Tourism Tuesdays September 1, 2015

  • Barbecue documentary airs Sunday at 6 on APTV
  • Winners announced for the Alabama Tourism Department’s Barbecue Battle
  • Labor Day celebrations across Alabama
  • AL Tourism holds road trip video contest
  • Birmingham’s dining boom, Gulf Coast fare, Mardi Gras and golf
  • Trails Commission website highlights Alabama trails
  • GulfQuest grand opening set for September 26
  • Okra Festival draws visitors from across nation
  • NPR praises Shoals native Jason Isbell’s new album
  • Montgomery nominated by USA Today’s 10 Best as Best Destination for History Buffs
  • Alabama artists and craftspeople
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events




Barbecue documentary airs Sunday at 6 on APTV

Thirty barbecue pit masters, writers and food experts discuss Alabama barbecue in a new documentary that airs Sunday at 6 p.m. on Alabama Public Television, the state tourism department says.

“Q – Alabama’s Barbecue Legends highlights stories behind the most popular dish in the state.
Alabama barbecue is the basis for a compelling story, and the film tells that story in multiple ways. It showcases the diversity among restaurant owners, pit masters and barbecue experts within the state, as well as the diversity of the barbecue itself – from white sauce in the north to red sauce in west Alabama.

“If Alabama had an official smell, it would have to be hickory smoke,” said tourism director Lee Sentell.. “Memphis, Kansas City, the Carolinas and Texas each have their own defined style of barbecue. Alabama has become the center of the barbecue world because we adopted the best of all these different styles and added a few unique ones of our own.”

Other storylines extend beyond the people to the food itself, from the main attraction – be it pork butt or ribs, chicken, beef brisket or sausage – to sides and desserts, from collard greens to banana cream pies. Storylines in the film also address the variety of sauces from place to place and among regions.

The film complements the book Alabama Barbecue, the Masters of Alabama BBQ photo exhibit/tour and the Alabama BBQ Trail mobile app, all launched as part of the tourism department’s campaign the Year of Alabama BBQ.

The one-hour film premiered last weekend at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham.

The people interviewed for the film include T.J. Allen, Hog Wild BBQ, Gulf Shores; John Bishop Jr., Dreamland Bar-B-Que, Tuscaloosa; John T. Edge, Director, Southern Foodways Alliance; Jeff Frazier, L.A. Barbecue, Summerdale; Tim Fife, Tim’s Walk Hard BBQ, Leesburg; Mike Hancock, Hancock’s Bar-B-Que, Selma; Lula Hatcher, Lannie’s Bar-B-Q Spot, Selma; Alphonso Hatcher, Lannie’s Bar-B-Q Spot, Selma; Mike Holley, Chuck Wagon BBQ, Madison; Carolyn Jackson, McMillan Bar-B-Que, Mobile; Willie Gardner, Dreamland Bar-B-Que, Tuscaloosa; Caitlin Glosson, Hog Wild BBQ, Gulf Shores; Chris Lilly, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur; Danny “Fat Boy” Loftin, Fat Boy’s Bar-B-Que Ranch, Prattville; Don McLemore, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur; Cliff Mortimer, Barbecue Stop, Clay; Sam Nakos, Demetri’s BBQ, Homewood; Dale Pettit, Top Hat Barbecue, Blount Springs; Nick Pihakis, Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Birmingham; Wade Reich, Butts To Go, Pell City; Melvin Rogers, Melvin’s Place of BBQ, Huntsville; Joshua Rothman, University of Alabama; Lee Sentell, Alabama Tourism Department, Montgomery; Matthew Statham, Saw’s BBQ, Homewood; Frank Stitt, Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham; Van Sykes, Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q, Bessemer; Annette Thompson, Travel Writer, Author of Alabama Barbecue; Earlie “Bam” Threatt, R & B Bar-B-Q, Lincoln; Beth Tucker, Rusty’s Bar-B-Q, Leeds; Rusty Tucker, Rusty’s Bar-B-Q, Leeds.

