Alabama Tourism Department News July 22, 2014

  • New signs to say ‘Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama’
  • Alabama Restaurant Week deadline extended
  • UK-In Market Representative at Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
  • Grey Brennan gives update on the international program
  • Travel South attends Alabama Governors Conference on Tourism
  • Kenny Chesney announces free concert
  • The 15 coolest things we found out about the Unclaimed Baggage Center
  • The Ga Ana Theatre Welcomes Watermelon Wine-Remembering the Golden Years of Country Music
  • ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ e-book flies up best-seller list
  • The Guntersville Museum hosts Alabama in the Making: Traditional Arts of People and Place
  • Alabama Historical Commission announces 2015 Capital Enhancement Grants program
  • Gulf Coast Exploreum hires new director
  • History museum curator awarded prestigious writing residency
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


New signs to say ‘Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama’
By Phillip Rawls, The Associated Press, The Washington Times, July 18

Tourists traveling into Alabama on interstate highways will soon be greeted by signs strengthening the state’s official connection to the Lynyrd Skynyrd song title “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Alabama The Beautiful” signs that have stood at the state line since 2003 will be replaced with green and white signs saying “Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama.” The new signs will be erected during the next few months, with the first of the 15-feet-by-18-feet signs likely on Interstate 85 at Lanett in east Alabama, state Transportation Director John Cooper said at a news conference Friday.

Smaller 3-feet-by-4-feet versions of the signs will be on the grounds of the eight state welcome centers to serve as backdrops for travelers’ photos, state Tourism Director Lee Sentell said. The total cost for the new signs is $61,000, he said.

Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded several songs in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, but “Sweet Home Alabama” was recorded in Doraville, Georgia, in 1973. Band members wrote the song as a response to two Neil Young songs that were critical of the South, “Southern Man” in 1970 and “Alabama” in 1972.

Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant made the intent clear when he sang, “Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her. I heard ol’ Neil put her down. Well I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don’t need him around, anyhow.”

The song quickly became a party anthem. The Reese Witherspoon movie “Sweet Home Alabama” in 2002 and the Kid Rock hit record “All Summer Long” in 2008 added to the recognition of the song. Acknowledging the popularity of the song title, the state of Alabama began using it on car tags and in tourism promotions several years ago.

Alabama has a five-year, $75,000 agreement with Universal Music to use the song title in tourism promotions, Sentell said.

Sentell said tourism slogans have been important for states ever since Virginia came up with “Virginia is for lovers.” “‘Sweet Home Alabama’ works for our state because it is a very popular song, and it is a very popular phrase,” he said.

Sentell said his agency is negotiating with Universal Music to try to sell “Sweet Home Alabama” shirts and caps in gift shops.

For a five-year period through 2013, Alabama’s standard car tag said “Sweet Home” at the top and “Alabama” at the bottom. The 2014 tag doesn’t use the phrase. Sentell said the state Department of Public Safety wanted the state name at the top of the tag to make it easier for law enforcement to recognize, and there was no way to make “Sweet Home Alabama” work with the state name at the top of the tag.

To read the article online, go to:

Alabama Restaurant Week deadline extended

Speaking duiring the Alabama Tourism Department Update at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism, Grey Brennan announced that the Alabama Restaurant Week signup deadline was being extended.  Wearing a large yellow “Ask Me About Restaurant Week” button, Brennan told the audience the deadline was extended until Aug. 1.

“We have 135 restaurants signed up to participate,” said Brennan. “We want to make sure that every eligible restaurant in Alabama has a chance to join this free marketing event.”  Brennan then asked the CVBs, Chambers and other representatives from Alabama destination marketing organizations to make sure their local restaurants had signed up.

Visit to sign up, view current participating restaurants, and learn more about the Alabama Tourism Department campaign.

UK-In Market Representative at Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Della Tully, Alabama Tourism Department’s In-Market UK representative, attended the Governor Conference.  She joined Grey Brennan on stage and updated the industry on promotions that took place in and around London this year.

Alabama Tourism Department invited journalists and tour operators to three special events during the year.  The first event showcased Alabama’s role in American Civil Rights history by hosting a group of 20 English journalists and tour operators at the “Scottsboro Boys” play in London, which returns to the West End in October.

