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Alabama Outdoors

Hunting regulations changing this fall

By John N. Felsher

Many changes to hunting regulations will affect Alabama sportsmen this fall. For starters, deer hunters must abide by revised supplemental feeding regulations. Under the new rules, hunters can feed deer, as long as they put the food more than 100 yards from their stands and can’t see it because of a natural object like a row of trees or a terrain feature. Hunters cannot erect a wall of logs or place a hay bale between themselves and the feeder 101 yards away.

“Baiting for deer and turkeys is still illegal in Alabama,” stresses Kevin Dodd, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division enforcement chief in Montgomery. “There will be a rebuttable presumption that any feed placed more than 100 yards from the hunter and not within the line of sight of the hunter is not an attraction for the hunter attempting to kill a deer. If a hunter knowingly hunts less than 100 yards from or within sight of feed or a feeder, that person could be cited for baiting. This is merely an attempt to clarify the area in which someone can feed animals and hunt without getting arrested. It’s still up to the local wildlife enforcement officer’s discretion if the person is baiting or not based upon available corroborating evidence.”

The new feeding regulation only applies to private lands since public land regulations prohibit any baiting or supplemental feeding. However, landowners can still plant food plots, such as clover or rye grass and hunt over growing crops.

In southwestern Alabama, deer season dates will extend into February since whitetails often go into rut later in that part of the state. During the rut, or mating season, bucks lose some natural wariness and may move around more to look for receptive does. That makes them easier to hunt.

“There’s some evidence that whitetail bucks go into rut later in the southwestern part of the state,” Dodd explains. “We wanted to give sportsmen in that area better opportunities to hunt the rut, so we adjusted the season dates a bit, but it’s still the same overall number of days.”

In the affected counties, the state will close the modern firearms deer season for 10 days in December and open the season for 10 days in February. In that area, modern firearms season runs from Nov. 23 through Dec. 1. It will reopen Dec. 12 and run through Feb. 10, 2014. Archery season will also open 10 days later, but will continue through the December gun season closure. Archery season runs from Oct. 25 to Feb. 10, 2014.

Many public lands set different season dates or may impose more stringent regulations for hunting on that property. Therefore, check the laws for that specific property before hunting.

Successful sportsmen throughout the state, whether hunting on private or public land, must report all deer and turkey kills. Each hunter must carry a harvest record, available with the purchase of a hunting license. Before any successful sportsman can move a deer or turkey, that person must record the kill on the harvest record. Then, that person must report the kill to the state, via telephone or Internet within 24 hours.

“This harvest data will help us keep track of when and where people are killing deer and turkeys so we can better manage the resource,” Dodd says. “That information will be available to the public, so sportsmen can see how many deer or turkeys were harvested in their county or favorite wildlife management area. The easiest way to report a kill is by downloading the free app to a smartphone and use it to file a report. It only takes a few minutes.”

To report a deer or turkey harvest, see www.outdooralabama.com/gamecheck or call 800-888-7690.

Waterfowlers will also see changes this year. With teal populations up significantly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will allow hunters in many states including Alabama to bag more teal during the September season. Blue-winged teal migrate much earlier than other ducks, sometimes arriving on the Alabama coast by late August. Consequently, many states hold September seasons to increase the harvest of these birds. Teal season runs from Sept. 7-22. Sportsmen may bag up to six birds per day, up from the four-bird daily limit in place for decades, in any combination of green-winged and blue-winged teal.

The state also made it easier for sportsmen to complete hunter education training. Anyone born on or after Aug. 1, 1977, must complete a hunter education program before buying a license. The traditional hunter education course takes at least eight hours and ends with a written examination. Beginning on Sept. 1, the state will allow sportsmen to complete the hunter education requirements online without physically attending a class.

“This is a big change, one many people wanted for years,” Dodd says. “With people as busy as they are, not everyone can get into a class. Also, they had to wait for the next class in their area. Now, they can take the course over the Internet at their leisure.”

For more information on hunter education, call 334-242-3620. For a complete list of course dates, see https://huntered.dcnr.alabama.gov/public.

For more information about fish and game laws and seasons, consult the free 2013-2014 Alabama Hunting and Fishing Digest, available at most sporting goods stores, or see www.outdooralabama.com. Sportsmen may also call their district wildlife enforcement office for clarification of game laws.

Gardening

Alabama olives

Baldwin County farmers plan commercial olive production

The Quantzes of Baldwin County have planted nearly 1,000 olive trees in their orchard. They hope to produce enough olives within the next five years to begin processing them.
The Quantzes of Baldwin County have planted nearly 1,000 olive trees in their orchard. They hope to produce enough olives within the next five years to begin processing them.

By Katie Jackson

If you love olives and olive oil, you no longer have to look to Spain, Italy or even California for some truly fine olive products. They can be found right here in the South, and possibly just outside your own door.

Olives are native to coastal areas of the Mediterranean and Middle East where abundant sunshine, temperate climates and well-drained soils offer ideal olive growing conditions. But the trees also do well in other parts of the world, including in the U.S. where olives are being grown on a commercial scale from California to, soon perhaps, Alabama.

Commercial olive production was first tried in Alabama in the early 1800s when a group of French expatriates established the ill-fated Vine and Olive Colony in west Alabama. That colony failed, in part because west Alabama’s growing environment was not suited for olives, and for many years afterward it was assumed that olives were not a viable crop for our state.

However, a renaissance in southern olive production is under way, led by the success of Georgia Olive Farms in Lakeland, Ga., which is producing high-quality, chef-endorsed olives and oils on a commercial scale. And now, thanks especially to the efforts of Baldwin County farmers Steve and Susan Quantz, Alabama may soon show its true olive potential.

The Quantzes stumbled onto the idea of growing olives when they visited a friend in Elberta who had two mature olive trees laden with fruit. “We were looking for an agricultural product that could make economic sense on small acreage,” says Steve, and seeing those two trees spurred the couple into researching the idea of growing olives on their own eight-acre farm.

That research led them to California’s olive-growing region where the Quantzes learned that their farm in Alabama had all the right ingredients for olive production. Soon thereafter they obtained and planted nearly 1,000 olive trees.

Though their orchard is less than a year old, the Quantzes hope to be producing enough olives within the next five years to begin processing them and also to open their operation to the public for tours, tastings and educational programs touting the health benefits and production potential of olives.