To learn more about the Year of Alabama BBQ, please visit

Winners announced for the Alabama Tourism Department’s Barbecue Battle

In an online barbecue popularity contest that drew more than a million votes, Lannie’s of Selma won the Legends category, Saw’s of Homewood topped the Rookie category, and Jim ’N Nicks bested the other multi-locations brands, the Alabama Tourism Department says. Rusty’s of Leeds won the Mom and Pops category and Charlie’s of Odenville took the Dives category.

According to an Atlanta online voting company, Lannie’s bested Big Bob Gibson by 257,347 to 228,123 votes for the Legends title while Saw’s captured 46,389 votes to 44,835 to 306 Barbecue of Athens, and Jim ’N Nicks got 240,633 votes to 173,832 for LawLers.  Rusty’s received 28,637 votes to 21,369 for Johnny’s of Cullman to win the Mom and Pops category and Charlie’s got 12,867 votes to the 9,644 votes received for Jim’s Hwy 82 Barbecue of Billinglsey.

The Alabama Tourism Department conducted the online voting contest as part of The Year of Alabama BBQ.  “Alabama is not only home to the world’s best barbecue, but also to fierce competition,” stated Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department. “This was clearly a competition between the fans of each restaurant. The five winning restaurants certainly have a lot to celebrate, but this competition turned out to be great exposure for everyone involved.”

A list of the full voting results from the contest are posted at

Labor Day celebrations across Alabama

Great food and live entertainment highlight Labor Day celebrations across Alabama.  Events include everything from baseball games and fireworks in Montgomery to a moon pie eating contest in McCalla.

Celebrations include the Sweet Tater Festival in Cullman, the St. William Church Seafood Festival in Guntersville, Downtown Tailgate Games in Huntsville and a concert by the group Alabama in Orange Beach. Families can also enjoy live music on Lake Martin in Eclectic or enjoy an arts and music kickoff festival for the new Riverfront Park Amphitheatre in downtown Selma.

The Alabama Tourism Department suggests the following Labor Day events.  For a complete calendar of events listing see

Birmingham- 11th annual Labor Day Golden Classic
Sept. 6 at Legion Field.  The Golden Bears of Miles College will face off against the University of North Alabama Lions.  205-929-1732. Admission charged.

Cherokee- Coon Dog Cemetery Labor Day Celebration
Sept. 7 at the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard. Celebration of Troop- the first coon dog buried. More than 300 graves freshly decorated. Live Bluegrass Music, Buck Dancing, Liar’s Contest. BBQ and drinks available.  Free admission.

Cullman- Sweet Tater Festival
Sept. 5-7 at Smith Lake Park.  A myriad of arts & crafts along with craft and food vendors, sweet potatoes, music, a car show, and lots of food and family fun abounds at this annual festival.  Admission charged.

Decatur-  Battle for Decatur
Sept. 5-6 at Point Mallard Park. Civil War reenactment featuring more than 100 authentically clad reenactors with mock battles each day at 2 p.m. 800-524-6181.  Free admission

Eclectic- Labor Day Weekend Concert
Sept. 6 at the AMP on Lake Martin.  Hear great music during the final event of the summer concert series with bands Railroad Earth, the Lonely Biscuits and the Vegabonds. 256-397-1019.  Admission charged.

Guntersville- St. William Church Seafood Festival
Sept. 5 at Civitan Park on Lake Guntersville. The seafood festival celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. A drive-thru opens at 7:30 a.m. for purchasing quarts of gumbo and Cajun boiled shrimp. Dine-in opens at 10:30 a.m. for Creole-stylefilé gumbo, Cajun boiled shrimp, boiled crawfish, catfish dinners and barbecue chicken dinners.  Free Admission.

Huntsville- Downtown Tailgate Games
Sept. 3-5 in Downtown Huntsville. The 2nd Annual Downtown Tailgate Games are returning to Huntsville. There will be a wide variety of tailgate games around the Courthouse Square. A great way to kick off football season.  Free Admission.