The second and third events centered on Alabama as a southern music destination.  A private showing of the Muscle Shoals documentary was held in a London hotel.  Some 30 top tour operators and journalists attended this event, held prior to the WTM tourism marketplace.  And this summer, Alabama Tourism Department sponsored the “Sweet Home Alabama” stage at the Maverick Music Festival.  Muscle Shoals musician David Hood held a question and answer session for festival attendees who also were able to see the Music Shoals documentary.  Thousands attend this multi-day festival, located two hours from London.

Tully said viewership of the Deep South webpage in the UK was up 70% with the Alabama page views up 75% over last year.

Tully also presented a one-minute video of a North Alabama UK Tour Operator FAM to the audience.  That group visited Gadsden, Fort Payne, Huntsville, Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Bessemer with one member extending his stay in Alabama to visit Montgomery.

Grey Brennan gives update on the international program

Those attending the Alabama Governors Conference on Tourism were given a special preview of the Brand USA videos produced for Alabama Tourism.  The series of 9 videos were videotaped in April of this year.  A UK, French and German on camera host present 3 videos each in their respective languages on Alabama’s outdoors, music and cultural highlights.

Grey Brennan screened an edited version of the videos prior to their public launch on the Alabama section of

The hosts and cameraman visited Florence, Muscle Shoals, Huntsville, Birmingham, Bessemer, Fort Payne, Montgomery, Monroeville, Mobile, Fairhope and Gulf Shores/Orange Beach.

Brennan added that the Tourism Department is working with Travel South USA to add shared In-market representation for Australia, Germany and Brazil.

Brennan also told the audience that 5% of viewership to the Tourism Department’s domestic website, is from international countries.  “Those viewing our domestic website join the thousands searching Alabama tourism information on three international aimed websites; Discover America, Travel South USA and Deep South USA,” said Brennan.

Travel South attends Alabama Governors Conference on Tourism

Travel South USA staff member David Kemp attended the Alabama Governors Conference on Tourism in Auburn.  Kemp met with Alabama attractions, Chambers, and CVBs during the three-day event to discuss Travel South programs.

An updated Travel South website, two annual showcases, and an impressive Travel South USA booth at the upcoming WTM show are among the Travel South events for this coming year.

Kemp said the upcoming Travel South International Showcase in New Orleans is almost sold out.  “Fewer than 10 tables are available,” Kemp said.  Travel South will work with Alabama Tourism to confirm details on two post Travel South International tours.  “We will start promoting the showcase and tours, to the expected 100 tour operators that will attend the showcase, starting next month,” said Kemp.

Alabama will have two post visits with 15 international tour operators on each.  One of the Alabama trips is already sold out with the other having only two remaining spaces left, according to Kemp.  Some 30 Alabama tourism professionals are expected to attend Travel South International in New Orleans in December.

One of the familiarization tours will visit Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Fairhope and Mobile before traveling to stops in Mississippi while the other fam tour will visit Monroeville, Montgomery and Phenix City before continuing to Georgia.

Kenny Chesney announces free concert
By Cindy Watts, USA TODAY, July 17

Kenny Chesney took the past year off to focus on making his new album, but now he’s ready to hop back on stage for the first full concert since his No Shoes Nation tour ended in August of 2013. It will be Chesney’s only concert in 2014. And it’s free.  Tickets were claimed within minutes.

Good news: Kenny Chesney shares new album title, release date
New single: Hear Kenny Chesney’s ‘American Kids’

Chesney will play a beach concert, dubbed the Flora-Bama-Jama, Aug. 16 at the Flora-Bama, on the state line between Orange Beach, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla.

“I’ve been holed up making a record for the last year … and anyone who knows me knows how much I miss playing, miss the fans, but especially miss the culture the people who love this music bring with them,” Chesney said. “Obviously, this isn’t going to be one of those huge shows we do, but it’s gonna be a long day, a whole lotta music and even more fun.”

Chesney, whose new single, “American Kids,” is now on country radio, saed he chose The Flora-Bama as the location for his one and only concert of the year because “to me, a place like The Flora-Bama is all about kicking back, being with your friends and not worrying about a thing. … Just hang out and be easy.”