The Arbequina olive is ideally suited to Alabama's climate.
The Arbequina olive is ideally suited to Alabama’s climate.

In fact, they are already hosting visitors, including a recent delegation of U.S. Department of Agriculture officials who Steve says had “lots of questions.” The Quantzes like lots of questions, though, because they want to see the Alabama olive industry grow. “We hope to demonstrate the viability of olives as a commercial crop for this region,” Steve says of their farm and their mission.

Interest in small-scale home-use olives is actually already strong, as Jason Powell with Petals from the Past nursery in Jemison can confirm.  Petals began selling olive trees about four years ago in response to consumer demand and because they found a knowledgeable Texas supplier who had a great option for Alabama production—the Arbequina olive.

Arbequina, says Powell, is ideally suited to Alabama because it is cold hardy through zone 7, can handle the heat in the southern part of the state and is self-fruiting, so it does not require cross pollination from another olive variety to produce fruit. Customers are buying one or two to use in containers or in the landscape and some are even using them to establish small home orchards.

“These trees have attractive thin, blue-grey leaves and an airy open growth habit that allows you to train as a standard or multi-trunk tree,” Powell says.  What’s more, they begin producing fruit within two years of planting, so they quickly become a great addition to a culinary garden.

Want to know more about olives in Alabama? Go to www.petalsfromthepast.com for information on an upcoming olive program at Petals from the Past or contact them at info@petalsfromthepast.com or 205-646-0069. To learn more about commercial production of olives in Alabama contact Steve Quantz at stevequantz@gmail.com.

September Tips

*Begin preparing the garden for winter by cleaning dead plants and debris from garden beds and the landscape.

*Take notes or draw a map of your beds and landscape, highlighting what worked and what failed in this year’s garden for use as you plan next year’s garden.

*Add lawn and garden debris to the compost, along with any organic (non-meat) kitchen waste.

*Test your soil so you’ll know what amendments to add this fall and winter.

*Plant fall and winter vegetables and root crops, such as cabbage, collards, celery, garlic and onions.

*Continue to mow and irrigate lawn as needed.

*Fertilize azaleas and camellias.

*Plant winter grass seeds on bare areas.

*Plant perennials and biennials and spring-flowering bulbs.

*Divide perennials and thin or transplant irises and daylilies.

*Clean bird feeders and birdbaths and keep them filled throughout the fall for resident and migratory birds.

 

Worth the Drive

Get a taste of Tuscan cuisine by way of Jacksonville

By Jennifer Kornegay

Fried artichoke hearts at Effina's: you can't eat just one.
Fried artichoke hearts at Effina’s: you can’t eat just one.

The tumbled, aged-looking bricks’ warm tones and the terra-cotta tile roof of Effina’s Tuscan Grill in Jacksonville certainly call to mind the Mediterranean villas dotting the verdant hills in Tuscany, the lovely heart of Italy. Inside, wood floors and wood tables, ironwork and rich colors on the walls continue the theme all the way up into the charming loft area at the top of a curved staircase.

But the ideas of warmth and heart aren’t restricted to this casually upscale restaurant’s décor. Owner Steven Landers wants every guest in his establishment to feel the same sense of home and love that he enjoyed when visiting his grandmother Effie’s house; it was her cooking and his connection to her through her food that inspired him to open Effina’s in 2008 and give the restaurant her name.

Begin your Effina’s experience with an order off the antipasti menu. You can’t go wrong with the fried ravioli, but the fried artichoke hearts are simply sublime. The tender, piquant center of this edible thistle are encased in a crisp golden-browned batter and go down fast and easy; it’s like popping potato chips in your mouth. You cannot eat just one.

The Alabama Field Green salad
The Alabama Field Green salad

The Alabama Field Green salad is light and refreshing, with creamy feta, the bite of red onion slivers and crunchy, salty toasted pecans. All of the produce for the salads is fresh, much of it local, and the dressings are made in house.

Italian standards like eggplant parmigiana, chicken piccata, pizzas and lasagna are good choices, but on the evenings the kitchen can get ahold of fresh scallops for the nightly special, it’s the dish to get. Watching the waiter approach with a plate of angel hair pasta topped with huge milky white scallops quivering in a tomato cream sauce can turn the mere-second wait between table touchdown and taste-bud satiation into a period that seems like hours.

And then there’s the happy ending. At Effina’s, the dessert list is short but sweet, showing a commitment to do a few things and to do them very well. Out of the four choices, including the favorite traditional Italian treat tiramisu, the white chocolate bread pudding stands out, as much for its appetizing appearance as anything else. A generous square is surrounded by puffs of whipped cream and striped with syrupy strokes of dark chocolate. It has plenty of inner beauty too, though; the taste trumps the look in the end.

Scallops in tomato sauce
Scallops in tomato sauce

It’s obvious that Effina’s focuses heavily on the quality, preparation and presentation of its food, but its service is a highlight too. Keeping in mind grandma Effie’s gracious manners, the staff seems to understand the importance of welcoming and truly “serving” each and every diner.

So if you’ve ever closed your eyes and wished you had a sweet Italian grandmother who’d cook delicious dishes for you, Effina’s could be the place where your wishes (that one, at least) come true.

 

A Visit to Effina’s

501 Pelham Road N., Jacksonville, 256-782-0008

effinas.com

 

SEC 2013 Football Predictions: Bama’s new Colors are crimson, white… and crystal!

Alabama, favored to win its 4th national championship in five years, opened against Michigan in 2012.
Alabama, favored to win its 4th national championship in five years, opened against Michigan in 2012.

By Brad Bradford

In 1998, the BCS put together a formula and format, pitting the top two teams in the National Championship game played on a Monday night after the bowl season is complete. It might as well been referred to as “The SEC Invitational.”

In those 15 years, an SEC team has been in the game nine times, starting with Tennessee that first year. NO SEC TEAM HAS EVER LOST the championship game! (Correction: LSU did lose in 2011, but lost to fellow SEC member Alabama).

The SEC has now won the last seven in a row with Bama in a search for its 4th in the last 5 years. Since Auburn also won it in 2010, the state of Alabama should change from the “Yellowhammer State” to the “Crystal Ball State.” Last year, Alabama totally dominated Notre Dame in Miami and it could have been worse if Nick Saban had chosen.