Ider- Mule Days
Sept. 5 at Ider Town Park. This annual event showcases Sand Mountain’s rich agricultural heritage. Enjoy a parade of mules, horses, carriages, antique tractors and more.  256-845-3957.  Free admission.

McCalla- 24th Annual Labor Day Celebration & Moon Pie Eatin’ Contest
Sept. 7 at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. Featuring games, food and the moon pie eating contest.  205-477-5711.  Admission charged.

Montgomery- Biscuits Baseball
Sept. 4, 5, 6 and 7 at Biscuit Stadium in downtown Montgomery.  The Montgomery Biscuits take on the Birmingham Barons in a series of Labor Day weekend games.  Fireworks after the games on Friday and Sunday nights. Admission charged.

Section- Section Labor Day Festival
Sept. 7 at the Section Community Park Section Labor Day Festival. Day-long musical entertainment and old fashioned festival.  256-574-1330.  Free admission.

Selma- Riverfront Park Music & Arts Festival
Sept. 7 at the new Riverfront Park Amphitheatre in downtown Selma. Featuring Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Kenny Brown Band, John Bull Band, and Dead Fingers. Arts and crafts vendors, a home brewing competition, education tents, and a kid zone. Admission charged

Orange Beach- Alabama concert at The Wharf
Sept. 6 at The Amphitheater at The Wharf.  The country super group Alabama will perform.  Admission charged.

AL Tourism holds road trip video contest
By ATD, WSFA TV News, Aug. 25

Alabama is a destination worth driving for – and the Alabama Tourism Department has the road trips to prove it, which is why it is happy to announce the 2015 Alabama Road Trip Video Contest. From rocket ships to rock ’n’ roll, the state of Alabama is full of adventures for those ready to take the wheel. Contestants may submit a video of the ultimate Alabama road trip for a chance to win $10,000 or other prizes, such as a GoPro camera or copies of the books Alabama Road Trips and Alabama Barbecue – Delicious Road Trips.

Those interested in participating in the contest may submit entries three ways:

  1. Take an Alabama road trip and create a video of your journey.
  2. Submit a video of an Alabama road trip you took in the past.
  3. Create a video telling us why you want to take your dream Alabama road trip and where you want to go.

Judges are looking for high-quality, creative entries that highlight all the best Alabama has to offer. From local dives to famous destinations, the Alabama Tourism Department wants to see it all. Contestants may narrate their submissions, add music or include other personal touches. All winning entries will be announced by October 12.

“We want to show the variety of travel destinations that our wonderful state has to offer,” said Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell. “From Huntsville to Gulf Shores and everything in between, Alabama truly has something for everyone. We look forward to seeing the entries and the Alabama experiences that inspired each one and sharing them with others.”

Prize package descriptions, complete rules and instructions on entering are available at

To learn more about Alabama Road Trips, visit or download the Alabama Road Trips app, available on available on the App Store or Google Play.

To read this article online, go to:
Birmingham’s dining boom, Gulf Coast fare, Mardi Gras and golf
By Blake Guthrie, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sept. 1

The heart of the modern South beats firmly in the Heart of Dixie; from phoenixlike cities and wind-swept beaches to world-class golfing, Alabama is serving up something special in the 21st century.
Birmingham’s renaissance

A former steel industry boomtown, Birmingham today is seeing another kind of boom. The city is in the middle of a full-blown renaissance, fueled, in part, by a dynamic culinary and craft beer scene.

In today’s Birmingham, James Beard Award-winning chefs are serving up stylized, locally sourced fare, farmers markets are nationally recognized gathering places, and microbreweries are producing pint after pint of sudsy, golden goodness.

