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‘I’m grateful to Alabama,’ Octavia Spencer says in Garden & Gun interview

Hollywood is still stuck in the past when it comes to portraying Southerners, Montgomery native and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer says in an interview with Garden & Gun magazine.

“They are still hung up on the South we were before I was born,” Spencer tells Garden & Gun. “But we are more complex than what I often see on television and film. Just because we talk slower, we aren’t stupid. We are the sum of all of the parts.

“The thing about the South is we accept our history,” Spencer goes on to say. “We don’t push it under the rug. There is racism all over the United States. Most Southerners I know, we definitely find ourselves defending our heritage.

“But let me tell you something, whatever you think about the South, if your car breaks down in any Southern city, you’re only going to be sitting on the road five minutes, max. You don’t even have to pop up your hood. When my car broke down in LA, nobody stopped. They just kept whizzing by.”

Asked about thanking her home state in her 2012 Oscar acceptance speech for her role in “The Help,” Spencer, an Auburn University graduate, tells Garden & Gun: “I’m grateful to Alabama.”

Spencer recently reunited with her friend and “The Help” director Tate Taylor in the James Brown biopic “Get On Up,” which stars Chadwick Boseman of “42” as the Godfather of Soul. Spencer plays Brown’s Aunt Honey, who helped raise him after he was abandoned by his mother. “Get On Up” is scheduled for an August release.

To see this article online, go to:

‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ other Alabama-set books draw attention and tourists to state

If you’ve ever made the trek to the small Alabama town of Monroeville, chances are it had to do with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

And the same thing goes for the Irondale Café or the Bayou LaBatre area. It’s likely that your readings of the novels ‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café’ or ‘Forest Gump’ inspired your travels.
Popular literature can have a tangible effect on interest in a particular area, and can in turn bring tourism money to a state or region.

That concept—that literature can increase tourism and make an economic impact—drives the SouthEastern Literary Tourism Initiative (SELTI) as it encourages writers to pen fiction focusing on place, and readers to engage in that fiction in an interactive way.

The organization, which was launched in 2009, has published two tourism-themed novels and holds an annual tourism fiction writing contest. It’s working with the Alabama Tourism Department, University of Alabama, University of South Alabama, Jacksonville State University and other agencies to promote tourism fiction.
SELTI founder Patrick Brian Miller said that today’s readers have the opportunity to interact with the stories they’re reading through technology.

“Today’s modern e-readers allow readers to instantly browse tourism websites related to fiction through links embedded into the story, but many writers and publishers have not thought to include that yet,” he said. “Part of our mission is to encourage writers, publishers, tourism attractions and governments to work together for a common goal of promoting tourism.”

He said that Alabama is in the lead in this, with SELTI publishing what ‘USA Today’ recognized as the first tourism novel published with an interactive tourism guide embedded with links.
“The novel ‘Blind Fate’ includes the Rosa Parks Museum, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, along with many other cultural attractions,” he said.

According to Guntersville’s Kathryn Lang, the winner of the first SELTI novel-writing contest, literature has a proven track record as a tool for bringing tourists into an area.

“To Kill a Mockingbird brings in thousands of tourists to Monroeville every year, especially during special spring events,” she said. “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil brought in millions of dollars of tourism revenue to Savannah. Forrest Gump drew tourists to Bayou La Batre.”

Lang said, though, that today’s technology brings added opportunities to combine travel and reading.
“Many who read the novel in school are not even aware of Monroeville’s literary tourism events. What if every student who read the novel on a Kindle or iPad was also able to click on a link that led directly to Monroeville’s courthouse museum? That would be reaching millions of potential tourists over the years instead of thousands,” she said.

To read the entire article online, go to:

Alabama BBQ Bracket 2014: Little roadside joint knocks off the big boys

Smokin’ on the Boulevard, a little roadside barbecue joint in Florence, knocked off the big boys to win the 2014 Alabama BBQ Bracket championship, the Alabama Tourism Department announced this afternoon.
Voters in the statewide Facebook contest selected Smokin’ on the Boulevard’s smoked ribs as the state’s top barbecue dish.

