Tourism Tuesdays October 31, 2017

Kevin Sorbo movie filmed in Birmingham opens nationally

How best to spend a weekend in Birmingham, the South’s “Magic City”

Where to get the best Middle Eastern food in Birmingham

Pete Carr loans Muscle Shoals Sound Studios a guitar

Still time to sign-up for April Walking Tours 2018- deadline Nov. 15

2017 Alabama Welcome Center Retreat, Nov. 12-14

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Kevin Sorbo movie filmed in Birmingham opens nationally

From the article by Greg Garrison on

Birmingham landmarks Avondale Park and the Lyric Theatre have a starring role in a new movie released nationally today.

“Hercules” actor Kevin Sorbo and his wife, actress Sam Sorbo, wrapped up three weeks of filming in Birmingham in August 2016 for the faith-based movie they co-star in, “Let There Be Light.”

They filmed a wedding scene in Avondale Park with singer Dionne Warwick. They filmed a debate scene in the Lyric Theatre. Country singer Travis Tritt has a role.

Most people recognize Kevin Sorbo from the popular syndicated TV series “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” which ran on TV from 1995-99.

His wife, Sam Sorbo, got the story idea for “Let There Be Light” and co-wrote it with producer Dan Gordon, who was the screenwriter for the Denzel Washington movie “Hurricane.”

The story revolves around Kevin Sorbo’s character, Dr. Sol Harkans, the world’s most famous atheist and a bestselling author. He’s a lonely alcoholic who hasn’t been able to cope with the death of his son, and finally turns to his ex-wife, a woman of faith, after a near-death experience that begins to change his life.

The movie is set in New York and Connecticut, but most of the scenes for both those locations were shot in Birmingham.

“We found our New York and Connecticut here in Birmingham,” Mrs. Sorbo said in an interview with last year. “I was surprised. I’d never been to Alabama. When we came here to scout, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve got to tell you it’s a sweet city with nice people. The views are pretty.”

The movie was produced with a budget of $3 million.

The Sorbos are hoping it might be as successful as the surprise 2014 hit “God’s Not Dead,” which starred Kevin Sorbo and made a big splash in the genre of Christian filmmaking. Sorbo played an atheist college professor who mocks a student’s Christian faith, but then undergoes a conversion himself. Made with a budget of $2 million, the film grossed more than $60.7 million. It became the eighth-highest grossing Christian-themed movie ever, according to

A number of Christian-theme movies have been filmed in Alabama in recent years. Alabama in 2009 adopted the Entertainment Industry Incentive Act, offering tax incentives and rebates on filming expenditures. Movies made in Alabama since then include the Christian-themed “October Baby,” “Mom’s Night Out” and “Woodlawn,” all produced by Birmingham-born Jon and Andy Erwin. Another movie, “Grace Unplugged,” was filmed in Birmingham in 2012.

Birmingham has also attracted secular movies, such as “Bigger,” which has been filming downtown the past two weeks.

For the complete article please see

How best to spend a weekend in Birmingham, the South’s “Magic City”
From the article by Daniel Scheffler on

Smack-dab in the middle of Alabama is where the “Magic City” has come to rise. Right in a valley, surrounded by forested mountain ridges, Birmingham is riding an alluring evolution. Young people are flocking home to open up restaurants, bars, hotels, shops, and startups—and it’s as if this Southern city has been waiting just for them.

The day and night whistle of trains dashing through the city is its signature sound—since the days of mineral mining in 1861. And two statues, an iron Vulcan on the city’s Red Mountain ridge, and a gold Electra on one of the city’s tallest buildings, are its icons. Its signature smell? Smoky barbecue, of course. Birmingham is exactly the “Sweet Home Alabama” delight you would expect. Throw in some extra Southern charm, mix that with all this new entrepreneurial spirit, and the upshot is a perfect weekend combination of sunshine and fun.

Here’s a quick guide on how to fully enjoy the city with some pizazz.

Where to Feast
Ovenbird, from chef-owner and James Beard Award–winner Chris Hastings, is where to get your small plate fix—a burning beef fat candle on your lemon cream table side sets the tone. Inspired by grill and live fire pit cooking from all over the world, the restaurant pays some homage to the iron ore history of Birmingham, dating back two centuries.

If you’re ready to brunch, sit out in that Southern sunshine at downtown Feast and Forest. With Bandit Baking Co.’s buttermilk biscuits and Dapper & Wise coffee, you’ll be sated here.

The famous—and gorgeous—1925 Pizitz building downtown recently opened its ground floor as a food hall with international cuisine market stalls and restaurants, plus an incubator space for up-and-coming chefs to come play. Stylish apartments are located upstairs, in case you decide to move here.

Woodlawn Cycle Cafe is where the coffee is pored over and you’d be sure to make friends over soft brownies at the communal tables.