Before concepts such as farm-to-table became trendy, Birmingham was at the vanguard of culinary coolness. It began in the early 1980s with the opening of Highlands Bar and Grill (2011 11th Ave. S., Birmingham. 205-939-1400, in the Southside neighborhood. The words “bar and grill” were included in the name so residents would know the place was accessible. Later, proprietor Frank Stitt would open two more landmark Birmingham restaurants, Bottega (2240 Highland Ave. S., Birmingham. 205-939-1000,, an Italian restaurant and cafe four blocks away from Highlands, and Chez Fonfon (2007 11th Ave. S., Birmingham. 205-939-3221,, a French-style bistro next door to Highlands. Stitt’s endeavors helped to spawn a culinary renaissance, not only in Birmingham, but across the South — the James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur is commonly referred to as “the dean of Southern Cuisine.”

Sling a spatula in Birmingham and you’ll likely hit a chef influenced by Stitt. Chris Hastings is one. Also a James Beard Award winner, Hastings opened the Hot and Hot Fish Club (2180 11th Court S., Birmingham. 205-933-5474,,@HotnHotFishClub) in Southside in 1995. The seafood-focused Hot and Hot is a revered fine dining spot in town with an ever-changing menu that follows the seasons. In Mountain Brook, on the other side of Red Mountain from Southside, Ollie Irene (2713 Culver Road, Mountain Brook. 205-769-6034, is a bistro/gastropub run by Chris Newsome, who worked for both Stitt and Hastings before setting out on his own.

The Market at Pepper Place (2829 Second Ave. S., Birmingham. 205-802-2100,,@PepperPlaceMkt) covers a few blocks at the fringe of Southside. Visitors wanting to feel like locals should head here during market season, April-December. The market landed at the No. 23 spot on The Daily Meal’s list of the 101 Best Farmers Markets in America for 2015. Another local market to make the list is the Alabama Farmers Market (344 Finley Ave. W., Birmingham. 205-251-8737, More than 200 Alabama growers sell at this large-scale outdoor/indoor market, mostly wholesale to businesses, but the general public is also welcome.

Hop heads will revel in Birmingham’s blossoming beer scene. Within a 2-mile radius of Sloss Furnaces, where molten pig iron once flowed from giant furnaces, a different kind of flow pours from the city’s four craft breweries. Each brewery has a bar/tasting room and occasional live entertainment.

The Avondale Brewing Company’s (201 41st St. S., Birmingham. 205-777-5456,,@AvondaleBrewing) large outdoor area contains a stage for concerts and festivals; Trim Tab Brewing’s (2721 Fifth Ave. S., Birmingham. 828-545-4746,,@TrimTabBrewing) tasting gallery is a hot spot on the weekends when DJs spin tunes; at Cahaba Brewing’s (2616 Third Ave. S., Birmingham. 205-578-2616,,@CahabaBrewing) taproom, you can play skeeball while quaffing the latest brews; and Good People Brewing (114 14th St. S., Birmingham. 205-286-2337,,@GPBrewing) pours its pints across from Railroad Park and Regions Field, two major newer developments bringing visitors back downtown in droves.

Gulf Coast

In-the-know seafood lovers visit the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area on the Alabama Gulf Coast for the royal reds. Royals, as they’re called, are a large type of shrimp found in the coolest, deepest Gulf waters due south of this popular beach resort area. The shrimp have an almost lobsterlike taste and go best with melted butter instead of cocktail sauce. Royals are on the menu at plenty of area restaurants, including King Neptune’s (1137 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores. 251-968-5464,,@KingNeptunes), one of the more legendary seafood establishments in the area.

Another seafood delicacy common here is the West Indies Salad. Despite the name, this ceviche-like salad doesn’t come from the tropics. It was invented in Theodore, Ala., in the late 1940s. The simple dish consists of lump crabmeat mixed with chopped white onion, oil, vinegar and spices served on a bed of lettuce with a lemon wedge. A few dashes of cayenne pepper sauce on top accent the salad well. Cuisine along the Alabama Gulf Coast is steeped in Louisiana influences. Since Louisiana doesn’t have any beaches of note, residents of the Bayou State seeking sugar-white sands, crashing waves and aquamarine water have been frequent visitors to the Alabama coast for decades, and their influence has worn off in the best way possible.