This is the last year for the BCS championship series as we know it. In the fall of 2014, there will be a new system that takes the “Final Four” teams in a two-game playoff (1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 with the winners facing off) for the championship. The SEC just had a Brer Rabbit moment. They just got thrown in the briar patch and got what they wanted all along. This new format gives the SEC the chance for even more domination. If, for a moment, anyone with half-a-brain thinks the SEC won’t have at least one and probably two teams in the playoff, I can set you up on a blind date with Manti Teo’s girlfriend.

The new system should allow for the loser of the SEC championship game to remain in the top four where they belong. If this format had been in place in 2004, Auburn would have gotten its chance for the trophy. Instead, the Tigers will go in the history books as the only undefeated team from a BCS conference to get shut out of playing for it all.

CAN ANYONE CHANGE THE SEC HIERARCHY THIS YEAR? There has never been a more dividing line in the East and West divisions than this year. Both sides have an overwhelming TOP 3 and BOTTOM 4. In the East, the top three are South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. None of the others have a cutdog chance of moving up. In the West, it has Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU at the top. If Auburn or Ole Miss has a couple of upsets, either could slide up in place of LSU because of the Bengal Tiger’s brutal schedule.

 

Team-by-team schedule breakdown:

ALABAMA: After opening up against Virginia Tech in Atlanta, the Tide has an open date before playing Texas A&M in College Station. This will be the game of the year in the conference. The Tide defense will not allow Johnny Football to scramble around and beat them this year. If Bama wins there, they will roll until the annual showdown with LSU in Tuscaloosa. Again, having an open date before this game will allow Nick and Kirby time to remind the Tide about the last time the Tigers played there. Drawing Kentucky from the East instead of South Carolina, Georgia or Florida is huge. Prediction: SEC WEST CHAMPIONS. 12-0.

TEXAS A&M: After being the darlings of the nation last year, the Aggies are going to get everyone’s best shot this year. Everybody in the nation with a TV will be watching the showdown with the Tide on September 14th. Like Bama, A&M does not play South Carolina, Georgia or Florida. They also have an open date before playing at LSU in November. Prediction: 2nd in the WEST. 11-1.

LSU: The Tigers open in Dallas against a good TCU team. Bad news: They have to play Georgia (A) and Florida (H) from the East. Good news: their open dates fall before Alabama (A) and Texas A&M (H). Prediction: tied for third in the West with the seat warming up for Les Miles. 8-4.

AUBURN: With wins against Mississippi State and Ole Miss, they could be the surprise team in the West and start rolling the wires at Toomer’s Corner. Gus Malzahn put together a first-class coaching staff of recruiters. Open dates fall before Ole Miss and before the Iron Bowl. Playing at LSU and Texas A&M will be brutal for a young team. Prediction: tied for third in the West (depending on the Ole Miss game). 8-4.

OLE MISS: Everybody is jumping on the Rebels’ bandwagon after their going 7-6 last year and signing a top 10 recruiting class. As my friend Lee Corso says: “Not so fast.” The Rebels play at Texas and have to travel to Tuscaloosa. They don’t have to play the Big 3 from the East but playing back to back games at Auburn and Alabama is going to be tough. Prediction: tied for third in the West. 7-5.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs open on the road against Oklahoma State and later play South Carolina and Texas A&M on the road on consecutive weekends. The 2 key games for Dan Mullen to stay employed: Beat Auburn on the road and beat Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Prediction: 6th in the West and a new coach in Starkville. 6-6.

ARKANSAS: New coach Brett Bielema is trying to bring a power running game to Fayetteville like he had at Wisconsin. The Hogs play South Carolina at home but have road games against Florida, Alabama and LSU. He will get it done in time. Prediction: 7th in the West. 5-7.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Steve Spurrier is entering his 9th year in Columbia with his best team yet and the top player in the league in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The early East favorite will be the winner of the Georgia game in Athens the second week of the season. They have the schedule advantage of avoiding the Big 3 from the West. Playing Clemson the week before the SEC championship game will be a challenge: Prediction: SEC EAST CHAMPIONS. 11-1.

GEORGIA: The Dogs were 5 yards away from keeping Bama out of the championship game last year. Opening the season on the road against Clemson and back home the next week against South Carolina is a make or break 2 weeks. They play LSU at home but the key game will be Florida in Jacksonville. Prediction: tied for second in the East. 10-2.

FLORIDA: Will Muschamp’s team has an early showdown at Miami and later travels to LSU in October. In November, they play Georgia (Jacksonville), Vandy at home then at South Carolina. As always, the Gators close the season against Florida State. Team will be better than its record. Prediction: tied for 2nd in the East. 9-3.

VANDERBILT: The opening game against Ole Miss will set the tone for the season. Road games against South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida will make it tough for the Commodores to repeat their 8 win total from last year. An open date before Georgia at home is important. Prediction: 4th in the East. 7-5.

TENNESSEE: Playing back to back September road games against Oregon and Florida will be difficult for new coach Butch Jones. In October, the Vols host South Carolina then travel to Alabama the next week. Ouch! Prediction: 5th in the East. 5-7.

KENTUCKY: After opening on the road at Western Kentucky with its new coach Bobby “Motorcycleman” Petrino, the Wildcats play Louisville (H), Florida (H), South Carolina (A) then host Alabama in a five-week period. This is why they change coaches every four years. Prediction: 6th in the East. 3-9.

MISSOURI: The Tigers October schedule: at Vandy, at Georgia, Florida at home, then South Carolina at home. They don’t play the West Big 3. Doesn’t matter. Prediction: 7th in the East and a coaching change. 4-8.

HOW WILL THE SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PLAY OUT? Alabama will lock up the West a week before South Carolina plays Florida for the East. Alabama plays a young Auburn team on November 30. South Carolina plays a potential top 10 Clemson team on November 30. Bama beats South Carolina 30-10. MVP: Amari Cooper, Alabama wide receiver.

WHO WILL ALABAMA PLAY IN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME? STANFORD? Will lose to either Oregon or UCLA. OHIO STATE? Went undefeated last year with zero pressure. Urban will get sick again thinking about facing Saban. OREGON? First year head coaches don’t make it this far. CLEMSON? Will be Clemson and have a crazy loss. FLORIDA STATE? Having to replace too many NFLers and coaches. LOUISVILLE? Could go undefeated and be left out because of a weak schedule. The answer: TEXAS A&M. The Aggies will run the table after losing to Alabama and finish 2nd in the final BCS rankings. Giving Nick Saban and Kirby Smart more than a month to prepare for Johnny Manziel again is just not fair. Alabama has been here before; A&M has not. Alabama will win its third straight 35-7. MVP: Heisman trophy winner, A.J. McCarron.