The other Final Four entries were Bessemer’s Bob Sykes BarB-Q, which won for best sauce, and Birmingham-based Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, which won for both best chicken and best pork.
Smokin’ on the Boulevard was voted the overall winner.
Located at 4080 Florence Blvd., Smokin’ on the Boulevard has only been open a couple of years, but has fast made a name for itself with its dry-rubbed meats, which are slow-cooked over hickory coals. The menu features Boston butts, St. Louis-style racks of ribs, whole chickens with white sauce, smoked bologna, stew, smoked cabbage and more.

Smokin’ on the Boulevard is open only three days a week, Thursdays through Saturdays, and the ‘cue often sells out. Especially now.

For a menu, prices, hours and more, go to the Smokin’ on the Boulevard Facebook page at

About 20,000 votes were cast in the three-week contest, which began with a field of 32 total entries – eight each in the four categories of ribs, chicken, pork and sauce. Voters went to the Alabama Food Facebook page to select their favorites.

To see the page, go to:

Condé Nast Traveler wants you to vote for the state with the coolest license plate

We know you’ve got a ton of state pride, and we want you to share it! is currently running a contest to find out which state has the coolest license plate in the U.S. To celebrate road trip season, we’re asking travel lovers to vote for their favorite state. Help us spread the word—and show your local pride—by sharing the news on your social media networks and to your fellow state fans.

You’ll find the story here:

Nine Southern towns you’re forgetting about but shouldn’t

The South can be pretty damn charming, true, and there is certainly more to it than places like Nashville or Charleston (which are admittedly great).

There are some cute towns strewn across the region, each with their own unique vibes that make us want to visit stat.


Forget what you know about Birmingham and embrace the present: It’s increasingly becoming a foodie’s and culture-lovers destination. Sure while there you should check out the historic sites like the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Civil Rights Institute, but you should also go to the much-buzzed about Hot & Hot Fish Club or head to Homewood for a quaint town feel and great shopping.

For the entire list, go to:

‘Happy’ song gets ahold of Birmingham in new viral video

A YouTube video of Birminghamians dancing to Pharrell Williams’ popular “Happy” song is starting to make the rounds online after being posted over the weekend.

The video was produced by Over Fork Over Films’ Ian J. Cunningham, a longtime staple in the Birmingham film community. Cunningham shot, directed and edited the video, and was assisted by camera operators T.J. Burks and Sarah Orr.

Birmingham residents of all shapes, sizes and colors can be seen throughout the video dancing to “Happy” in different areas of the city. Even The Vulcan breaks it down at several points during the video, a portion of which was filmed on The International Day of Happiness, which is celebrated around the world on March 20.

River boat Cruise near Treasure Island and Breakfast

All-aboard! Come and stay at Treasure Island Bed and Breakfast and enjoy a sunset dinner cruise on the Coosa Queen that offers different time schedules that will be perfect for that romantic week-end getaway. The Coosa Queen is a 16 x 58 boat powered by two motors, water paddle to add to riverboat experience. They have capacity for 50 cruisers, men and women’s restrooms, tiki bar, and tables for dinner cruises. They offer two daylight cruises with an evening, catered dinner cruise. It is a family-style environment, events for corporate charters, reunions, parties, weddings, church groups, school field trips, charity events and more.

Pricing is:

  • Daytime cruise (noon- 2 p.m., 3-5 p.m.): $20 p/adult, $12 children 12 and under
  • Sunset dinner cruise (6-8 p.m.): M-F (catered buffet style) $30 p/ person; Sat. (catered fine dining) $50 per person
  • Chartered events (*wedding package pricing available upon request): pricing same as above with $300 minimum/ $600 maximum; $100 each additional hour over first two hours Costs include cruise, captain and 1st mate.

Don and Janice Urso are the owners and operators, who took riverboat Coosa Queen from dream to reality and is something they want people to do more than talk about. They want people to experience it. Having lived on a houseboat on Lake Logan Martin since 1993 and in Hollywood, Florida, on a boat before that, Don said he has grown to appreciate what the Coosa River scene offers. “I love the people up here. To me, there’s nothing like this on the lake. I just want to support the community and offer it something unique and exciting.”