Chesney’s new album, “The Big Revival,” featuring “American Kids,” will be in stores Sept. 23.

To read this article online, go to:

The 15 coolest things we found out about the Unclaimed Baggage Center
By Carly Ledbetter, The Huffington Post, July 21

Guitars, headphones, suitcases and vacuums — an odd assortment of sorts, but the kind of things you’d expect to find at any local superstore around the corner. But what if we told you that you could find all this (and even a suit of armor!) at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama?

Welcome to the Land of Lost Luggage.

Filled with fun trinkets and quirky traditions, the store itself is massive – more than 40,000 square feet with enough departments to satisfy any shopper. Prices are about what you’d find at a local thrift store, coming in a little cheaper than market value. There’s even a museum to house the Center’s most unique finds, situated right between “women’s tank tops’ and ‘women’s dresses.’

We got the chance to interview the fine folks at the Center, and learn a little more about what they do there and what they’ve found. Here’s what they told us:

1. It exists.  In Scottsboro, AL to be precise.

2. And was founded by a man named Doyle.  In 1970, Doyle Owens trucked it to Washington, D.C. with a $300 loan and bought his first load of unclaimed baggage. Soon after, he left his job to become a full-time “bag man.”

3. The store has a very quirky tradition.  Every day at 2:30 pm, they let a customer unpack a bag to reveal whatever treasures lie inside.

For the complete list of 15 cool things, go to:

The Ga Ana Theatre Welcomes Watermelon Wine-Remembering the Golden Years of Country Music
NewSouth authors, Frye Gaillard and Rheta Grimsley Johnson, will share the stage with southern songwriters Davis Raines and Pamela Jackson of Nashville.

Through a combination of readings and performances of original songs, Gaillard and his musical friends examine the legacy of southern folk, blues and country music through the lens of literature.

Rheta will be reading from her latest book, Hank Hung the Moon, her tribute to Hank Williams, the unofficial poet laureate of country music and winner of a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2010.

Davis Raines is an Alabama native and former death row prison guard turned songwriter, widely regarded as one of Nashville’s finest.  He co-wrote Kellie Pickler’s latest hit single, “Someone, Somewhere Tonight.”  Raines has also written songs for Kenny Rogers, Pam Tillis and other major country music performers.

Pamela Jackson, an Alabama native and frequent co-writer with Davis Raines, has been in Nashville for the past decade and has earned a reputation as a “songwriters’ songwriter.”  Pamela has performed at the Frank Brown Songwriters’ Festival in Gulf Shores, the Bluebird Café and other locales in Nashville.

Theatre opens Sat., Aug. 16, at 6:00 p.m. show begins at 7:00.  Tickets $5.00 Students, $7.00 Adults.
For more information call Margaret Gaston @ 334-376-0064

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ e-book flies up best-seller list
By Jocelyn McClurg, USA TODAY, July 17

Going digital has meant good things for the 54-year-old classic To Kill a Mockingbird.

Harper Lee’s novel leaps from No. 106 to No. 15 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list. The e-book was released for the first time on July 8, and digital sales this past week outnumbered print by more than 2 to 1 in data gathered for USA TODAY’s list.

The reclusive author announced on her 88th birthday that she would allow the release of the e-book version of her beloved Southern novel, read by generations of schoolchildren.

“I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries,” Lee said in a statement released in April. “This is Mockingbird for a new generation.”

Mockingbird has spent 847 weeks on USA TODAY’s list, which began in October 1993. Its highest ranking was No. 10 in 2010, during its 50th anniversary year.

The book, the story of Atticus Finch and his defense of a black man wrongly accused of rape in the Jim Crow South, has sold 30 million copies since 1960.

Lee made headlines this week when she denied cooperating with a new biography, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills. The Penguin Press and Mills are standing by the book, citing a 2011 letter from Lee’s sister, Alice Lee, saying both had cooperated with Mills.