To the SEC haters, be careful saying, “Wait ‘til next year.” In 2014, ALL four slots in the playoff could be SEC teams.

Brad Bradford is a 21-year veteran of the coaching business, six years as a high school assistant, four years as a head coach, three years at the University of Alabama and eight years as the running backs coach for Howard Schnellenberger at the University of Louisville. The author of the inspirational and humorous book, Hang in There like Hair in a Biscuit, he can be reached at coachbradbradford@gmail.com and on Twitter @coachhardknocks. He is the president of Bradford Consulting Group and resides in Destin, Fla.

 

Laura Dodd: Inspring, entertaining and overcoming

Laura won the the ICM New Artist of the Year Award in 2010.
Laura won the the ICM New Artist of the Year Award in 2010. Photos courtesy of Laura Dodd.

By John N. Felsher

Many people stumble through life not knowing what they want to do, but Laura Dodd knew what she wanted to do at a very early age.

“I’ve always enjoyed singing,” she says. “At the age of five, my mother took me to a production of the musical “Grease.” As I was watching them sing, I was enamored by everything the performers were doing. I turned to my mother and said, ‘I’m going to do that one day!’ From then on, I’ve had a love affair with music, acting and dancing. Even before that, when they brought me home from the hospital, my mother put me in a crib in my brother’s room. My brother, who was six years older, told my mother to move me out of his room because I was humming in my sleep.”

Today, the 33-year-old crooner from Gadsden, Ala., entertains audiences all over with her blend of country, blues, bluegrass, jazz and gospel music. Now making her home in Nashville, Tenn., she spends considerable time every month on the road performing with her band, Southern Mercy, or giving inspirational speeches.

She has sung at such venues as the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. She even performed at the White House. Dodd has shared the stage with the likes of George Jones, Restless Heart, Travis Tritt, Jeff Cook of the band Alabama, Rascal Flatts, Patty Loveless and Bruce Hornsby.

“I’m a gypsy by heart,” the songstress says. “I love to travel, see new places and meet new people. Just about every week, I go somewhere, either singing or speaking at an engagement. In 2004, I had the honor of singing at the White House for President George W. Bush. That was a wonderful experience. It was to help the Miracle League, children with disabilities who have their own baseball league.”

In June 2012, Laura returned to Washington D.C. to perform at the 100-year celebration of the Girl Scouts. She sang before an audience of more than 250,000 at the National Mall.

More recently, she traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. When in Mexico, local bands asked if she would perform with them. As usual, she did!

“I was raised in the Church of Christ and we do a lot of a cappella singing,” Dodd says. “I love to sing a cappella and will sing anytime anyone asks. In Cabo, I sang with two Spanish-speaking bands. I don’t speak Spanish and they weren’t familiar with my kind of music. We never practiced together, but we had a lot of fun.”

Laura Dodd and her band, Southern Mercy, perform inspirational country music all over the nation.
Laura Dodd and her band, Southern Mercy, perform inspirational country music all over the nation.

The travel and hard work paid off as the honors piled up. In 2003, her rendition of “Wow” reached number 54 on the Music Row Country Music Breakout chart. Her original song, “Spread My Wings,” chartered out at number 7, garnering her the 2010 ICM New Artist of the Year title.

After debuting her hit, “I Am Pretty” during the 2011 ICM Awards Show, she received three standing ovations. In October 2012, the National Coalition for Awareness and Prevention of Domestic Violence invited Laura to Fort Worth, Texas, to perform “I Am Pretty.” The organization will use her song for domestic abuse awareness programs.

During the 2012 ICM Awards, “I Am Pretty” was nominated for Song of the Year and Dodd was nominated for Entertainer of the Year. She won the title 2012 ICM Female Vocalist of the Year.

“Inspirational country music is a genre about faith, family and country,” Dodd said. “Those things are very important to me. All my life, I have relied upon God and my family.”

Growing up in Alabama as part of a family that loved music all types of music, the country girl learned all she could about music, dance and performing. She trained in ballet and jazz. She studied musical choreography, attended workshops and took private vocal lessons to perfect her craft.

“I write music and studied music theory,” Laura says. “I play a little piano, but mostly stick to my vocal instruments. I’ve always wanted to be a professional singer. My grandfather calls me ‘Laura Belle.’ He would always say, ‘Laura Belle, you’re going to be on the Grand Ole Opry someday.’ I hope and pray that I make it that far.”

Influenced by such diverse talents as Patsy Cline, Stevie Nicks, Etta James and Bonnie Raitt, Laura advanced in her professional education. After graduating from high school, she attended Gadsden State Community College to continue her study of music and pursue a vocal degree.

“I went to Gadsden State Community College because they offered a jazz band, singers and dancers,” Dodd says. “This was my first live introduction to playing with a live band. It was wonderful.”

In August 2012, Dodd married Joseph Downs IV, a certified public accountant. Her husband travels with the singer as often as possible, but stays busy tending to the business of his clients. A relationship with one client in particular proved fortuitous.

“We met at my beautician’s shop,” Dodd says. “She was a client of Joseph and also cut his hair. We saw each other for about eight years before he finally asked me out. It’s tough to have a relationship in the music business, but my husband is very supportive of me. He knew what he was getting into when he married me.”

Unfortunately, Laura will never attain one goal – motherhood. When she was 12 years old, Dodd saw a doctor about corrective foot surgery. The doctor took a bone section from Laura’s hip and used it to correct her foot.

During the procedure on her foot, the medical team also diagnosed Laura with CIDP — Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. Sometimes called Lewis-Sumner Syndrome, the disorder attacks the myelin sheath, or the fatty covering that insulates and protects nerve fibers. The autoimmune disease affects nerve tissue, causing numbness, pain, tingling and weakness. With her medical condition, giving birth would be much too risky for Laura.

“One leg is a little weaker than the other, so I walk with a little bit of a limp, but that just adds character,” Dodd says. “It’s been a tough road. I’ve had to rehabilitate myself at least three times. I take steroid infusions every three months to boost my immune system and pills every night. I also exercise avidly and work out about two hours a day with yoga, weight training and pilates. The exercise helps tremendously. I train like an athlete.”

