s shared representative in Italy, Olga Mazzoni also assisted with this project.
To learn more about Alabama Tourism Department’s efforts in the Italian market, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio’s interior almost complete
By Robert Palmer, TimesDaily.com, March 22
While the sounds of power tools whir inside, tourists from as far away as Denmark, England and the Netherlands make regular pilgrimages to the site of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
And the building is not even open to visitors. It is being restored with a grant from Beats by Dr. Dre, and is not expected to be ready for tours until later this spring.
Frank Reese and Amy Maxwell, from Tampa, Florida, took selfies last week in front of the stone and block building at 3614 Jackson Highway. They were visiting some of the country’s iconic recording studios while on vacation. They planned a visit to Ardent Studios in Memphis because of the connection to Big Star and the Cramps.
“Growing up, as a teenager, I would see the name Muscle Shoals on the backs of album covers,” Reese said. “With the Lynyrd Skynyrd connection, I’ve always had a fascination with this part of the country because so many legendary records were recorded here.”
Like many visitors, Reese said his interest was renewed after seeing the documentary “Muscle Shoals,” which chronicles the music recorded here and the people who made it.
While they were taking pictures outside the studio, three visitors from Sweden were buying T-shirts inside the trailer next door.
Judy Hood, chairwoman of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, which owns the studio, conducts tours of local studios and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. She said even with Muscle Shoals Sound closed for restoration, people still come.
“I did a private tour here last Saturday, and I heard a knock on the door,” she said. “It was two couples, one from England and one from Denmark. I sneaked them in and let them have a tour. If they’ve come from that far away, I’m not going to say ‘no.’
“That tells you how important it is to keep this open and explore our heritage,” she said. “It’s like a pilgrimage for people.”
The interior restoration is almost complete. John Rainey, site foreman for Craig Construction Co., said this week workers will move to the basement of the studio to install paneling and finish the floors. The basement was used for offices, and contained two echo chambers and a liquor cabinet hidden behind a wall.
Upstairs, workers finished stapling green, yellow and brown strips of burlap to the ceiling, and gray floor tiles interspersed with red and yellow tiles are down. A reddish brown carpet was installed on the studio floor and in the control room, which Rainey said matches the original fixtures.
“The electricians will hang lights upstairs while we are downstairs, and the isolation booths will get some burlap,” he said. “We will be pretty much finished (this) week. There is some grass to sow and gravel to spread in the parking lot.”
The gift shop will move back into the studio soon, said Bonnie Bak, studio manager.
The next major step is installing recording equipment. Michael Cronin, a studio acoustics expert, was hired by Beats to do the work. He has found a 1969 vintage 24-track API recording console for the control room, and located the original Voice of the Theater playback speakers used in the studio. The API console was used in RCA’s Studio B in Nashville and was later used in Chet Atkins’s personal studio, he said.
“We are restoring it back to a certain period, the 1969-71 heyday,” Cronin said. “So that was appropriate. It’s a great console.”
The original isolation booths remain intact, even after the building was used as an appliance store. That, Cronin said, is remarkable.
The technology of recording then was different from contemporary technology. Cronin said music was recorded on tape instead of digitally, and there was less separation of instruments during the recording process.
The carpet on the floor, tiles glued to the walls, and blank hard surfaces all played into the process then, he said.
“Without a shadow of a doubt this studio is about the musicians and the artists that went in there,” he said. “They brought out gold.”
Cronin expects to be installing the equipment in the next two to four weeks. Once that is complete, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio will function as a museum during the day, and as a working studio by night.
The studio was opened in the spring of 1969 by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section — David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett. They moved in 1978 to more spacious quarters on the Tennessee River, and sold the business to Malaco Records in the mid-1980s.
David Hood was in the studio last week when the burlap was being installed. He said it was an emotional experience.
“I’m almost speechless,” he said. “I never expected it to look that good. It’s great to have this studio again.”