To see this article online, go to:

The Guntersville Museum hosts Alabama in the Making: Traditional Arts of People and Place

Alabama in the Making: Traditional Arts of People and Place, a traveling exhibit by the Alabama Folklife Association (AFA), recently opened at the Guntersville Museum and will stay until Aug. 31.

Alabama in the Making will feature the people of Alabama, whose faces, voices, stories, and music will present the Folklife traditions of their families and communities.  As the keepers of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and aspirations, Alabamians will share their traditions with you.  Come explore, listen, see, and experience the cultures and landscapes of the Gulf Coast, the Tennessee Valley, the Black Belt, the Wiregrass, and the Southern Appalachians as expressed through traditional folkways and arts.   While stirring up a pot of chicken stew, decorating a float for Mardi Gras, gathering up a collection of pine needles, or stitching together the blocks of a quilt, Alabamians are making a piece of Alabama.

Using iPads, visitors will be able to navigate the collections and listen to Alabamians tell stories about their experiences in folk and traditional arts including food ways, music, and material culture.
In conjunction with this exhibit will be Sacred Sounds of Alabama, an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to experience Sacred Harp singing and its contribution to Alabama’s heritage.

The Singing Square will allow visitors to experience a shaped-note singing event by serving as the leader of the square and selecting a song or by sitting in the traditional “hollow square” where they can sing along while watching the songs through video monitors.  Included in the interpretation are sacred music traditions associated with Alabama’s African American heritage including spirituals, choral music, freedom songs, and black gospel quartets.  Other traditions include bluegrass gospel and country gospel.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Guntersville Museum, Marshall County Foundation for Fine Arts and the Twenty-First Century Club of Guntersville.  Entry to the museum is free.

For more information about the exhibit, visit:

Alabama Historical Commission announces 2015 Capital Enhancement Grants program

The Alabama Historical Commission is accepting grant applications for capital enhancements to non-state owned or operated historical properties and sites. Grants will be awarded for the coming fiscal year 2015.

“This program is intended to help preserve and protect historically significant sites in Alabama by allocating small grants for repairs and capital improvements,” said Dr. Stephen McNair, AHC Director of Historic Sites.

Local historical sites and parks operated by, non-profit or tax exempt organizations, county or municipal governments are eligible. The grants will be awarded so that grant recipients reflect the geographical diversity of the State. Only applicants that did not receive historical grants in fiscal year 2013 are eligible. Religious institutions/organizations are not eligible. Applications must be postmarked or emailed by August 15, 2014. Hand-delivered applications must arrive by 5:00 pm on August 15, 2014.

The AHC will award grants in amounts not to exceed $10,000 for any one historical site or park.

Nonprofit groups and government entities interested in applying for a grant should review the application and contact John Powell at john.powell@preserveala.orgor 334 230-2654.

Grant guidelines and application:

These grants are made possible by Act 2014-284 passed by the Alabama Legislature in April 2014.

To protect, preserve, and interpret Alabama’s historic places is the mission of the Alabama Historical Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office. 

Gulf Coast Exploreum hires new director

The Board of Trustees of the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center in Mobile has hired Jan McKay as its new executive director, replacing Gretchen Jaspering.

Jaspering officially stepped down on May 9, but has continued to assist with grant-writing and fundraising as the Exploreum’s interim director of development. Don Comeaux, the Exploreum’s assistant director, has been serving as interim executive director.

McKay worked at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio, for 14 years, where she was on the management team and director of the communications and marketing division.

History museum curator awarded prestigious writing residency

Scotty E. Kirkland, curator of history at the History Museum of Mobile, is the recipient of the 2014 Writer-in-Service Award from The Lillian E. Smith Center of Piedmont College.

Named for the award-winning author and social activist, the Lillian E. Smith Center of Piedmont College serves as an educational center and an artist retreat. The Center’s annual Writer-in-Service Award is open to U.S. residents working to advance writing through public service careers or volunteer work.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Aug. 15 – 24               Alabama Restaurant Week
Sept. 7 – 14                 World Leisure Congress, Mobile
Nov. 3 – 6                   World Travel Market, London, England
Dec. 2 – 4                    Travel South International Showcase, New Orleans
Dec. 5 – 8                    Travel South International Super FAM to Alabama



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