Authentic gumbo and po’boys are easy to find along the Alabama coast. And when it’s time for dessert, bread pudding with whiskey sauce gets the nod. Any establishment between Dauphin Island and Perdido Key that doesn’t know how to properly prepare and serve these mainstay dishes doesn’t stay in business long.

The largest food festival along the coast is the National Shrimp Festival (,@MyShrimpFest) in Gulf Shores. Founded in 1971, this full-weekend festival takes place on the beach each October and is free to attend. (The 2015 festival is Oct. 8-11.) October is a good time to visit the Alabama coast in general, with the peak season crowds gone but the temps still mild enough to enjoy the beach.

Each May, Gulf Shores hosts the Hangout Music Festival (,@Hangoutfest). Held next to its namesake bar and restaurant, the Hangout quickly became one of the nation’s go-to outdoor music festivals after its founding in 2010. Each year, it attracts some of the biggest names in pop music. Like similar fests, such as Bonnaroo, the Hangout takes on a carnival-like atmosphere, complete with rides and other attractions, only the stages are set up on the beach yards away from the tumbling surf. The 2016 Hangout is scheduled for May 20-22.


The home of Mardi Gras in the New World is Mobile. Fat Tuesday was first celebrated in this port city on Mobile Bay in 1703. Families with young children wanting to experience Mardi Gras might consider visiting Mobile as an alternative to New Orleans. Mobile’s Mardi Gras is more steeped in tradition, with a little less debauchery and smaller crowds. Carnival season is a big deal in Mobile, with parades occurring throughout the season, not just the week of Mardi Gras.

Every October, BayFest (,@BayFestMobile) spreads out over 20 city blocks featuring a variety of musical acts performing on multiple stages. The weekend-long event is Alabama’s largest music festival, bringing in well over 200,000 people each year. Fans can catch a country star on one stage, then walk down the street to take in a national hip-hop or rock act on another, along with a slew of regional and local acts on smaller stages in between. The 2015 BayFest is Oct. 2-4.

Mobile has always had a similar look and feel to New Orleans. It also has a similar history. The flags of five nations have flown over the city since its founding in 1702. Downtown is filled with historic buildings whose architecture resembles the Big Easy. Surrounding areas such as Dauphin Island and the Eastern Shore are perennial tourist draws, but downtown Mobile was overlooked for years — except during Mardi Gras.

Now fully revitalized, downtown is a pastiche of old and new, with sleek, modern skyscrapers dominating a skyline rising over old gas lamp districts where the shutters have swung back open. Strolling Dauphin, Royal and St. Francis streets, you’ll discover shops, eateries, brewpubs, historic hotels, theaters and dive bars oozing with character. And Bienville Square, the tree-filled park at the heart of town, hums with activity, whether there’s a music festival going on or not.

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail

Using the “If you build it, people will come” mentality from the film “Field of Dreams,” the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (multiple locations;,@RTJGolf) was created in the early 1990s. A trail of 26 golf courses at 11 sites spread throughout the state, it’s the brainchild of David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, who was inspired to create a public golf trail in the Heart of Dixie after watching the hit 1989 film. Bronner’s plan worked. People came, and they’re still coming. The trail is widely regarded as one of the best public golfing experiences in the country. Named after the acclaimed golf course architect who had a hand in its design, the trail also features Marriott resort properties at eight sites, four of which have full-service spas.

Legendary food and drink experiences near golf trail sites

Lemonade from Toomer’s Drugs (100 N. College St., Auburn. 334-887-3488,
Shortly after 9/11, Esquire magazine published a long list of reasons it’s good to be an American. The first item on the list was the hand-squeezed lemonade at Toomer’s Drugs in Auburn. They’ve been making it the same way for well over a century. Nearby trail site: Grand National in Opelika.