The medical condition did not slow the singer down. If anything, it only encouraged her to work harder to succeed despite the difficulties. When not singing, she travels the country telling her life story as an inspiration to others.

“With anything in life, we have a choice,” Dodd says. “We have a choice to either sit down and mope or get up and cope. I want to look back over my career and say, ‘I did the right thing.’ I want to stay positive and motivated to help others. No matter what happens in life, a person can still achieve goals.”

Besides her speaking and musical careers, Dodd expanded into acting. In 2012, she acted and performed in the film, “Spirit of Love.” In addition, Dodd wrote, composed, produced and sang the title song for the film. On Feb. 16, 2013, the film premiered to a sold-out crowd at the Texas Christian Film Festival in Houston. During the premiere, she sang the national anthem a cappella while a choir of deaf children signed the song.

“I want to go to the next level, whatever level that may be,” she says. “My next goal is to do some acting. I was in The Goal, an independent film about a quadriplegic rugby player. I had a couple scenes. I also have a song in the film. People can learn and enjoy from life experiences. That’s where I get my motivation and inspiration to write.”

Dodd should debut a new album later this year or early 2014. For more information or to hear samples of her music, see www.lauradodd.com. Fans and friends can also connect with Laura on Facebook. To book shows, call Paula Dodd, her manager and mother, at 256-458-0329.

Visit to Birmingham church helps visitors visualize events of 50 years ago

By Marilyn Jones

Just below the 16th Street Baptist Church sign in Birmingham  is a memorial to the four girls killed when a bomb exploded.
Just below the 16th Street Baptist Church sign in Birmingham is a memorial to the four girls killed when a bomb exploded.

Waiting for the tour to begin, visitors to 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham are able to view the photos, displays and plaques in the Memorial Nook. Everything reflects back to the events of September 1963, a dark and determined time in the history of Birmingham, Ala., and the Civil Rights Movement; a time when peaceful marchers were arrested, white men and women protested school integration, and a bomb took the lives of four little girls.

A young mother reads the plaque bearing the girls’ names to her daughter: “Denise McNair, aged 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, all aged 14.”

“Why, mommy?” the little girl, who looks to be about six years old, asks.

The more than 30 men, women and children gathered to tour the church wonder, too, what kind of hatred could provoke men to place a bomb outside a church, knowing it was filled with parishioners attending Sunday School.

Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves a century before on Jan. 1, 1863 — why were African Americans still being discounted because of the color of their skin?

A church and a city in turmoil

Everyone is asked to gather in the sanctuary where church member Lamar Washington begins telling the group about the church, the bombing and Birmingham.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

“This congregation was organized by freed slaves in 1873,” Washington began. “It was the first black church in Birmingham. A church was built at this location in 1880.

This church was built between 1908 and 1911.

“[During segregation] African Americans couldn’t go to city auditoriums, so this church, and other black churches in Birmingham, served as meeting places and social centers,” he continued.

Offering several examples of what segregation meant, he said in 1963 there were no African American police officers or store clerks; they couldn’t use an elevator. “So if my grandmother needed to get to the fifth floor of a building downtown,” he said,  “she had to walk up five flights.”

Washington also painted another vivid picture of 1963, describing the carefully planned non-violent protests. On May 2 and 3, 5,000 marchers, many of them schoolchildren, gathered at the church and nearby Kelly Ingram Park to march to city hall. Their efforts were met with high pressure fire hoses and police dogs; many were put in jail. News coverage of the demonstration and the city’s reaction shocked the nation.

Birmingham had a reputation as being one of the South’s most segregated cities. When blacks spoke out, they risked violence from white segregationists. From the late 1940s to the mid-1960s nearly 50 racially directed bombings led to the city’s nickname — Bombingham.

On Sept. 5, two high schools and one elementary school were ordered to admit five black students. Ten days later, September 15 at 10:22 a.m., a bomb blew into the girl’s restroom, killing the four little girls and injuring more than 20 other members of the 16th Street Baptist Church congregation.

A plaque honoring the four girls is located at the spot the bomb was placed.
A plaque honoring the four girls is located at the spot the bomb was placed.

The children’s murder brought international outrage that many credit with bringing about the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Before showing a short documentary film about the bombing, Washington tells of the outpourings of sympathy, concern and financial help the church received after the tragedy.

“John Petts of Wales came to Birmingham to help repair the broken stained glass windows,” he said. Petts also created a large stained glass window of the image of a black crucified Christ; a gift from the people of Wales. The window is located in the rear center of the sanctuary at the balcony level.

After the film, Washington invites those who haven’t seen the Memorial Nook to do so, and then quietly leaves the sanctuary allowing those gathered the opportunity to reflect on the events that took place in this church, this neighborhood, this city.

# # #

Birmingham Civil Rights District

A small area of Birmingham is known as the Civil Rights District: 16th Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Kelly Ingram Park at the intersection of 6th Avenue North and 16th Street North, and, a short walk away, the Fourth Avenue Business District and Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame housed in the Carver Theatre.

A visit to this area in the heart of the city helps visitors visualize what happened 50 years ago this year. The physical scars are now covered with beautiful landscaping, statues and memorials, but the underlying message of individual freedom is rooted in the soul of the city — a reminder to never forget.

The Institute tour begins with a short film chronicling Birmingham’s beginnings; a planned city designed around the natural resources available for making steel — iron ore, coal and limestone. Established in 1871 at the proposed crossroads of major rail lines, Birmingham drew men and women in search of jobs in this new industrial city — black and white.

When the film ends, visitors begin a walking journey through the city which, through its many exhibits, relates the Civil Rights Movement and significant events that took place leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, subsequent struggles and current world events pointing toward the need for human rights awareness worldwide.

Through a second-story window, visitors have a panoramic view of Kelly Ingram Park; the site where, in May 1963, Birmingham police and firemen, under orders from Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor, confronted demonstrators, many of them children and high school students, first with mass arrests and then with police dogs and fire hoses.

Images from those confrontations, broadcast nationwide, brought national and international attention to the struggle for racial equality.

