Tourism Tuesdays April 12, 2016

  • More than 1,100 enjoy April Walking Tours the past two Saturdays
  • Alabama Tourism Workshop April 27
  • UK journalist enjoys visit to Alabama
  • School group from UK visits Alabama
  • Tour operator from Ireland visits Alabama
  • Musicians continue to be drawn to Muscle Shoals to record
  • Lonely Planet picks Birmingham as one of 10 Best destinations in the U.S. 2016
  • The 11 greatest ribs in America
  • Rally supports Helen Keller on $10 bill
  • Why the area around Alabama’s most popular public beach could get a facelift
  • Alabama Gulf Coast: getting there from Hendricks County (Indiana)
  • The Incident at Looney’s Tavern returns to the stage
  • Thousands pack downtown for Druid City Arts Festival, Tour de Tuscaloosa
  • National Park Service approves project in Anniston for rehab tax credit
  • The travel industry supports nearly 10 percent of world’s jobs
  • There’s still time to take pictures of the great (blooming & colorful) outdoors
  • Selma and Gulf Shores are finalists in the nominee list for a USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards
  • Check your Vacation Guide listing today
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


More than 1,100 take part in April Walking Tours the past two Saturdays

More than 1,100 people across the state took part in the April Walking Tours the past two Saturdays.  The towns that have reported their numbers include: Huntsville, 310; Fairhope, 164; Florence, 160; Decatur, 60; Tuscumbia, 56; Shelby, 52; Cullman, 39; Athens, 39; Columbia, 30; Sheffield, 28; Mooresville, 25; Pell City, 25; Montgomery, 22; Birmingham, 17; Moulton 15; Foley, 13; Selma, 12; Elba, 12; Enterprise, 11; Prattville, 10; Demopolis, 3; Heflin, 2.  

Some 27 towns across the state are participating in the April Walking Tours being coordinated by the Alabama Tourism Department each Saturday morning this month.  A variety of community leaders are leading the free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns.  The hour-long tours 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 (April 2, 9, 30); 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; Moulton, Lawrence County Archives; 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.  More than 30,000 people have participated in the 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


Alabama Tourism Workshop April 27

The Alabama Tourism Department will host the semi-annual Tourism Workshop in Montgomery on Wed., April 27.  This workshop is for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area. 

For additional information, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or via email at Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov


UK journalist enjoys visit to Alabama

By Rupert Parker,, April 7

Della Tully and Grey Brennan with Alabama Tourism met with Rupert Parker in 2014 at World Travel Market.  Since then he has been writing about Alabama.  His website is aimed at high end travelers with disposable incomes.  This story is posted on his site that has 130,000 monthly unique visits generating more than 500,000 page views a month.

The Southern U.S. state of Alabama can claim W.C. Handy, the father of the Blues, Hank Williams, the country music superstar, and Muscle Shoals Studios where some of the greatest soul music was recorded.  Rupert Parker hits the road and lifts the lid on sweet home Alabama.

Mention the state and music and it’s likely that the song “Sweet Home Alabama” pops into your head.  Unfortunately it was written and recorded by the Florida band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, but there’s much music history here.  Famous Alabamians include W.C. Handy, the first to publish a blues song, Hank Williams, the father of country music, and Sam Philips, the producer who discovered Elvis Presley.

There’s much to be said for making a musical pilgrimage here.  The Alabama Music Hall of Fame presents an overview of music history with a great collection of memorabilia, there are individual museums dedicated to both Handy and Williams, and you can visit the recording studios where the Muscle Shoals Sound was created.  But this is not just an exercise in nostalgia as everywhere you go, you can still hear great live music – take your pick of blues, jazz, country, rock, soul, gospel, Cajun and bluegrass.

Four cities make up the “Shoals” – Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia.  These are not much more than small towns, even villages, and the region probably got its name from the mussels in the river.  This is rural Alabama, completely unlike the big city hustle of Nashville and Memphis.  It was local white musicians, backing mainly black singers, who created the funky blend of R&B, rock, country and gospel music, which we now know as the Muscle Shoals sound.  Music is a way of life here and the Marriott Shoals Hotel features live sessions every night.

