Thursday, October 18

Lighting the Fire: The Symposium [Unofficially] Begins (part 1 of 2)

The 15th Southern Foodways Symposium officially kicks off tomorrow at noon. But we got things started a little early with a well-balanced combination of photography, fashion, cocktails, music, literature, film, and hotdogs. You know, the usual SFA ingredients. Herewith, an instruction manual on how to spend a pre-symposium Thursday evening, in case you ever find yourself in this position.

1. Head to the Powerhouse, at the corner of University and South 14th streets, a few blocks off the Oxford Square. It's the headquarters of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council (get it?) and plays host to a variety of community art events. There, mastermind Wayne Andrews will have created a chandelier out of larger-than-life, black-and-white photos of a splayed pig destined to become barbecue. On the walls hang more black-and-white barbecue shots, from pitmaster (and -mistress) portraits to close-ups of the tools of the trade: a shovel of coals and a heat-resistant glove. Interspersed with the photos are dresses of intricately embroidered and beaded cotton jersey. They hang on rusty mattress springs, the kind that might be used in a pinch for a homemade rural barbecue pit.

2. Okay, you've never seen anything like this before. It's a little out there. Luckily, the artists are in the room to talk you through their work. Really, go ask them! Photographer Landon Nordeman won a James Beard Award for this barbecue portfolio, which he shot in iconic barbecue joints from the Carolinas to Arkansas. "Do you think you could blow those shots up a little, Landon?" we asked. And blow them up he did.

Last year, Natalie Chanin of the Alabama Chanin fashion label costumed the performers for our world-premiere collard opera, "Leaves of Greens" by Price Walden. After the symposium, we raised the stakes. We asked Natalie if she would create clothing inspired by barbecue. And she took us at our word: she literally smoked the dresses at Jim n Nick's barbecue in Birmingham with the help of Drew Robinson. The results look—and smell—like nothing we've ever seen before.

3. At this point, it's cocktail hour. Time to belly up to the bar. Meet Greg Best of Holeman & Finch in Atlanta, our bartender for the weekend. We've heard tell that Greg can take the contents of a near-empty pantry or refrigerator—balsamic vinegar, ketchup, bottom-shelf whiskey—and create a cocktail you'll be talking about for years. This afternoon, he's whipped up an Ash Wagon Punch with Cathead vodka, vermouth, bitters, fresh lime juice, and perhaps some other magical Greg Best ingredients. We're not sure. We just know that the first one went down real easy.

But the symposium is a marathon, not a sprint. Best to start out slowly. It hasn't even officially begun yet.

4. Head up the hill to the Lyric Theater for Thacker Mountain Radio.

[continued in a second post]