Two blocks away is the Fourth Avenue Business District where much of the city’s black businesses and entertainment venues were located. A highlight of a tour along these historic streets is a visit to Carver Theatre, once a motion picture theater for blacks; it is now a live-performance theater and home of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

Until September 30, the exhibit, “A Place of Our Own: The Fourth Avenue District, Civil Rights, and the Rise of Birmingham’s Black Middle Class,” is also being featured at Vulcan Park and Museum.

When Birmingham was founded, black and white businesses existed side by side. As Jim Crow laws took effect in the early 1900s, a separate black business district emerged for local African-American entrepreneurs. The exhibit helps explain life in the Fourth Avenue District and recalls the successes of business, entertainment venues and cultural institutions.

 

When you visit

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, 153 Sixth Ave. No.; 16thstreetbaptist.businesscatalyst.com; 205-251-9402. Tours are offered Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Saturday by appointment. Donations appreciated.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, 520 16th St. No.; bcri.org; 205-328-9696, ext. 203. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.; Closed Monday and major holidays. Admission charged.

Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, 1631 Fourth Ave. No.; jazzhall.com; 205-327-9424. Call for tour times.

Vulcan Center Museum, 1701 Valley View Drive; visitvulcan.com; 205-933-1409. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 6 p.m. Admission charged.

More information: Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2200 Ninth Avenue North; birminghamal.org; 800-458-8085.

 Commemoration event

A commemoration of the 50th anniversary will be Sept. 15 at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Rev. Julius Scruggs will speak at 1 p.m. and a community service followed by a candelight vigil will take place at 3 p.m. Call the Sixteenth Baptist Street Church at 205-251-9402 for more information.

 

 

 

 

Black Belt bucks bring big money to the state

In Alabama's Black Belt region, more than 456,000 sportsmen spend $3.22 million a day.
In Alabama’s Black Belt region, more than 456,000 sportsmen spend $3.22 million a day.

By John N. Felsher

The Black Belt, a swath of fertile, alluvial soils, extends across 23 counties of central Alabama between the Appalachian foothills and the coastal plain.

About 160 years ago, people could have called it the “White Belt” because of endless acres of cotton growing in the rich black soil that gives the area its name. Farmers used the rivers that flow through the region and numerous artesian wells to water their cotton fields. Those rivers, including the Alabama, Tombigbee and Black Warrior, deposited highly fertile soils across those lands for millennia and now create incredible wildlife habitat.

“The Black Belt is a unique part of the state,” says Chris Cook, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division deer studies project leader. “Historically, the Black Belt was a very good area for farming and has been known as an area that produces quality deer, especially the portions in west central Alabama. Classic Black Belt soils grow a lot of grasses and forbs. Along the fringes where it starts running back into the coastal plain, we see good quality, nutrient-rich soils that are very productive for agriculture and wildlife habitat.”

That nutrient-rich dark, loamy soil that gives the region its name and led to the cotton boom also grows incredible habitat for such game birds and animals as whitetail deer, wild turkey, squirrels and rabbits. Parts of the Black Belt also hold good populations of dove, quail and ducks. The rivers and lakes teem with largemouth bass, crappie, catfish and other fish.

“The black belt soil is rich, dark soil that creates good habitat to support an abundance of wildlife,” says Pam Swanner, project director for Black Belt Adventures in Montgomery. “The Black Belt consistently produces some of the best hunting in Alabama. The area produces numerous whitetail deer with great weights and excellent antler growth. Deer is the most popular game animal, but the best turkey hunting in the state occurs in the Black Belt Region. Alabama has the largest population of eastern wild turkey per square mile of any state.”

With the abundance of game found in the Black Belt, people might redub the area the Green Belt or the Gold Belt because excellent hunting opportunities in the region bring money into the state. Sportsmen coming into the Black Belt to hunt deer, turkey and other game species or to fish, contribute millions of dollars each year to the state economy.

Big bucks in the state can bring in big bucks to the state. In Alabama, more than 707,000 hunters and fishermen spend about $5 million a day or about $1.7 billion per year. In the Black Belt Region alone, more than 456,000 sportsmen spend $3.22 million a day. Hunting and fishing create more than 30,500 jobs in Alabama, with more than 11,000 in the Black Belt Region.

Economic impact tops $1 billion annually

“The economic impact of hunting and fishing in the Black Belt Region is about $1 billion a year to the state,” Swanner says. “People who come to Alabama to hunt must buy licenses. In addition, they buy food, gasoline, supplies and souvenirs. They eat in restaurants. They might stay at one of the hunting lodges in the Black Belt or in a motel in town. In addition, many sportsmen bring their families who enjoy other attractions the area has to offer.”

Although the 23 Black Belt counties comprise about one-third of the state, the region contains more than 80 percent of the hunting lodges found in Alabama. About 56 percent of all Alabama sportsmen hunt in the Black Belt each year. About 69 percent of all out-of-state sportsmen who come to hunt in Alabama visit the Black Belt Region. About 80 percent of those non-resident sportsmen spend at least one night in the Black Belt Region. In all, sportsmen spend about 3.9 million days hunting in the Black Belt and another 3.3 million days fishing in the region each year, Swanner says.

To keep those sportsmen coming into the state, Black Belt Adventures promotes the region as an outdoors destination. When someone calls about planning a hunting or fishing adventure, the BBA staff help match up sportsmen with lodges that can accommodate their wishes or make suggestions about other places to visit.

To better promote the region, the nonprofit marketing organization enlisted the help of two prominent Black Belt natives, Jackie Bushman, founder of Buckmasters, and Ray Scott, founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society. These two legendary sportsmen help carry the message about the great hunting, fishing and facilities found here through various public and media appearances across the country.

“Jackie Bushman and Ray Scott grew up hunting and fishing in the Black Belt,” Swanner says. “They created two internationally known sporting organizations and have been very supportive of this initiative from the beginning. Our main objective is to collectively market the region as an outdoor destination, not promote any specific lodges. When people call to inquire about hunting opportunities, we try to determine their needs and send out that information to various lodges that meet their requirements. We promote more than just the lodges. We also represent the public lands available in the Black Belt Region.”

While the lodges of the Black Belt Region offer excellent hunting, not all sportsmen can afford to stay at such places or hire guides. The Black Belt also offers some public lands for the do-it-yourself sportsman. Two public areas in the Black Belt really stand out for deer hunting — David K. Nelson Wildlife Management Area and Lowndes WMA, Cook says. Near the confluence of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Black Warrior River, David K. Nelson WMA covers 8,308 acres of mostly bottomland hardwood habitat in Sumter, Hale, Marengo and Greene counties near Demopolis. Along the Alabama River, Lowndes covers 13,962 acres in Lowndes County near White Hall.