An evening at the Rattlesnake Saloon (1292 Mount Mills Road, Tuscumbia. 256-370-7220,

Off the beaten path, there’s no need to dress up when you visit this bar, restaurant and music venue housed inside the mouth of a cave, unless you consider cowboy boots dressing up. Get there before 7 p.m. if you don’t like standing-room-only crowds. Nearby trail site: The Shoals in Muscle Shoals.

Beignets at Panini Pete’s (42 1/2 S. Section St., Fairhope. 251-929-0122,,@PaniniPete).

They’re a bit different than traditional beignets, airy and crusty and shaped like hush puppies, dusted with powdered sugar and best drizzled with fresh-squeezed lemon juice. These beignets have become a signature dish, not only for the restaurant, but for the Eastern Shore area on Mobile Bay. Nearby trail site: Lakewood in Point Clear.

Chris’ Hot Dogs (138 Dexter Ave., Montgomery. 334-265-6850,
Located in a narrow storefront in downtown Montgomery, this hot dog stand has been open since 1917. Chris’ is best known for its kraut and chili sauce dogs. Hank Williams Sr. was a regular customer, and the place looks much the same as it did when he dined there. Nearby trail site: Capitol Hill in Prattville.

Barbecue section

Alabama’s most famous contribution to the world of barbecue is white sauce, a mayonnaise and vinegar-based concoction with a peppery kick. Try it at the place it was invented in the 1920s, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (1715 Sixth Ave., Decatur. 256-350-6969,,@BigBobGibsonBBQ). White sauce is traditionally served on top of chicken, but it goes well with other meats after they come off the grill. It’s also used for dipping, as people have discovered the pourable sauce makes a good table condiment.

Decatur, a riverfront town, is also home to Point Mallard, a large water park that boasts the first wave pool in the nation. Across the river is Huntsville, home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, one of Alabama’s top tourist attractions. Huntsville played an important role in America’s space program; it’s the place where the rockets that sent men to the moon were designed, tested and developed.

To read this article online, go to:

Trails Commission website highlights Alabama trails

Alabama trails are now just a touch away.

The Alabama Trails Commission recently unveiled its website,, which provides an ever growing inventory and variety of trails within the state.

The website, which has been under development for several years, also helps trail enthusiasts of all kinds plan their trail trip from where to stay, what to expect and even what to take and where they can get it.

“Since the Trail Commission was formed more than five years ago our goal has been to produce an accessible database where trail users of all types and skills could easily locate trails within the state,” said Debbie Quinn, who chairs the commission. “This website, which will continually be updated and expanded, is just the beginning of a valuable tool to encourage people to experience the Alabama outdoors.”

The site lists trails for hiking, biking, off-highway vehicles, horseback riding and paddling and includes a section that links trail users to state and regional organizations established for specific trail uses.  A section on trail building instructs communities and trail organizations on funding possibilities and obtaining trail expertise.

The Trails Commission, created by the state Legislature in 2010, also touts trails and outdoor recreation as a means to boost tourism in the state and promote a network of trails.

The website was developed by the University of Alabama Management Information Systems Program and involves a partnership with the Trails Commission, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development.

GulfQuest grand opening set for September 26

On Sept. 26, the world’s only maritime museum dedicated to the historical, cultural and economic significance of the Gulf of Mexico will open to the public. Located on the Mobile River, this hands-on museum will become only the second interactive maritime museum in the United States.

With 90 exhibits, a museum store, a museum café and event space, GulfQuest is a 90,000 square foot museum designed to look as if it were a ship headed into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Six years after the building’s groundbreaking in April 2009, GulfQuest will become a major educational attraction for Mobile, the Gulf Coast and the state of Alabama. Early projections indicate GulfQuest will draw more than 300,000 visitors per year.

“Beyond its focus on the Gulf of Mexico, GulfQuest will be unique among maritime museums in that it features interactive exhibits, simulators and theaters, complemented by artifacts and memorabilia,” Tony Zodrow, GulfQuest executive director said. “We have taken extra measures, every step of the way, to design an immersive experience for our visitors. The exhibits are both entertaining and educational, and will truly encourage visitors to explore every maritime aspect of the Gulf of Mexico.”