To read this article online, go to: http://m.timesdaily.com/news/local/studio-s-interior-almost-complete/article_040d5633-d66e-503f-ba7c-5eed9c6821b3.html?mode=jqm
The Hotel Finial open, ready for April cycling event
By Patrick McCreless, Anniston Star, March 28
Anniston’s historic hotel opened Monday after months of renovations and already has guests slated to stay during the city’s premier cycling event next month.
Management for the Hotel Finial, formerly the Victoria Inn, on Quintard Avenue said Tuesday that about half of the facility’s 61 rooms were booked by organizers and participants of the Alabama Cycling Classic, set for April 2 and 3 in Anniston. Targeting it and other city events is just part of a larger plan to attract business and corporate clients and make the hotel more financially sound than in the past, management says.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston and his wife, Ginger Marsh, acquired the hotel from the city last summer and spent more than $2 million since July renovating the nearly 130-year-old Queen Anne-style home and related buildings.
“Our hope is to become a destination in Anniston one day instead of just a hotel,” Ginger Marsh said she walked into a dining area at the Finial on Tuesday. “We want to offer ultimate service to every guest.”
To that end, the Finial has become the headquarters for the organizers of this year’s Alabama Cycling Classic, which includes the Sunny King Criterium and the Fort McClellan Road Race in Anniston. Marsh said half of the Finial’s rooms are already booked for the event and that’s just the start of a busy April for the hotel.
Marsh said the Finial will be the site of several weekend activities during the next month, including a wedding and Woof, Wags and Wine, the largest fundraiser for the Anniston-based League for Animal Welfare.
Stephanie Mervine, general manager of the Finial, said apart from taking advantage of local events, her goal is to attract business travelers and local companies as customers.
“It has to be a mix of sales — you’ve got to have corporate, leisure, groups and events,” Mervine said about making the Finial profitable. “If it was all leisure, you would just be booked Friday to Sunday … and you’re not going to have weddings seven days a week.”
Mervine, who has worked in the hotel industry for 18 years, said that after talking with Anniston companies, many house their business visitors and conferences in hotels in Oxford or even Atlanta or Birmingham.
While Anniston has some smaller motels and locally-owned hotels like the Long Leaf Lodge at McClellan, it doesn’t have the more upscale, larger hotel chains such the Hilton, which are prevalent in Oxford.
Mervine said her plan is to call Anniston businesses and other companies in the region directly and encourage them to use the renovated, upscale Finial.
Ed Williams, manager at the Long Leaf Lodge, said his hotel relies on a mixture of clientele to stay profitable. Williams said that along with cyclists taking advantage of the city’s trails and bicycle events, Long Leaf serves police and first responders who come from across the country to train at McClellan.
“We’re busy pretty much year round,” Williams said. “We have a contract with police and they keep us plenty busy.”
The Marshs’ attempt to restore the hotel come after years of declining use.
The City Council bought the hotel in October 2013 for $710,000 from the Jacksonville State University Foundation’s real estate holding company. City officials have said the hotel was purchased to save it from going into decay. The intention was to return it quickly to a private developer, who would use it as a hotel to help attract tourism and tax revenue to the city.
“It had gotten to a stage, even when JSU had it, that it needed a lot of repair and remodeling and had not had a lot of the foot traffic it had in the past,” said Mayor Vaughn Stewart.
City Manager Brian Johnson said that under the city’s ownership, the hotel barely broke even. The city couldn’t afford to pay for any renovations and the building continued to deteriorate, Johnson said.
“The condition of it was such that we could not command a room rate where we could make money,” Johnson said.
Marsh said that to further attract customers, she started an event planning business called Beyond the Finial to organize weddings, parties and similar activities at the hotel. Her partner, Patsy McKinney, who owns Above and Beyond Decorating in Oxford, said they’ll organize any type of event a customer wants.
“If it fits in the facility, we can do anything their heart desires,” McKinney said. “We’re going to create their fairytale.”