Both owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lowndes and David K. Nelson WMAs were primarily agricultural lands before they became wildlife management areas. The state replanted them in native hardwoods. Both properties consist primarily of swampy flat bottomlands rich in hardwood trees. Deer thrive in such habitats.

“A lot of lands in the Black Belt offer just as good or better deer hunting opportunities as anywhere in the state,” Cook says. “David K. Nelson and Lowndes WMAs both offer excellent hunting. Barbour WMA on the fringes of the Black Belt is another good deer hunting property. Barbour is one of our older WMAs and produces better than average quality deer.”

In the transition zone between the Black Belt Region and the coastal plain in southeastern Alabama, Barbour WMA covers 28,199 acres of Barbour and Bullock counties near Clayton. The area consists mostly of mixed pine forests with some hardwoods strands. Field and Stream magazine once named the property one of the top whitetail destinations in the nation. The state manages the area for trophy deer with antler restrictions on buck harvests.

“With the antler restriction, we wanted more bucks to move into the 2.5-year old and older age class on Barbour WMA,” Cook says. “Because of the antler restriction, the age structure of the deer herd is better on Barbour than most WMAs. It has a good blend of numbers and big deer. In 2012, the area produced more deer exceeding 200 pounds live weight than anyone can recall ever seeing. Along with that, the antler quality has also steadily improved.”

 

Other game, recreation activities abound

While many people come to the Black Belt Region to hunt deer or turkeys, the area offers much more in outdoors recreation. Many sportsmen also visit the region to hunt squirrels, rabbits, quail, doves, ducks and other game. In addition, many outdoors enthusiasts also enjoy canoeing, horseback riding, bird watching, hiking and other activities.

“There are a lot of big private hunting lodges in the Black Belt Region,” Cook says. “The Black Belt is well known for its deer hunting, but the area also has a lot of good turkey hunting. Along the river drainages, people can find some good squirrel hunting. Some areas offer good rabbit hunting opportunities.”

The region also offers more than outdoors adventures. Rich in history, the region also contains many places connected to the Civil War and civil rights struggle. Visitors can also explore many historical homes or enjoy the diverse sports, musical and art legacy of the region.

“The Black Belt Region is a great resource for the state,” Swanner says. “We are beginning to see some success from our efforts in promoting the region. The cultural heritage of this region is as rich as the soil. We want people to come to Alabama, spend their money and have a good time doing whatever they enjoy doing.”

For more information on Black Belt Adventures, call 334-649-3788. To see a list of the lodges in the Black Belt Region and other things the region can offer the traveler, see www.alabamablackbeltadventures.org. For information on hunting in Alabama, see outdooralabama.com.

Alabama Recipes

Party Dips

If I am eyeballing the food at a party, I tend to gravitate towards the dips. They are usually quick and easy to eat with chips, veggies or crackers. We have several different types to share with you in this issue, so please let me know how they turn out. We love hearing feedback from our cooks.  Our Facebook friends would love to see some pics of our cooks making their favorite recipes from the magazine. Check Alabama Living out on Facebook! – Mary Tyler Spivey

 

Cook of the Month

Artichoke/Crab Dip

crabdip

Rene’ R. Mason, Dixie EC 

1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 14-ounce cans artichokes, drained and chopped
1 cup of mayonnaise
½ cup green onions, chopped
½ cup pimentos or red bell pepper chopped
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 pickled jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon celery salt
16 ounces crabmeat, drained
1/3 cup (or a little more) sliced almonds, toasted lightly

In heavy skillet cook bell pepper in oil. Add everything. Gently fold in crabmeat last. Put in buttered dish (2-quart) and top with sliced almonds. Bake 25-30 minutes at 375 until golden.

 

Apple Dip 

appledip

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup butterscotch chips
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Melt chips in sweetened condensed milk, add vinegar and cinnamon. Serve warm with apple wedges.

Pam VanAustin, Baldwin EMC

 

 

BLT Dip

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
1 package bacon bits and pieces
1 cup diced tomato

Mix well all ingredients and refrigerate overnight. Excellent with pita chips. Recipe is easily doubled.

Shirley Seay, Wiregrass EC

 

 

Warm Bacon Dip

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2   cup bacon bits
1 spoonful of mayonnaise

Mix all ingredients together.  Place in oven safe serving dish.  Bake in oven at 325 for 30 minutes.  Serve warm with crackers or dip chips.

Sue Robbins, Coosa Valley EC

 

Mexican Shrimp Dip

1 1/2 pounds fresh steamed shrimp
1/4 can of Clamato beer
1/2 cup Heinz ketchup
1 jalapeno pepper
1 serano pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Peel shrimp and cut into small pieces. Cut up small pieces of both peppers and mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate overnight, then add chopped avocados before serving.  I use three small avocados.

Serve with chips or baked crackers

Connie Hestily, Baldwin EMC

 

Low Country Caviar

3  16-ounce cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
2 16-ounce cans whole kernel white corn, drained and rinsed
1 medium-sized green bell pepper, chopped coarsely
1/2 medium sized purple onion, chopped coarsely
2 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1  tablespoon minced garlic
1-1/2 cups zesty Italian dressing
1 pound small or medium shrimp, thawed with shells removed
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large bag scoop type corn chips
1/2 cup sour cream
garnish: cilantro sprig

Combine the first seven ingredients in a large bowl. Cook shrimp in olive oil on low/medium heat until just done. Add shrimp to mixture and gently stir in. Refrigerate for several hours before serving. May top with the sour cream and garnish the sour cream with the cilantro. Serve with the chips and enjoy!

Lila Wright, Dixie EC

 

spinachdip

Spinach Dip

1 round pumpernickel bread

Dip Ingredients:

1 package chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 can slivered water chestnuts
3 green onions, chopped
1 package Knorr vegetable soup mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise

Make a hollow circle in bread. Set aside. Mix the dip ingredients well. Chill dip until ready to serve. Place in scooped out section of bread.