GulfQuest is a public/private partnership between the City of Mobile and the non-profit organization overseen by the National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico Board of Trustees. The city, through bond issues and federal grants, constructed the building, while the non-profit, through private and corporate donations and federal grants, is underwriting the exhibits, infrastructure and operating expenses. The total project cost is $62.3 million.

“We believe GulfQuest will become the hub of activity for Mobile Landing, the City of Mobile’s downtown waterfront development,” E.B. Peebles, chairman of the Board of Trustees said. “Mobile Landing is already home to the Convention Center and Cooper Riverside Park and Amphitheater. For Mobile residents and visitors, having this sort of access to our riverfront, in a museum that chronicles all of the maritime activity, offers Mobile something new and exciting and boosts Mobile’s profile in regional tourism. Every member of our Board is incredibly proud and is looking forward to sharing the museum with hundreds of thousands of people.”

Within the building, GulfQuest’s exhibits are housed inside the stern of a full-sized container ship, displayed as if dockside. Water, kept at the same level as the Mobile River outside, surrounds the hull of the container vessel.

“We spared no effort in the details,” Zodrow said. “From the rampways on either side of the ship, to the sounds of the ship’s engines humming, to the lighting effects, visitors will feel very much like they are inside a life-size vessel, exploring every aspect of the maritime world.”

In the building’s north side lobby, an exhibit appropriately titled “America’s Sea” contains four interactive stations—Exploration, Commerce, Conflict and Nature—that provide ports of entry for visitors to explore the Gulf.  Visitors will trace exploration routes, see where pirates ruled the waves, spot early settlements and forts, locate sunken Spanish galleons and a German U-boat, relive important naval battles, and locate lighthouses in the Gulf.

From the north side lobby to the ship’s bridge on the south side, exhibits will introduce visitors to an array of maritime topics including marine archeology, weather and hurricanes (in a hurricane simulator), deep-sea exploration, ports and maritime commerce, offshore oil/gas drilling, and more.

In addition, GulfQuest will offer a wide range of traveling exhibitions for visitors, educational programs for school groups, programs on weekends, holidays and summers for families, and special offerings for educators.

The “Take the Helm” theater may prove to be the most popular attraction for all ages and groups. This state-of-the-art simulator allows visitors to pilot a variety of ships through Mobile Bay into the Port of Mobile and on the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers.

“If I had to use one word to describe the experience of a GulfQuest visit, I would have to say ‘immersive,” Zodrow said. “Like any fine museum, GulfQuest will be very educational. But it will also provide hours and hours of immersive activities. We think people from all over the country will understand just why the Gulf of Mexico is truly ‘America’s Sea’.”

Okra Festival draws visitors from across nation
By Alvin Benn, Montgomery Advertiser, Aug. 30

Okra lovers arrived in this little Lowndes County crossroads community Saturday to celebrate a sturdy crop brought to America by slaves.

It didn’t take long for okra to become a staple in a variety of dishes and the 15th annual festival was a celebration of something more important than food.

“What we’ve got here is a celebration that brings people together and that’s a good thing,” said Kathryn Barnes, whose family played an important part in creating the festival.

Unlike other vendors situated in an area set aside for them, Barnes sat in a chair in her front yard behind a large table where her pound cake and banana bread were on display.

Lowndes County activist Barbara Evans, co-founder of the festival, was kept busy on the other side of the road, but made it a point to cross over and chat with Barnes and her relatives.

Hot, humid weather provided a perfect summer backdrop and visitors didn’t let it keep them from buying steaming cups of okra and zesty ingredients.

“You just can’t beat what we’ve got here today,” said Larry Hughen of Selma, who was accompanied by wife, Pat. “Okra biters and pig ear sandwiches ought to be tried by everybody.”

Festival organizers have turned what began as an idea into a late August event that has attracted visitors from across the country.