To read this article online, go to: http://m.annistonstar.com/news/the-hotel-finial-open-ready-for-april-cycling-event/article_6bd86f16-f081-11e5-8e10-7b4aa55aece0.html?mode=jqm
To see a slide show of the new Hotel Finial in Anniston, go to: http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2016/03/sneak_peek_new_hotel_finial_in.html#0
Dining guide ranks Mobile, Decatur among ‘under-the-radar’ foodie destinations
By Lawrence Specker, AL.com, March 24
Restaurant rating site Zagat.com just put Mobile and Decatur on readers’ plates as two of “16 Under-the-Radar Southern Food Destinations.”
Never mind the question of whether Mobile, at the crossroads of two major interstates and home to a brand-new Airbus factory that recently put its first jetliner in the sky, is really off the beaten path. A compliment is a compliment.
The Zagat team’s stated goal was to explore some smaller cities, “destinations where you find the most soulful experiences. Thus they picked Greenville, S.C., rather than Charleston, Lake Charles, La., rather than New Orleans, and so on.
In Mobile they found a scene that includes spots such as Murder Point Oysters, Wintzell’s Oyster House, The Noble South, Cream & Sugar Café, Pollman’s Bake Shop and Spot of Tea. “Farm-to-table, a worn-out phrase elsewhere, is still relatively new in Mobile,” writes Stephanie Burt, “but no one is doing it better than Chef Chris Rainosek of The Noble South downtown.” (And before you ask: Yes, Burt found Rainosek’s luxuriously decadent deviled eggs.)
As for Decatur, Christopher Hassiotis singled the city out for a mix including the barbecue you’d expect (Big Bob Gibson’s, Hickory Stick and Whitt’s), but also the Cajun/Creole cuisine at Simp McGhee’s, the upscale fare of Albany Bistro, the Mexican presence represented by Camino Real and El Palamino and the unique setting of Hard Dock Café.
Read the whole 16-city list at www.zagat.com.
To read this article online, go to: http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2016/03/dining_guide_ranks_mobile_deca.html
How Mother Angelica revved up Alabama’s tourism industry
By Greg Garrison, AL.com, March 29
When Mother Angelica built EWTN in Alabama in 1981 and began hosting a live TV talk show that aired nationwide, she welcomed viewers to come and sit in the studio audience on Tuesday nights.
She built it, and they came.
Mother Angelica, who died on Easter Sunday at 92, created a cottage industry for tourism in Alabama. Her studio in Irondale became a popular destination for Catholics from all over the country and around the world.
She was like a beacon, advertising for Alabama on international television.
“She’s not just a regional but a national and international draw into the state,” said Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Alabama Tourism Department.
“It has been significant for the Birmingham area because she has such a huge following,” said Sara Hamlin, vice president of tourism for the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
“We developed a pilgrimage itinerary. Pilgrims can sit in on live broadcasts and visit the monastery. We offer that to tour operators around the country. We have hundreds of groups annually.”
When she opened her 13th-Century-style medieval monastery in 1999, with a sprawling piazza like St. Peter’s Square, that added another tourism attraction. In 2001, she added a castle – Castle San Miguel – that serves as a gift shop and pilgrimage center. More than 80,000 tourists a year visit the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, a cathedral-like chapel on Our Lady of the Angels Monastery Farm.
The Shrine ranked seventh in Alabama’s list of top 10 free tourist destinations in 2015, Jones said.
“It’s difficult to make a 13th-century anything,” Mother Angelica said at the completion of her monastery and castle complex in 2001. “The problem is that if you have one thing that’s 20th century in the midst, you’re finished.”
Castle San Miguel features 40-foot-tall turrets and stone walls on the outside. Inside, it’s already adorned with nine full-size suits of armor, most made in Spain, including a replica of the armor worn by Richard the Lion-Hearted, king of England from 1189-1199 A.D.
“I hope it’s not just a building,” Mother Angelica said at the time. “I wanted to encourage strength, courage, valor – something that we’ve lost since the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th centuries, when men fought for principles and the truth,” she said. “Now we just don’t fight for anything. We just need to stand up for goodness and principle and God.”