The FAME Studios are still very much in use today as top artists love the sound they can get here. There are guided tours every day, although access to the studios depends on who’s recording.  The day I arrive, there’s a gospel session going on, so we sneak in while they’re recording.  The studio is not particularly big or impressive, but so many great hits have been created here that it’s hard not to feel humbled.  The assistant engineer is our guide, just taking a break before recording, and he gives us the history.

Rick Hall built the studios in 1961, after he’d success with Arthur Alexander’s “You’d Better Move On” and the present interior dates from 1979. Originally it was out in the middle of the countryside and it’s an unassuming building, now with a shopping development next door. Artists including Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Otis Redding, the Osmonds, Jerry Reed, Alabama, Mac Davis, the Gatlin Brothers and Bobbie Gentry have all recorded here. Apparently Duane Allman once camped in the parking lot, until he convinced Rick Hall to allow him to take part in the sessions.

In 1969 Rick Hall’s house band, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, left FAME and founded Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in nearby Sheffield.  They were later immortalised as “The Swampers” in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Sweet Home Alabama.” Their reputation was such that the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Traffic, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, the Staple Singers, Levon Helm and Joe Cocker all came to lay down tracks. The studios are currently being restored to their original state and the plan is to have tours during the day and record at night.

Just down the road in Tuscumbia is the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, in a modern purpose-built venue.  I walk inside and pick my way through bronze stars embedded in floor, each one engraved with the name of an Alabama music star, and lit by a multi-coloured light show. They call this the Walk of Fame and it’s astounding how many stars were born in the state –  Tammy Wynette, Lionel Richie, Emmylou Harris, Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Dinah Washington and Martha Reeves are just some of them.

Inside, memorabilia from the careers of these and others are on display. There’s the original contract between Sam Philips and RCA records, when he sold the recording rights to Elvis Presley.  I like Web Pierce’s 1960 Pontiac convertible “Golden Country Car”, adorned with 500 silver dollars, 12 silver guns with a pair of Texas Longhorns on the radiator.  But music is the reason I’m here and there’s a 12 foot Wurlitzer jukebox playing tunes by Alabamians, just in case you need reminding of the hits.

William Christopher Handy, composer of St. Louis Blues, Beale Street Blues, and Memphis Blues, was born in Florence in 1873 in a simple cabin built by his father. It’s been moved to a location outside town and it now houses a large collection of his personal papers and memorabilia.  Handy himself gave money to set up the museum and he donated hand written original scores as well as the upright piano where he composed St. Louis Blues.  I’d always thought he’d made his money ripping off the blues, but he spent years in obscurity playing trumpet in a jazz quartet.  When he eventually wrote the Memphis Blues, he sold it for the princely sum of $50.

Further south, in the state capital, Montgomery, is a museum dedicated to Hank Williams.  He was born in 1923 in Mount Olive, 50 miles to the south, but the family moved here in 1937.  His career took off when he landed a regular spot on a local radio station, WSFA, in 1941.  The museum houses the most complete collection of Hank Williams’ memorabilia including Hank’s 1952 Baby Blue Cadillac, a collection of suits, guitars, piano and even the saddle for his horse.  In the gift shop, you can still buy original 78’s of his greatest hits, proof that they pressed an enormous quantity of records.

Just a mile from downtown is Oakwood Cemetery Annex where he’s buried.  He died early at only 29, and what we see today was built by his son, Hank Williams Jr. The grave is decorated with carvings of Hank’s boots, guitar and greatest hits and there’s even a sculptured hat.  On New Year’s Day a crowd gathers to pay homage with speeches by surviving band members and a mass singalong of “I saw the light”.  If you really want to get a feel for the period he lived in then visit Chris’ Hotdogs on Dexter Avenue.  It’s been here since 1917, and not much has changed since Hank was a famous customer.  I can see the attraction of their winning combination of hotdog and hard liquor so I wash mine down with a shot of bourbon.