Where to Shop
Etc… is the city’s answer to all things fashionable. From local designer Liz Legg’s jewelry to carefully selected items from Rodarte and Golden Goose.

Open Shop, a clothing-slash-music room is part of the Woodlawn neighborhood revitalization. It carries a small selection of interesting clothes for women and their gentlemen—like 1.61 (cofounder is Alabamian Kimberley Wesson) and Libertine. Owner Armand Margjeka is one to watch in this town as he quietly scoops up more real estate.

Club Duquette is a real young mom-and-pop store, with Bear Wax Co. candles handmade in the back and a lounge space if you want to just hang out and listen to music. They also sell Olo fragrances, Clary Collection skin-care products, and secondhand records.

Lose yourself for a few hours in Church Street Coffee and Books, a space for true literary connoisseurs. Also stock up on its cult-following chocolate chip Breakup Cookies.

The maker’s space, MAKE BHM, is where to come see what this city’s really cookin’ up, from the urban mill Alabama Sawyer producing furniture to the modern general store Winslet and Rhys specializing in home goods and custom designs.

What to Do
See blooming lilies while canoeing on the urban Cahaba River that runs all around the city. Pack a picnic basket filled with takeout treats from the Pizitz food market and watch the birds and deer.

Zelda is the word. Inspired by the great Alabama dame Zelda Fitzgerald, The Marble Ring is not to be missed. It’s a 1920s look-alike speakeasy serving cocktails and nibbles, entered through a phone booth in Hot Diggity Dogs.

For late nights, Saturn has a surprise every night. From burlesque, to crazy bingo nights, all the way to live blues, the venue can’t stop won’t stop.

Where to Sleep
Dubbed the “heaviest corner on earth” in the 20th century, this corner on 20th Street and First Avenue North downtown featured the tallest and most glamorous buildings in the South. Today, two of these buildings are gorgeous hotels. The newly opened Elyton Hotel is in one of the city’s most iconic buildings downtown—it dates back to 1909. Now this 16-story hotel has opened with 337 rooms, a farm-to-table restaurant, a brand-new gym, and also a rooftop space, Moonshine, where both summer and temperate fall nights are best spent.

The old American Trust and Savings Bank Building across the street, built in 1912, today is a private club and hotel. Dubbed the John Hand building, its recent renovation delivered just seven chic suites. If you’re looking for a no-fuss invisible service–style stay, this is ideal.

For the complete article please see

Where to get the best Middle Eastern food in Birmingham
From the article by Karim Shamsi-Basha on

When I first came to the South, I never thought I would miss the food of my homeland that much. But two years into my stay in the United States, I started to miss it. It was the mid-’80s and the Hero sandwich was the Middle Eastern highlight of American cuisine.

Now, three decades later, I’d be fine eating the food of my homeland every day. You know, hommus, falafel, babba-gannouj, stuffed grape leaves, and a plethora of other Middle Eastern fare that makes you feel as full as a tick on a hound dog—or in my case, a tick on a camel. (Although the first camel I saw was in the Knoxville Zoo!)

Maybe it’s the fact that you’re attached mentally and physically to what you grew up eating. Maybe it’s the spices that make you close your eyes and imagine a “Lawrence of Arabia” scene in your own kitchen. No matter what it is, eating food from my homeland makes me feel complete.

In Birmingham, I found a place with food most like that of my roots.

The Pita Stop, with one location in Cahaba Heights and the other in Southside, provides me with part of my life that’s been missing. The Middle Eastern restaurant fills the void with dishes like chicken kabobs, tabooli, and rack of lamb.

Owner Nadeem Shunnarah has been with the restaurant since 1981. He thrives on providing Birmingham with Middle Eastern food, guaranteed to make you think you’re overlooking the Mediterranean instead of Crosshaven Drive.

Shunnarah was determined to offer Birminghamians the best of what his home (Palestine) had to offer in food, drink, and that elusive feeling we enjoy after a good meal with family and friends.

My favorite dishes at the Pita Stop–the ones that remind me most of home—are the hommus and falafel. Shunnarah hopes his dishes bring a smidgen of Palestine to Birmingham. Judging by the lunch crowd I witnessed on a recent visit to the Pita Stop, the plan more than worked.

Where else could you order a piece of kibby (meat with bulgur wheat), and a Beirut Omelette, that both taste like they were made in the hills of Lebanon? The kafta meat brings to mind memories of growing up in Damascus–eating lunch with the family after school, then escaping the house and playing with friends on our street. Lunch is the biggest meal in the Middle East, but for me, the nap afterwards was not an option.

Nadeem believes that food brings people together. That’s what he has done for decades at the Pita Stop. To him, the experience you have at his restaurants is as important as the taste of his food. The Pita Stop is not just a restaurant he owns, but a huge part of his life. He thrives on seeing his customers smile and render a kind word after the meal.