Mother Angelica, a nun who moved to Alabama in 1962, didn’t set out to start a global TV network based in the South that would revolutionize religious broadcasting and set the tone for the billion-member Roman Catholic Church.
The castle also has an Italian woodcarving of Michael the Archangel, marble floors, vaulted wooden ceilings and wood-plank tables made out of 600-year-old doors.Mother Angelica exhibits of medieval manuscripts.
Our Lady of the Angels Monastery and its chapel, the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, quickly began drawing eight to 10 bus tours and 2,000 visitors a week after it opened.
The monastery started in Irondale in 1962, but since its move to Hanceville, Cullman County has felt the continuing popularity of the TV nun whose programs air worldwide on cable and satellite TV systems. It sparked residential development such as guest houses for visiting pilgrims. Religious pilgrimages to Cullman County usually include the Ave Maria Grotto, a garden of miniatures built by a monk at St. Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman.
EWTN Global Catholic Network has announced the schedule of memorial events for its founder, Mother Mary Angelica, who died Easter Sunday, March 27, at 5 p.m.
The Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament has continued to grow, adding a cave-like grotto featuring life-size Nativity scene statues, and the John Paul II Eucharistic Center. The Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament also includes an exhibit of life-size photos of the Shroud of Turin on view for pilgrims.
The shrine’s architecture and religious art gives it broad appeal as a tourist attraction.
With the death of Mother Angelica on Easter Sunday, thousands more pilgrims are expected this week for memorial events that begin today and conclude with her funeral and burial on Friday.
To read this article online, go to: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2016/03/how_mother_angelica_revved_up.html
Photo slideshow “50 states, 50 dates: Romantic activities around the USA”
By Sarah Sekula, USA TODAY, March 28
Looking for a nice romantic trip for two while traveling, or just need an idea for something new in your home state? Take a look through the gallery for 50 ideas of activities perfect for two, from the adventurous to the scenic and everything in between. Or take a road trip around the USA and hit every spot for the ultimate in romantic travel.
Alabama – The patio at the Ovenbird Restaurant is ideal for a date night. Photo Beau Gustafsen, Alabama Tourism Department
To read this entire article online, go to: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/experience/america/2016/03/28/50-states-50-dates-romantic-ideas-around-usa/82328912/
Alabama represented in the nominee list for a USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice contest
The nominees for Best Historic Small Town and Best Coastal Small Town 2016 were announced at noon today, and Alabama represents 2 of the finalists competing for a spot in the winners list.
The famous Bloody Sunday conflict, when police attacked peaceful civil rights demonstrators, took place at this bridge in Selma, Ala., in the 1960s. The Edmund Pettus Bridge has become a metaphorical bridge, too – a bridge between the old and the new, a representation of the major changes in the nation at that time. After thousands of demonstrators marched across this bridge and onward to Montgomery, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and Selma’s historic significance was cemented. Selma is number 13 of 20 in Best Historic Small Towns.
Visitors to Gulf Shores, at the heart of the Alabama Gulf Coast, will be met with sugary-white sand beaches, Southern-style fresh seafood, championship golf courses and nearly any water sport you can imagine, thanks to the many nearby back bays and rivers. Preserves and state parks protect much of the region make Gulf Shores an ideal base for a natural coastal escape. Gulf Shores is number 8 of 20 in Best Coastal Small Towns.
Prior campaigns have seen a full range of social media influencers: a US Senator, Governors, mayors, and – of course – those already loyal to the nominees. I’m sure nominees would appreciate the support of Alabama during their campaign to win.
Voting ends for these categories on Mon., April 25, at 10:59 a.m. You can rock the vote at http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/ and of course we encourage you to share the contest URL with your social network. The public can vote once per day, per category.
To follow live voting action (and discover the most active campaigns for award categories), search #10BestChoice on Twitter (we are @10Best). Some contests also have custom hashtags, which you will discover. You can also find the contests on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
In addition to these here are more Alabama sites in the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice contests.
Alabama has two caves that have made this list. They are Cathedral Caverns in Woodville, and DeSoto Caverns in Childersburg.