If you hanker for hearing live blues then the ramshackle Gip’s Place, 20 miles outside Birmingham, is one of the last few remaining juke joints.  It’s almost impossible to find, as there’s no sign, just a few Christmas lights hanging from the trees, but it’s well worth seeking out.  Back in 1952, bluesman and gravedigger Henry “Gip” Gipson needed a place to make music with his friends, so he put up a tent in his backyard. These days it’s slightly more permanent but still not much more than a tin shed.

I arrive late on a Saturday night, armed with cans of beer, as they’ve no liquor licence.  It’s a ramshackle place and Gip, now in his nineties, wanders on stage with his guitar and delivers a couple of his down home country blues.  He introduces the visiting band and jumps on the dance floor, charming the ladies, a tall figure impossible to miss in his white fedora.  Soon everyone’s dancing to the band’s mix of rock and soul.  It’s all going so well until suddenly everyone stops to sing.  You can guess the song – “Sweet Home Alabama.”

To read this entire article online, go to:


School group from UK visits Alabama 

The UK firm, TCBC School Tours, will bring a group of students to Alabama this week to see civil rights sites.  The group, was escorted by their USA based tour coordinator, Katheryn Hoerster, and visited several sites including the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church, Civil Rights Memorial and Southern Poverty Law Center.  In Montgomery, Ann Clemons of Triple E Group Services, will serve as the local guide.

The trip comes after TCBC School Groups meet with Alabama Tourism’s Grey Brennan and UK In-Market Representative Della Tully in 2014 at World Travel Market in London.  In 2015, the work continued in both England and the USA with Tully conducting follow ups with the companies UK office while Brennan and Rosemary Judkins with Alabama Tourism corresponded with Katheryn Hoerster here in the USA.

TCBC is a family business specializing in customized educational school tours to a handful of select destinations around the world.

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s efforts in the UK, contact


Tour operator from Ireland visits Alabama

Ms. Grant’s visit was co-ordinated with the assistance of Alabama Tourism’s UK in-market representative Della Tully.

Deirdre Grant of the Irish tour company Tour America visited two locations in Alabama with a video crew and U.S. Receptive Company this past week.   Grant stopped in Montgomery recently to video tape at the Hank Williams Museum and Hank’s gravesite and then traveled to Huntsville to video tape a segment at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Grant sells both music tours and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center to her Irish clients.  For this trip, Grant is traveling with Philip McLaughlin of the Phil Mack County Show, a cameraman and Jay Kirkpatrick of Sweet Magnolia Tours, an American based receptive company.  Phil Mack has his own 24-hour country music channel on the Sky TV platform.  Grant has her own Country Music Show where she often discusses travel on that channel.  

Tour America is one of the most active Irish tour operators for USA destinations.  America is the only international market they sell to their clients. 

For information on how Alabama Tourism Department markets to Ireland, contact:


Musicians continue to be drawn to Muscle Shoals to record

Muscle Shoals was first called the “Hit Recording Capital of the World” in the 1960s.  Today thousands of music fans visit the area to see where Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones recorded popular songs.

While music fans come to see where history was made, musicians come to make their own history.  Recording studios in the area are still very active.  A CD released last week (April 8) by blues musician Debbie Bond is just one example.  

Her CD “Enjoy the Ride – Shoals Sessions,” was recorded in the Shoals and includes a session with Spooner Oldham, one of the original “Swampers” studio musicians.

Debbie is performing at the Maverick Music Festival over July 4th weekend in the County of Suffolk, England as part of Alabama Tourism’s sponsorship of this key UK Americana music festival.  She will be performing on the main ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ stage and also providing a Blues Workshop on behalf of the Alabama Blues project. 

Alabama’s in-market UK representative, Della Tully, will also attend the festival with a specialist UK tour operator, ‘Bon Voyage Travel’, who sells Alabama tours and they will display tourism brochures and guides at the side of the main stage.

The “Enjoy the Ride – Shoals Session” CD is currently in the top 10 on the Alabama Roots Music Chart.