Warning: You will feel compelled to leave a kind word or two after trying the grape leaves with rice and meat. The Pita Stop may be one of the few places in Birmingham where you can get this dish made the authentic way with the right spices.

So pay Nadeem a visit. Sit and savor the Middle Eastern fare. And if you’re an Arab-American like me, you might just be transported to your home country, as well.

For the complete article please see

Pete Carr loans Muscle Shoals Sound Studio a guitar
From the article by Robert Palmer on

The tour experience at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio just got a little more authentic.

Leaning against one of the walls is a black Music Man electric guitar owned by Pete Carr, a lead guitarist for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section during the 1970s.

“We were thrilled,” said museum curator Debbie Wilson. “He just showed up (Tuesday).”

Carr’s track record as a session guitarist is stellar. He played on many of the studio’s hits during the 1970s, and on hits recorded elsewhere. Among the records are Bob Seger’s “Main Street,” Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You Is Wrong,” Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” and “Sailing,” and Barbra Streisand’s “What Kind of Fool.”

“Pete did really great stuff with us,” said David Hood, bassist with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and one of the original owners of the studio. “He was the most prolific player. All those records were really big records.”

Carr was also a producer, working with Paul Simon and the rhythm section on albums, and produced the hit single “Motorcycle Mama” for Sailcat.

He teamed with Lenny LeBlanc to form LeBlanc and Carr, scoring a major hit with “Falling.”

“It was so cool when he came by (Tuesday),” Wilson said. “Colin (a tour guide) was telling a tour group about Pete – and there he was with his guitar.”

The studio contains several original instruments used by rhythm section members, including a baby grand piano, a drum kit used by Roger Hawkins, one of Jimmy Johnson’s guitars, and a bass speaker cabinet used by Hood.

Hood said the bass speaker cabinet dates to the mid-1960s when he was recording with Percy Sledge.

“It’s cool to see some of the instruments there from the original players,” he said.

The studio is now a museum but remains a working studio, as well. It is owned by the nonprofit Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, and was restored with a grant from Beats by Dr. Dre. It opened in January, and tours are available Monday through Saturday.

The 3614 Jackson Highway studio was active from 1969 until 1979. The four rhythm section members, who owned it, moved to more spacious quarters about two miles away on the banks of the Tennessee River. They sold that to Malaco Records in the mid-1980s.

The original location has been owned by a variety of people, some of whom continued to use it for recording.

For the complete article please see

Still time to sign-up for April Walking Tours 2018- deadline Nov. 15
Towns interested in participating in the 2018 April Walking Tours should respond with an email giving their town’s name, starting location, contact person and shipping address to  The deadline to sign-up for the walking tours is Nov. 15.

Towns already signed-up for 2018 include: Athens, Attalla, Bayou La Batre, Birmingham, Courtland, Cullman, Daleville, Decatur, Elba, Enterprise, Eufaula, Eutaw, Fairhope, Florence, Foley, Huntsville, Livingston, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery, Mooresville, Moulton, Pell City, Prattville, Selma, Sheffield, Shelby, Troy and Tuscumbia.

More than 2,500 people participated in this year’s April Walking Tours. Some 28 towns across the state hosted the tours.

The hour-long tours start at 10 a.m. each Saturday morning in April. Dates for the 2018 April Walking Tours are April 7, 14, 21 and 28.

“These tours are an excellent way for towns and communities of any size to be involved in a state-wide tourism campaign,” said Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department.  “There is no cost to participate and state tourism helps publicize the events. More than 23,000 people have participated in the tours since the beginning of the program 13 years ago” he said.

Email your  town’s name, starting location, contact person and shipping address to to register for the April 2018 tours.

2017 Alabama Welcome Center Retreat, Nov. 12-14
The Alabama Welcome Center Retreat gives the Alabama Tourism Industry the opportunity to showcase communities with the devoted staff of the Alabama Welcome Centers. Each Center closes so that all employees participate in this educational retreat. The industry trade show provides the opportunity to share with the staff members of each Center the information for them to share with their guests, the thousands of travelers stopping at Welcome Centers for travel advice to entice their visitors to stop, see and stay a little longer with us.

The Registration Fee is $150 for all industry partners, with or without a table top. This fee includes a table top in the Tourism Partner’s Showcase and functions through Tuesday morning breakfast at the TownePlace Suites. Each additional partner pays $150 as well. This fee goes up to $175 on Nov 1. There will be NO refunds after Nov. 1 as guarantees will have been given to our sponsors and to the hotel by then.

For Details Contact: Patti A. Culp, Alabama Travel Council

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
The holiday season is almost here. Does your business have special holiday hours? Remember to update your location’s description on the Partner site and include that information.

Don’t have a partner account? What are you waiting for? Sign up today!


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