“I want to see a smile on people’s faces like mine every morning,” said Janice, beaming in the early morning hours aboard the couple’s houseboat in Riverside. “It’s like being on vacation every day.” The couple said they are incorporating the catered dinner, which will include fine dining on weekends, because they wanted to offer more than just a boat ride on the Coosa. “There are so many people who come out here who don’t have a boat. This gives them an option to enjoy the whole lake and river and have the whole experience out here that they normally couldn’t get,” Janice said. Don, who says he has lived at nearly all of the marinas around the Coosa River/Logan Martin area, was purposeful in wanting to launch from Riverside Landing, in order to support the city where it docks its boats.

Book your room at Treasure Island Bed and Breakfast and we will book your cruise. Experience the lake on and off the water.

Public invited to first hike of the Forever Wild Coosa WMA Trail

Treasure Island Bed and Breakfast is located on this hike.
The Alabama State Lands Division and the Alabama Hiking Trail Society (AHTS) will host a grand opening hike of the new Forever Wild Coosa Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Trail on Sat., March 22. The public is invited to join the hike, which kicks off at the west trailhead located on Coosa WMA Road 153 at 10 a.m. West trailhead GPS coordinates are: 32.894439, -86.417871.

AHTS members will lead the grand opening hike, which covers approximately 6.6 miles of the 11.4-mile trail. Refreshments will be provided for all hikers who attend. Those who wish to hike the entire trail may do so.

The Coosa WMA trail is predominately moderate with a few semi-strenuous climbs. The west end of the trail is not as steep, while the east section offers more climbs and switchbacks. The trail is free to use and open year-round. Trailheads and parking areas are conveniently located on either end of the trail. The east trailhead is located at the Hatchet Creek bridge (Double Bridges) on Highway 29. GPS coordinates are 32.862305, -86.339755.

For information about the grand opening hike, contact Doug Deaton, State Lands Natural Resources Planner, at 334-850-7158, or by email at

For a complete list of Forever Wild tracts with recreational opportunities including hunting, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, canoeing and more, visit

Birmingham makes list of top 10 best downtown areas

Some folks have taken notice of Birmingham’s downtown revitalization. has compiled a list of the top 10 best downtown areas for 2014, and Birmingham made it on the list by the skin of Vulcan’s teeth.

The site – which “explores what makes small to mid-sized cities great places to live, work, and visit” – named Fort Worth, Texas as the best downtown, with Providence, Rhode Island following behind. Birmingham was on the list with Indianapolis, Alexandria, Provo, Fort Lauderdale, and Eugene.

Birmingham was at the bottom of the list – right there in that number 10 spot. But the important thing is that The Magic City made it at all. It’s difficult to imagine Birmingham making that ranking 10 years ago — or even being in the ballpark.

Speaking of ballparks, many of the amenities that cited in placing Birmingham on its list were not in existence ten years ago. Railroad Park and Regions Field are seen as drivers of Birmingham’s downtown revitalization, stirring interest in apartments and office space in the Parkside area.

“Projects like Railroad Park, which includes ponds, an amphitheater, a skatepark, a playground and pathways, and a recently completed 8,500-seat minor league baseball stadium (Regions Field) lure people downtown for events and activities,” the Livability write-up states. “They’ve also caught the eye of a group of investors who recently purchased a warehouse and several buildings near the ballpark. The investors plan to develop office and residential space, envisioning the rooftops of some living units overlooking Regions Field.”

The ongoing renovation of the Lyric Theatre gets a mention. Even Alabama’s state legislators get a shout out for doing something good: passing the historic renovation tax credits that are helping make the renovation of the Pizitz Building and the Thomas Jefferson Hotel a reality.

The Second Avenue district – where residents from out of the area “bustle in and out of funky new shops and restaurants that have sprouted up” – is also highlighted, as is the Uptown development anchored by the Westin Hotel.

The real highlights are the numbers – a drop in retail vacancy downtown, a 36 percent increase in population in the downtown area 2000-2010, income growth, and other indicators. Those were the criteria for the rankings, according to a release from Livability.