To see the chart, go to:


Lonely Planet picks Birmingham as one of 10 Best destinations in the U.S. 2016

Lonely Planet, Spring 2016

Could Birmingham be the coolest city in the South?  The once industrial Avondale neighborhood east of downtown has transformed, with a surge of pubs, breweries and good eats, like the drool-worthy barbecue and traditional Southern dishes at Saw’s Soul Kitchen (  Night owls take note: your numerous options include Marty’s PM, a friendly bar packed with comic book art and Star Wars memorabilia and featuring an eclectic live music lineup, and beers in the Garage Café’s backyard junkyard (  For history buffs, the place to go is the Civil Rights District, notably the Civil Rights Institute, the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

To see more, go to:


The 11 greatest ribs in America

Tablé, March 23

Ribs have quickly become an American favorite. There’s something about slow roasted meat that pairs so well with our favorite side dishes and beverages. But not just anyone can make a plate of ribs. There’s skill involved. They have to be slow smoked with just the right rub, and if the meat doesn’t fall off the bone then you did something wrong. So our advice is to let the experts do the cooking, and these restaurants definitely know a thing or two about great ribs.

So here is our list of the best ribs in America.

Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ

The folks of northern Alabama stand by their belief that all BBQ sauce should be white. So when Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que in Decatur started serving St. Louis ribs slow smoked over hickory wood, the need for a red sauce was created. After much trial and error Big Bob Gibson Champion Red Sauce made an appearance. From that point on, Big Bob Gibson ribs came to be known as some of the “Best Ribs in America”, winning awards to rival Big Bob Gibson’s other highly acclaimed signature dishes. Big Bob Gibson’s still offers all the traditional meats – turkey, brisket, pulled pork and smoked chicken. And home style sides include kettle baked beans and red skin potato salad.

And we just can’t overlook Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ loaded baked potatoes, Brunswick stew or homemade pies. But most people go to Big Bob Gibson’s for their World Championship Ribs thanks to what some call “The Best Sauce on the Planet”.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Rally supports Helen Keller on $10 bill
By Bernie Delinski,, April 7

Faith Farris stood Wednesday at the entrance to Helen Keller’s birthplace, closed her eyes and rubbed a $10 bill with one hand.

She then rubbed a $1 bill with her other.

Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell asked the second-grader if she could tell a difference in the two by their feel.  She replied she couldn’t.

That soon will change, Sentell told Faith and a group that surrounded the home’s entrance. He said the new $10 bill will have tactile features that will allow those with sight impairments to identify it from other bills.

Those in attendance said it would be fitting, then, for Helen Keller’s image to adorn it.  That was part of a rally at Ivy Green in support of having Keller’s face on the new $10 bill.  The U.S. Treasury Department has announced a woman’s image will be on the bill, which also will be the first with the tactile feature.

“She is known internationally as a symbol of courage and hope,” said Keller Johnson-Thompson, Keller’s great-great niece. “She was anything but ordinary.”

Johnson-Thompson said Keller was on the first board of directors when the American Braille Press was founded in 1915. In 1948, Gen. Douglas MacArthur sent her to Japan three years after the U.S. defeated the Japanese in World War II, as an American goodwill ambassador.  She was one of the first 30 people in the United States to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Whenever she traveled, she brought encouragement to blind people,” Johnson-Thompson said. “Helen really had a great ability to empathize with those in need.”

Keller was born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia.  At 19 months old, she was stricken by an illness that left her deaf and blind. She ultimately graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, becoming the first person who was both deaf and blind to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  She went on to become an author and activist.

Keller died in 1968 and lived for a time in Easton, Connecticut.  Easton Selectman Bob Lessler originally suggested Keller’s image for the $10 bill.  Tuscumbia and Alabama officials quickly joined the cause.

The Legislature passed a resolution in 2015 naming Keller as the state’s official choice for the new $10 bill.

Debbie Wilson, regional director for the state tourism office, said anyone interested in expressing support for Keller can do so on Twitter with the hashtag #thenew10, or online at  The new bill likely will go into circulation after 2020, according to the Treasury Department.

“It’s important that everyone across the country, and especially from her home, vote for her,” Wilson said.  “We’ve got to support Helen Keller.  She’s one of our own.”