Visitors to Cathedral Caverns in Alabama pass through a massive opening 126 feet wide and 25 feet tall into a cool wonderland of cave formations. One of the highlights at this state park is a 45-foot tall, 243 feet in circumference stalagmite appropriately named Goliath — one of the largest formations of its kind on the planet. Cathedral Caverns is presently at number 9.
Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, DeSoto Caverns has a main chamber 12 stories high and larger than a football field. Rock formations within the caverns are actively growing and include one of the world’s largest accumulations of onyx-marble stalagmites and stalactites. If the cave itself isn’t enough of a draw, the DeSoto Caverns Family Fun Park also includes a maze, mini golf, bumper cars, a climbing wall and several other attractions and activities. DeSoto Caverns is currently at number 7.
Voting ends for these on April 10, at 10:59 a.m.
To vote for these, go to: http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-cave/
Best Underwater Attraction
The LuLu was purpose-sunk off the coast of Orange Beach, Ala. on May 26, 2013, making it the state’s first full-ship diving reef. The 271-foot retired coastal freighter now sits 115 feet below the sea’s surface, where divers can spot red and mangrove snapper, amberjack, grey triggerfish, gag grouper and king mackerel.
The Lulu is currently number 1 of 20. Voting ends for this category on April 10, at 10:59 a.m.
To vote for the Lulu, go to: http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-underwater-attraction/the-lulu-orange-beach-ala/
Best Archaeological Site
Perched on the Black Warrior River in the heart of Alabama, Moundville — one of the largest Mississippian towns in the South — was occupied from around 1000 to 1450 AD. What remains of the 300-acre village are a series of earthen mounds and more than 200 artifacts, now on display in an on-site museum.
Voting ends on April 11, at 10:59 a.m.
To vote for Moundville, go to: http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-archaeological-site/
Hank Williams Honored With Memorial Plaque in WV
By Associated Press, billboard, March 26
Alabama Tourism Department director Lee Sentell along with ATD staff members Tommy Cauthen, Rick Harmon and Eric Bair traveled to West Virginia to present the historic marker to the city of Oak Hill.
The city of Oak Hill, West Virginia, has unveiled a memorial plaque honoring country singer Hank Williams.
Media outlets report the city held a presentation ceremony of the marker on Main Street Thursday (March 24).
Williams was declared dead in Oak Hill, after being discovered unresponsive in the back seat of a car.
Williams’ daughter, Jett Williams, traveled to Oak Hill to attend the ceremony. She was born a few days after Williams died and she said commemorating her father is a great honor.
The ceremony was the final leg of a tour that began in Williams’ hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, and concluded in Oak Hill. The tour ran in conjunction with the movie “I Saw the Light,” which chronicles Williams’ life.
To read this article online, go to: http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/country/7271744/alabama-drummer-mark-herndon-autobiography
Hank Williams Biopic ‘I Saw the Light’ Is First Film to License Country Legend’s Music in 50 Years
By Melinda Newman, billboard, March 25
For 28 years, Troy Tomlinson has been the gatekeeper of Hank Williams’ 200-plus-song catalog, first at Acuff-Rose Music and now as president/CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing Nashville. And for just as long he said no to everyone asking to license the country music pioneer’s songs for a biopic.
Part of his discernment was the weighty notion that the next film about Williams would be — like the 2004 Ray Charles biopic, Ray or the 2005 Johnny Cash film, Walk The Line — the movie that introduced Williams to a new generation and “we needed the right people to do the story.”
When film producer Marc Abraham (Children of Men, Robocop) came calling, Tomlinson changed his tune. Unlike the other filmmakers, Abraham — who wrote and directed the new biopic, I Saw the Light (out March 25) — brought along the script, based on Colin Escott’s well-regarded 1994 biography on Williams, “Someone leading with ‘Let’s secure the rights and we’ll come up with a script later’ was never really attractive to me. What was important to me was the story before the rights,” says Tomlinson. “Marc said, ‘I want to [show] you how I’ve handled the man behind the music,’ Tomlinson says. “I could feel his love for this man. I remember telling my wife he really wants to tell the story right.”