Kathy Pittman, Wiregrass EC

 

 

Paddlewheel steamboat returns to Alabama shores

Photos and story by Jim Winnerman

The American Queen is scheduled to dock in Decatur on Sept. 19 and Florence on Sept. 23.
The American Queen is scheduled to dock in Decatur on Sept. 19 and Florence on Sept. 23.

The first indication something is approaching is a low hiss and rumble that causes you to stop what you are doing and listen intently to see if it ceases. Instead, it slowly builds in volume, getting so loud the noise becomes an intense guttural shriek echoing across the countryside. Then the sound stops abruptly, only to repeat seconds later in several short bursts.

Even if you had never before heard it in person, something is vaguely familiar.  Then it registers. A steamboat is coming around the bend!

That distinct whistle of a paddlewheel riverboat, absent for four years from the Mississippi, Ohio and the Tennessee rivers, returned to Alabama shores in 2012 as the 418-foot American Queen stopped at the ports of Decatur and Florence.  The same stops are scheduled for this year in September.

Constructed in 1995 by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, the American Queen spent several years cruising mid-American rivers before being dry-docked due to financial problems in 2008. Then the Great American Steamboat Company rescued, restored and returned her to America’s inland waterways in May 2012.

Today the American Queen accommodates 436 passengers, stretches 418 feet, carries a crew of 170, and stops at 34 different ports along the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers.

The grand staircase of the American Queen
The grand staircase of the American Queen

 

Decatur Mayor Dan Kyle says his city has a long river history. “We feel like the Queen is part of our heritage when she returns,” he says. “People come out and have picnic lunches and just spend the day admiring the boat from shore. A lot of families bring their children, but there are a lot of kids out there with gray hair, too.”

From Rhodes Ferry Park in Decatur where the Queen lands (steamboats “land” instead of dock,) she appears as a floating Alabama plantation home festooned with porches framed by an abundance of gingerbread trim. There are even porch swings on an outside deck amidst an ocean of white wooden rocking chairs in an area named “the Front Porch of America.”

Although the boat is a sight to be admired from shore, passengers are anxious to explore each port. Following the boat on land are tour buses nicknamed “steam coaches” that shuttle the tourists around the towns wherever the boat stops.

Carolyn Price of Decatur was one of the local step-on guides who pointed out the sights and presented a history of the town. “There were a surprisingly small group of people from the South on board, but they were really interested in our history and were very complimentary of Decatur,” she says.  “Passengers’ homes were scattered from Hawaii to the east coast.”

In Decatur the buses drove in a continuous loop around the town, stopping to drop off people to shop or see some of the town’s historic sights such as the 1833 State Bank Museum, where other guides were waiting to give tours.

At the Bank Street Antique Mall, Gloria Arthur had a sign on the sidewalk to welcome the visitors. “All the merchants wish the American Queen would come back more often,” she says. “In addition to what people purchased and took with them, I shipped six boxes of merchandise to addresses in the Midwest and on the east coast.”

A family admires the sight of the Queen.
A family admires the sight of the Queen.

Just as important for Arthur, her customers left as friends. “We had a great time.  People just sat on my bench and we all talked. It was a real nice visit,” she says.

When the passengers do return onboard to their cabins, they pass through hallways and salons of gleaming mahogany, stained-glass table lamps, winding staircases, huge elaborate chandeliers, fine antiques, brass fixtures (including at least one spittoon,) and floral wallpaper and carpets. All help recreate the opulent Victorian era when “steamboatin’” was regarded as the finest way to travel.

However, hidden beneath the boat’s 1900 appearance are a myriad of modern amenities. The Grand Saloon Theater with several side balconies (modeled after Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.,) offers nightly entertainment. Private verandas also are attached to many rooms, and a small swimming pool on the top deck is perfect for hot days. A grandiose restaurant features menus comparable to most blue-water cruise ships and there are several bars. An unlimited buffet of snacks and cold drinks is available 24/7 on the observation deck.

Daily onboard activities begin about 9 in the morning and continue almost hourly until late into the night. But for many passengers the favorite pastime is sitting in a rocking chair in the front of the boat watching the river slowly appear bend by bend.

Every evening there is some type of “steamboat era” entertainment. One night it may be showtunes from Broadway featuring songs about rivers, and the next night a show by a card magician who weaves the lore of riverboat gamblers into his act.

The Juggernaut Jug Band performs onboard frequently and along with their music include a history of jug bands on riverboats, which originated about 1900.  “One thing we know for certain and that we still practice today,” says bandleader Roscoe Goose, “is that the jug must be emptied before it can be played.”

Mark Twain usually makes an appearance and discusses his life and ambition to be a “steamboatman” that originated as he watched the endless parade of boats steaming past his boyhood home of Hannibal, Miss.

Food is an important part of any cruise, and the American Queen crew is particularly proud of the menus created by celebrity chef Regina Charboneau.  Appetizers and entrees feature Southern cuisine and change daily. Sample selections include cornmeal encrusted gulf oysters, chicken sausage and okra gumbo, smoked tomato gazpacho, barbeque spice rubbed prime rib, and fresh salmon with a citrus honey glaze.

“It was a sight to see on the river,” Price says recalling how the boat looked. “We invited friends over from Georgia to see the Queen, and we went down to Rhodes Ferry Park to wave her off and say goodbye, and listen to the calliope play.”

Mayor Kyle says the sound of the calliope is just something that only “makes sense” when it comes from a riverboat. “The music travels up and down the river and wafts all over town,” he says.

In fact, listening to the calliope as the boat departs is a highlight for many land-bound spectators. Located aft on the top deck, the small piano-like instrument is played by a member of the Queen’s small onboard orchestra. The music is made as hot steam escapes through 38 brass whistles of various sizes oozing quick puffs of pure white steam with each note and emitting a characteristic shrill sound.

Hearing and watching as “Anchors Aweigh” and “Old Man River” was played, and simultaneously seeing the majestic boat slowly moves away from Rhodes Ferry Park, the crowd on shore was mesmerized. As the tunes drifted through the air and the huge red paddlewheel churned up the river water, few people turned away until the American Queen was out of sight.

 

Cruise information

The Mississippi Queen is scheduled to dock in Decatur on Sept. 19 and Florence on Sept. 18 and 23.

Voyages aboard the American Queen range from three to ten nights with fares starting at $995 per person.

 For more information on all itineraries: GreatAmericanSteamboatCompany.com, 888-749-5280.