Gale Satchel, who won the Democratic nomination for Colbert County superintendent in March and is unopposed in the general election, said Keller is a good example for the dozens of students who attended the rally.

“Helen Keller was a lifelong learner,” Satchel said.  “In everything she did, she made a point for people to learn she could not be hindered by her disabilities.  In fact, she turned her disabilities into abilities.”

As for Faith Farris, the Highland Park student Sentell used during his demonstration, she believes Keller is the perfect person for the $10 bill.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” she said after the rally.  “It’s awesome that you’ll get to feel it on the money.”

To read this article online, go to:


Why the area around Alabama’s most popular public beach could get a facelift

By John Sharp,, April 7

Alabama’s largest and most visible public beach is central to Gulf Shores’ efforts to brand itself as “Small Town, Big Beach.”

But to some, there’s too much separation between the town and the beach — too many parking lots, and took many wide and dangerous lanes on picturesque Beach Boulevard.

For the first time in recent memory, the city is pushing forward a $10 million redesign that some believe will transform the beach into a more welcoming environment for locals and tourists.

The project involves approximately six blocks of Beach Boulevard and its adjacent areas leading to the beach.

Among highlights:

  • Shrinking Beach Boulevard’s traffic lane widths from 12 feet to 11 feet.
  • Redesigning center turn lanes into green spaces — “landscape refuges” for pedestrians.
  • Adding walking and cycling paths.
  • Developing a new “town green” that is shaped like an amphitheater and is located west of Surf Style and The Hangout. A so-called “wave lawn” would be built adjacent to the amphitheater.
  • Eliminating parking spaces at the foot of Alabama 59. Extra parking would be disbursed to the west and east of the public beach.

“It’s an incredible property and incredibly important to the entire state,” said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department.

Added Herb Malone, president/CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism: “It’s a centerpiece for the city of Gulf Shores.”

Drawings of the plan are not yet publicly available.  They should be posted on the city’s website in the next couple of weeks.

The plan comes as neighboring Orange Beach undertakes its own landscape and redesign of Beach Boulevard.

That project is being coordinated by the Alabama Department of Transportation.  The $20 million, two-phase project includes adding more pedestrian crosses, bike paths and removing center turn lanes along the road extending from Gulf State Park to the Flora-Bama club.  The state plans to add indirect/median U-turns, which it believes will reduce left-turning traffic crashes.

The project’s first phase stretches from the Cotton Bayou beach access location to Loop Road. That phase, which will be under construction by October, costs $4.5 million.

And improving Beach Boulevard could supply yet another boost for the already-vibrant tourism seasons.

“Alabama’s coast is the most important real estate to attract tourists to our state,” Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, said.  “It is ‘Ground Zero’ for pulling people from the Midwest through the entire state.  It is the magnet that brings people from the east and west and north and so the whole state benefits when the beach becomes more attractive.”

Baldwin County, with the beach cities serving as a main attraction, drew nearly 6 million visitors in 2014.  Jefferson County, the second-ranking tourist attraction, drew 3.1 million.

Retail sales have also soared:
 Gulf Shores and Orange Beach generated $791.1 million in sales during 2015, up from $727.1 million in 2014 and $647.8 million in 2013.

Alabama’s tourism continues to surge each year driven largely because of Baldwin County’s beach cities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores.  With the growth comes challenges and coastal Alabama leaders want Montgomery to bring more money back to the area for road and infrastructure improvements.

According to Craft, the city of Gulf Shores has $25 million in reserve, which could underpin the Beach Boulevard project.

Sentell said it would be a wise expenditure: “I think 20 years from now, people will look back and say, ‘the city did the right thing and they had a blueprint and made sure everybody bought in and worked to make it successful.'”

To read this article online, go to:


Alabama Gulf Coast: getting there from Hendricks County (Indiana)

The Village, They’re Our, April 5

We recently discovered that the Alabama Gulf Coast is an ideal vacation spot for Hendricks County families.  One of the factors that makes it an ideal area is how easy it is to get there from here.