That meant not sugar-coating Williams’ substance abuse and philandering; it also meant finding an actor who could sing. For the Sony Pictures Classics film — the first movie about Williams’ life to feature his music since 1964’s Your Cheatin’ Heart — Abraham cast Thor’s Tom Hiddleston. “I told him he was going to have to sing and there will be people who will criticize you,” Abraham says. “This movie isn’t an imitation of Hank Williams. There are probably 15 people out there who will sound more like Hank Williams than Tom. What I needed was a brilliant actor.”
Hiddleston moved to Nashville prior to the film’s shoot in Shreveport, La., to spend five weeks training with Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, who served as the film’s executive music producer. Hiddleston has a rich baritone, where “Williams was a reedy tenor who yodeled,” says Crowell. “I said, ‘We have to get your knees wobbly and loosen up your throat.'”
Hiddleston became so good that, at the actor’s urging, he sang a number of songs in the movie live, including “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” while the others were pre-recorded.
As important as the vocal lessons was “getting a young Englishman in his 30s to understand country blues,” says Crowell, whose father took him to see Williams perform when he was 2, prompting a life-long love affair with Williams’ music.
Abraham declines to reveal how much of his $13 million budget went to pay for Williams’ songs but says Sony/ATV licensed usage for up to 20 tunes, including Williams classics “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and the title track. “Our intent from the first conversation was to provide enough song opportunities to Marc so the story could be told properly. I didn’t approach it by ‘How much money can I get?'” says Tomlinson. He adds that there’s no rule of thumb for figuring out how much to charge for the iconic songs. “You use historical data and what’s the fair market value, but there’s no chart you can go to. Much of it is negotiation and a feel between the two parties and landing on what you think is a fair fee.”
The movie features around five or six Williams songs, “based on contextual story telling,” Abraham says. “I knew I’d start with ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ to show he’s a literary type as much as a musician. I wanted to force people to sit there and listen to those words.”
Abraham also made the decision for the film to feature licensed music and not a score, although composer Aaron Zigman did write some interstitial music that runs under a few scenes.
The film’s soundtrack, which includes Hiddleston singing Williams’ tunes as well as other contemporary songs from that period, comes out March 25 on Sony/Legacy Recordings.
While Abraham waits for the public to have its say at the box office, he says he’s already gotten all the affirmation he needs from Williams’ granddaughter, Holly, who told him, “We have a pretty screwed-up family and I’m so moved by the movie. You treated everyone respectfully.”
To read this article online, go to: http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/country/7272591/hank-williams-movie-i-saw-light-sony-atv-licensing
Tom Hiddleston: This I Saw The Light moment was ‘one of the great joys of my life’
By Will Robinson, Entertainment Weekly, March 25
Tom Hiddleston may be best known for donning Loki’s helmet and scepter in The Avengers, but in I Saw the Light, the actor wields a guitar instead.
In the biopic, Hiddleston portrays legendary country singer and songwriter Hank Williams. “Whether you’re Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, they count Hank as a primary inspiration,” Hiddleston told EW during the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. “Or you just meet someone on the street and says, ‘My grandfather used to sing Hank Williams songs when I sat on his knee as a kid.’ You realize he’s really embedded in the culture, and I felt a huge responsibility and a duty to commit myself to every aspect of playing the part.”
Hiddleston said he knew how to play guitar before production, but it was “probably much more badly than I play now.” The six weeks of training allowed him to perform Williams’ tracks at a venue where the late musician got his start: the Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium.
“I stood in the same spot, singing to the same auditorium, singing ‘Lovesick Blues,’ singing ‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’ It has its own magic,” he said. “Honestly, performing those songs as Hank Williams in this film is one of the great joys of my life as an actor.”
To read this article online, go to: http://www.ew.com/article/2016/03/25/i-saw-light-tom-hiddleston-hank-williams
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