The event resulted from a drought that wiped out everything but okra in gardens tended by local residents 15 years ago so they decided to honor the green ingredient by having a festival named for it.

Some festivals have been conceived as money-makers, but that has never been the bottom line in Burkville where Evans, Barnes and others who started it had “free” in mind.

There has never been a charge for vendors to sell their food or artistic items, but they must live in Lowndes County. There isn’t an admission charge or parking fee either.

“We’ve always wanted people to enjoy themselves and not have to worry about paying to get in,” said Evans. “The same goes for the vendors.”

There is a charge for food, clothing and other things but it was more than reasonable Saturday afternoon as the temps began to rise and dark clouds provided sprinkles at times.

Lemonade proved to be the most popular item of the humid day and it only cost $2 for a big cup.  Refills cost $1.

A cup of homemade okra gumbo had visitors lined up to buy some along with barbecue and a wide variety of deserts. No festival would be complete without Annie Mae’s pickled okra and okra pies.

The festival’s popularity has spread across the country and two visitors came from North Carolina to savor the moment for a possible book and documentary.

Organic farmer Judy Lessler and videographer Michael Galinsky spent several days in the area before the festival and wouldn’t think of missing the big event.

“I’ve decided to write a book about okra and we’re also working on a documentary about it and the people who live in this community,” Lessler, a former statistician, said.

In addition to the food, arts and crafts and other items, visitors were also treated to R&B music from Slim and the Soulful Saints.

Funding for the festival came from the Blackbelt Community Foundation, Annie Mae’s Art Place, Lowndes County Commission and Lowndes County Citizens United for Action.

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NPR praises Shoals native Jason Isbell’s new album
The Week

“There’s no better songwriter on the planet at this moment” than Jason Isbell, said Jim Beviglia in  On his fifth solo album, the former Drive-By Trucker gets “soul-deep” inside the blue-collar characters who inhabit his narratives.  The songs are dense with true-to-life details, as on the bouncing “If It Takes a Lifetime”, in which a recovering addict worries about his smartphone obsession.  Isbell’s formula hasn’t changed much since his award-winning 2013 album, Southeastern, said Jason Heller in  “Rustic twang, shuffling rhythm, piano, fiddles, and lap steel swim in a sepia haze”; his voice remains supple, hushed, and aching; and he shakes off his singer-songwriter persona to at times become a rough-hewn rebel.  You hear that side of him in the psychedelic honky-tonk of “Palmetto Rose” and the fuzzed-out guitar solos of “To a Band That I Loved.”  Even here, though, “Isbell modulates that rawness with glimpses of delicacy and intimacy.”

Montgomery is nominated by USA Today’s 10 Best as Best Destination for History Buffs

Montgomery has been nominated in the latest 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award contest.  Their expert panel selected Montgomery as a contender for Best Destination for History Buffs, which just launched. The contest, which is being promoted by USA TODAY, gives voters four weeks to vote for the candidate of their choice at A person can vote once a day for the run of the contest.

Montgomery is the only Alabama city in the running.

Voting ends Mon., Sept. 14, at 10:59 a.m. and the winners will be announced on 10Best on Fri., Sept. 18 11:00 p.m., then later on USA TODAY.

Prior competitions have been hotly contested, and USA TODAY looks forward to seeing how you rock the vote in your own community. Find them on Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.

Remember you can vote from every platform you connect to the internet with: computers, laptops, smart phones and tablets.

Alabama artists and craftspeople

Alabama is home to a vast number of talented and creative artists and craftspeople who produce a wide variety of items including, but not limited to, woodwork, paintings, ceramics, fabrics and a lot of food.

The Alabama Tourism Department is looking for information about these artists and crafters and their products.  We are interested in the home-grown cottage industries rather than the industrial giants.

Please send information about people and their products, including contact information, to Peggy Collins, or call 334-242-4545.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Nov. 8 – 10                              Welcome Center Retreat, Embassy Suites, Tuscaloosa
Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to:

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at:

Alabama Tourism Department