The Alabama Gulf Coast, which includes the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, is about 781 miles south of Hendricks County, with the vast majority of the route taking place on Interstate 65. Families can expect 12 hours of driving time, plus time for eating, using the restroom, and stretching.

We learned a few things on our recent trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast, so I thought I’d share those pearls of wisdom with you.

My daughters had never been to Alabama before, so it was on our agenda to stop as soon as possible in Alabama and get the obligatory cheesy photo in front of the “Welcome to…” sign that we take in every new state that they visit.

With that in mind, we stopped at the Alabama Welcome Center right after we crossed into Sweet Home Alabama on I-65.  As it turns out, it’s a really neat rest stop.

You can’t miss the Welcome Center because there’s a gigantic rocket right next to it.  Yes, a rocket.  Like the kind that goes into space.  You can see the Welcome Center coming for miles.

As it turns out, the Huntsville, Alabama area has quite the history with the U.S. space program, and it’s nicknamed the Rocket City.

That giant rocket that you see from I-65 is a Saturn IB Launch Vehicle, and you can check it out up close at the Welcome Center. 

They also have a few really nice war memorials there that commemorate Alabamians’ ultimate sacrifices in U.S. wars.

Go inside the Welcome Center and get yourself a free road map.  They ask you to sign their registry with your home zip code and where you’re traveling to in Alabama.  When I wrote down that we were heading to Orange Beach, the friendly employee there gave us a visitors’ guide to the Alabama Gulf Coast area, too.

Hard-core travelers can make the 12-hour trip from Hendricks County to the Alabama Gulf Coast in one day, but our family chose to break it up into two more reasonable days of driving.

If you’re looking for a midpoint on your trip, Huntsville, Alabama is a smidge over six hours away, leaving you a tad less than six hours to go on Day Two. Huntsville is a city of more than 180,000 people, so it’s not difficult to find a place there to rest your weary eyes.

In Orange Beach, the main drag is Perdido Beach Boulevard. Condos and beach houses line the south side of Perdido Beach Boulevard, and all of said condos and beach houses have direct access to the beach without having to cross traffic.

For the most part, drivers in the area are courteous, recognizing that we’re all a bunch of out-of-towners who have no idea where we’re going, and giving everyone space to perform the usual stupid-tourist driving maneuvers. Every now and then, some young drivers in sports cars with out-of-state plates weave through traffic at ridiculous speeds, but the locals seem to be pretty much used to us and tolerant of us visitors.

In general, a GPS system on your smartphone or in your vehicle will get you around the area just fine.

To read this entire blog online, go to:


The Incident at Looney’s Tavern returns to the stage

Alabama’s official musical drama, The Incident at Looney’s Tavern is returning to the stage after a 13-year hiatus for four days of performances in Winston County.  Presented by the Winston County’s Young Actors Guild, “The Incident at Looney’s Tavern” runs April 21-24, 2016, in the Double Springs Middle School gymnasium.  Directed by Mrs. Sharon Fike, the musical features middle and high school students in the Winston County school system.

The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, which became the official Alabama Musical Drama in 1993 by Act no. 93-110 (, is an historically factual musical drama.  The drama is the unique story of Christopher Sheats, a young Winston County schoolteacher, thrown into American history’s most turbulent era, the Civil War.  It is the true saga of Alabama’s hill people and their struggle against the South’s secession when all around them the battle cry was secession and war.  The young teacher, firm in his beliefs of country and union forever, is elected by his people and dispatched to Montgomery’s secession convention.  In Montgomery he faces the overwhelming odds promoted by the titans in southern politics, his love for his adversary’s daughter, his ultimate defeat in the vote for secession, and his imprisonment for his stand.  It is the remarkable story of the “Free State of Winston” and its historic meeting at Looney’s Tavern, told delightfully in a production sparkling with music, dance and “hill country humor.”

In the spring of 1987, the Winston County Tourism’s Free State Festival Committee planned its annual festival and the committee included a reenactment of the famed 1861 neutrality convention at Looney’s Tavern.  The initial performances of The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, staged in a shopping center parking lot, were an over-whelming success.  Year two brought rewrites and a move to the local football stadium.  With the decision made to produce a full-season’s run, a group of thirteen families joined together to open a new production of Looney’s in their own theater.