“Having a great downtown is about more than just having a great main street,” Matt Carmichael, editor, said in a release. “A downtown should have a cultural and retail focal point, like a main street, but it has to expand beyond that, providing a solid core for the entire community.”

For the article online, and to see the complete list of the top 10, go to:

Alabama’s BBQ joints compete for best BBQ

It’s March Madness time again. And in the state of Alabama that apparently doesn’t mean basketball. But it does mean barbecue.

And since there is no better argument than a good barbecue argument, the Alabama Tourism Department is stoking those fires again by bringing back its Alabama Barbecue Bracket, a social media contest pitting some of the state’s favorite pig palaces against each other to let voters decide whose ‘cue is Bama’s best.

Last year, as you may recall, Birmingham-based Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, which has multiple locations around the state, edged Montgomery’s Sam’s Bar-B-Q in the finals, sparking lots of heated debate about not only the worthiness of Jim ‘N Nick’s barbecue, but how unfair it was that little ol’ smoke shacks had to compete against the big, bad chains.

But that is another argument for another day.

Today, we are here to unveil the 2014 bracket that — unlike last year, which was divided into four geographic regions – is this year divided into four barbecue specialties: ribs, chicken, pork and sauce.

The participating restaurants were selected based on social media polling conducted this past fall, according to an Alabama Tourism Department press release, and many of the restaurants in this year’s field are represented in multiple categories.

Saw’s BBQ in Homewood, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Full Moon Bar-B-Q, for instance, are nominated in all four categories — pork, ribs, chicken and sauce.

Beginning March 17, voters will be able to go to the Facebook page to cast their online votes in each of those categories.

Here are the first-round matchups in each of the four categories:

Pork: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q vs. Top Hat Barbecue; Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q vs. Dreamland Bar-B-Que; Saw’s BBQ vs. Bunyan’s Bar-B-Q; Full Moon Bar-B-Q vs. Whitts Barbecue.

Ribs: Dreamland Bar-B-Que vs. Rusty’s Bar-B-Q; Archibald’s B.B.Q. vs Full Moon Bar-B-Q; Smokin’ On the Boulevard vs. Big Daddy Bar-B-Q; Saw’s BBQ vs. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q.

Chicken: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q vs. Saw’s BBQ; Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q vs. Dreamland Bar-B-Que; Full Moon Bar-B-Q vs. Johnny’s Bar-B-Q; Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q vs. Greenbrier Bar-B-Q.

Sauce: Dreamland Bar-B-Que vs. Big Daddy’s Bar-B-Q; Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q vs. Saw’s BBQ; Archibald’s B.B.Q. vs. Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q; Bob Sykes BarB-Q vs. Full Moon Bar-B-Q.

Voting in each head-to-head match-up will last for 48 hours, and those restaurants with the most votes will advance to the Sweet Sixteen, then the Elite Eight and then the Final Four.

[RELATED: Alabama has two BBQ chains on list of America's 10 best]

The competition coincides with the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – aka, “March Madness” – that also starts next week and, unfortunately, is unlikely to include any school from the state of Alabama. But at least we can be proud of our barbecue.

“Barbecue is part of our heritage,” Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell says. “The culinary tradition and cultural impact of our world-class barbecue make this bracket a source of local pride for Alabamians. “We’re excited to see what the voters define as truly the best.”

“In the inaugural Alabama Barbecue Bracket, voters determined which restaurant has the best barbecue in the state, but now voters will determine what defines the most iconic Alabama barbecue dish,” Sentell adds.

“Whether that’s a rack of ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork or white sauce, this year’s bracket will shed light on the dishes that make our state’s barbecue portfolio so diverse. We’re excited to see what the voters define as truly the best.”

Online voting for the Final Four competitors to determine the “Alabama’s Ultimate Barbecue Champion” will begin April 2, and the winner will be announced Mon., April 7, the same day of the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Championship.

While one restaurant will take home the overall title, each of the Final Four entries will be named winners in their respective barbecue categories. And it is a possibility that one restaurant could win in all four categories.
Find out more about the Alabama Barbecue Bracket at

Go to the barbeque bracket site at:

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