The year 2003 saw the final presentation of the production.  Many have wanted to bring the historical reenactment back, and now with the help of many, the Winston County’s Young Actors Guild has revived the musical cast by students from Addison, Meek, Lynn, Double Springs middle schools and Winston County High School and directed by Alabama Artist in Residence, Mrs. Sharon Fike who now resides in Winston County.  Although some revisions have been made for this production, organizers are anticipating a full comeback of the county’s historical heritage as the Official Alabama State Outdoors Musical.

Performances are April 21, April 22 and April 23 at 7 p.m. and April 24 at 2 p.m.  General admission ticket prices are $5 per person.  Tickets may be ordered by phone by calling 205-489-5018.  Tickets will also be sold at the door with limited seating. 

For more information, call the Winston County Board of Education at 256-489-5018.

The program is funded in part by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.


Thousands pack downtown for Druid City Arts Festival, Tour de Tuscaloosa

By Mark Hughes Cobb,, April 9

We are thrilled to announce that we had more than 12,000 attendees at the Druid City Arts Festival.  We established Tuscaloosa’s very first entertainment district and have grown this community arts festival into a tourist attraction, and we’re seeing artists and tourists from around the southeastern region.  The Tuscaloosa Sports & Tourism Commission

A clear sunny day, with temperatures reaching upper 60s, helped draw a record crowd to the seventh annual Druid City Arts Festival on Saturday. A few streets around downtown’s Government Plaza were blocked off for the city’s first “entertainment district,” an experiment in relaxing alcoholic beverage rules for a certain time and place, and drivers were circling blocks seeking nearby parking.

In previous years, DCAF was roped off, and so admission was easy to track; last year about 8,500 people were wrist-banded.  But with no ropes or wristbands this year, organizers could only guess at the increased numbers, saying about 12,000 people attended by mid-afternoon.

Newly opened Heat Pizza Bar, first occupant of the retail space in the Intermodal Facility, adjacent to the Plaza, saw constant crowds for its artisanal pizzas and salads, as well as drinks. By midafternoon, workers there were calling Adams Beverages for a delivery because they were about to run out of beer.

“But we’ve been slammed like this since Thursday,” said co-owner Leon Kontos.

The success suggests the entertainment district idea was a solid one, said Heat co-owner Will Fleming.

“What it shows us is the people of Tuscaloosa like to be able to park and walk around, have a drink, shop and eat,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier with how this turned out.”

On stage, Tuscaloosa Children’s Theatre performed scenes from “Junie B. Jones,” and the Actor’s Charitable Theater performed ’80s hair metal from its upcoming musical “Rock of Ages.” Matt Smith and Debbie Bond played folk and blues, and Drew Baker told stories for a ring of rapt children.

The district expanded to enclose the starting line for Saturday’s Tour de Tuscaloosa bike races to the east, and south down 22nd Ave. to include Alcove International Tavern, which had lines around its bar two to three deep.

Down that same stretch, the first Great Tailgate BBQ Cook-Off offered samples of contest entries from 10 competitors, many running out shortly after opening to the public.

Winners earned trophies, and gift bags of donated items, including a Nick Saban signed football and gift certificates.

After judging, barbecue was open to the public, with sampler tickets selling for a suggested $10 donation to Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa.  Although proceeds hadn’t yet been tallied, Habitat officials they were already looking to next year.

“We’re kind of hoping this will become our signature fundraising event,” said Habitat Executive Director Ellen Potts.

An inner ring of about 90 arts and crafts booths created a roughly horseshoe-shaped loop in the plaza, enclosing kids’ activities including face painting, sidewalk chalking and inflatable bounce rides.

Everything seemed to be flowing smoothly, said Gina Simpson, CEO of Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports, which puts on DCAF.  She also dubbed the entertainment district a success.

“Judging by the size of this crowd, it would seem the people of Tuscaloosa want this,” Simpson said.

To read this entire article online, go to:


National Park Service approves project in Anniston for rehab tax credit

A project in Anniston was approved by the National Park Service for the twenty percent federal rehabilitation tax credit.

The Liles Building, a contributing resource in the Downtown Anniston Historic District, is an eleven-story office building constructed in 1927 as Anniston’s first skyscraper.

Luther Brooks Liles, an attorney educated at Yale and the University of Alabama, incorporated the Anniston Office Building company with several other prominent Anniston business leaders. Noted Birmingham architects Warren, Knight, & Davis were chosen to design the building.

The Liles Building originally housed several retail and commercial businesses, but by 1947 the main level was completely remodeled and repurposed for use as the Commercial National


The structure was altered once again in 1975 with the addition of a metal-clad cap at the top of the building with metal panels covering most of the brick work.

The current rehabilitation project sought to return the traditional qualities of the building by removing the metal cap and panels, and revealing the original brick. Also, finishes and features were installed at the cornice to create a more compatible cap.

Investors in the project received a 20% tax credit for all eligible costs associated with the rehabilitation.

The National Park Service oversees the Preservation Tax Incentive program jointly with the

Internal Revenue Service (IRS). To qualify, the building has to be listed in the National Register, either individually or in a historic district. Additionally, the property must be used for income producing purposes. For more information concerning standards and guidelines please visit AND

The Alabama Historical Commission manages the state program for the National Park Service.

The Commission administers the federal restoration guidelines so the historic materials and look of the building remain.

Renovating and reusing these historic buildings is a win-win situation for the owner and the community.

To learn more about the tax incentive, visit: OR contact Chloe

Mercer at 334-230-2669/


The travel industry supports nearly 10 percent of world’s jobs

By Dan Peltier, Skift, March 27

The travel industry employed one in 11 people in the world’s working population in 2015, supporting more than 284 million jobs that contributed more than $7.2 trillion to global GDP.

That number of jobs is more than Brazil’s entire population, for example, and travel’s GDP contribution accounts for nearly 10 percent of the world’s total GDP.

Some 7.2 million new jobs were generated by travel and tourism in 2015, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) 2016 global economic impact report which analyzed economic data on the contribution of the travel industry on a global level and for 184 countries in 24 regions.

“Terror attacks, disease outbreaks, currency fluctuations and geopolitical challenges have impacted the sector at a country or regional level, but travel and tourism at the global level continues to produce another robust performance,” said David Scowsill, CEO of WTTC, in a statement.

Travel and tourism directly generated more than 107 million jobs in 2015 (3.6 percent of the world’s total employment) and that’s forecast to grow nearly two percent in 2016 to 109.8 million. This includes employment by hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services). It also includes, for example, the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists.

By 2026, travel will directly account for 135.8 million jobs with an annual increase of 2.1 percent during the next decade.

Travel and tourism workers can thank the billion-plus international travelers who crossed borders last year. WTTC projects that global destinations will attract more than 1.2 billion international travelers during 2016 and, by 2026, nearly two billion. Given the world’s population is projected to reach eight billion people within 10 years that means 25 percent of the global population will travel internationally each year by 2026.

To read this article online, go to:


There’s still time to take pictures of the great (blooming & colorful) outdoors

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 for information on how to send them.


Selma and Gulf Shores are finalists in the nominee list for a USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards

The nominees for Best Historic Small Town and Best Coastal Small Town 2016 were announced 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 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.


Check your Vacation Guide listing today

If you have an attraction, outdoor, bed and breakfast, cabin or golf course listing featured in the Alabama Vacation Guide, please check and update the information.  Review your listing in the 2016 Vacation Guide.


Contact us with changes as soon as possible.  If you would like to add a listing, please contact: Pam Smith at 334-353-4541.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

April 16, 23 & 30                    April Walking Tours

April 26, 5 – 8 p.m.                 Alabama Legislative Tourism Reception                    Montgomery

                                                RSA Activity Center, 201 Dexter Avenue, 36104

April 27                                   Alabama Tourism Department Workshop                  Montgomery


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