Faces: Diane Sprague
Every time it stormed in Diane Sprague’s Forest Hills neighborhood, the sky would literally fall. “I’d walk down Park Avenue and I’d hear the crack of branches and limbs would be all over the place,” says Sprague. She and her family chose to live in Forest Hills specifically because of its lush canopy of trees, but whenever the wind blew, trees were damaged or lost.
Most of the trees lining the streets were 80-year-old Darlington oaks, which were quickly reaching the end of their life span. If felled trees weren’t replaced, the neighborhood would eventually lose its leafy charm.
Sprague knocked on city administrators doors, hoping for funds to replace the trees. She discovered that Augusta doesn’t have a tree and landscape department and that the city’s annual tree-replacement budget is a paltry $5,000. Since a new tree costs approximately $350 each, that means Augusta can only replace 14 trees a year for the entire city.
The city has a budget for pruning hazardous trees and it falls under the traffic department. Local arborist Dan Bauer assessed the health of the trees in the Forest Hills neighborhood and found that the city needed to remove 60 trees. So Sprague spearheaded a fundraising campaign among her neighbors and monies were raised for replacement trees.
Now when you drive around Forest Hills you’ll notice gaps in the tree canopy, but you’ll also see dozens of new trees that will eventually fill in those holes. Live oaks, willows, Princeton elms and black gum have replaced many of the dying Darlington oaks.
“Before I took on this project, I didn’t know any more about trees than the average person,” Sprague says. “But now I understand their importance to a neighborhood. In addition to providing shade and beauty they intercept gallons of rain water and alleviate the urban heat island effect. Also people who live in tree-lined areas tend to be happier.” Thanks to Sprague’s efforts the residents of Forest Hills should be very happy indeed.
How can I help keep Augusta green? Visit Trees of Augusta (www.treesforaugusta.org). There’s a donor button on the web site or you can mail checks to P.O. Box 40084, Augusta, Ga. 30909.
A technical twist on First Friday is the monthly hackathons held at the Innovation Academy at 540 Telfair from 5 to 9 p.m. every First Friday. What’s a hackathon? It’s a way of expressing yourself through technology and can take the form of a website, mobile app or even a robot. Hackathon participants have four hours to build, code, hack, design, plan or imagine anything under the sun. When the time is up, everyone votes for the most impressive project.
For more information, visit http://theclubhou.se
Do you fancy seeing your face on the big screen? Or maybe you’d rather work behind the scenes as a production assistant or a grip. The Augusta Film Office’s mission is to connect film producers with talented people in the area. Casting calls for nearby film productions are posted on the website and, if you possess a skill you think film producers could use, you can request a listing on the site. Categories of services include everything from still photography to catering.
Visit augustafilmoffice.com for more information.
Paint and Sip
Dabbling with paint is fun. Dabbling with paint is even more fun when paired with a glass of Pouilly-Fuissé. That’s the philosophy behind two new locals businesses. Both Van Gogh and Vino on Pleasant Home Road, (vangoghandvino.com) and Bites and Brushes on Central Avenue (www.bitesandbrushes) offer painting classes and parties. They provide the painting materials and participants supply the wine and snacks. As the Bites and Brushes website says, “We put the art in party.” At paint-and-sip events everyone paints the same painting and the skill level required is minimal. Both businesses offer children’s parties, minus the wine, of course.
So how does a group form around the idea of being a tribute band without having rabid fandom as an impetus? Shepard says that the idea was born out of a friend’s suggestion that Augusta didn’t have a Grateful Dead cover band, and that it could prove to be a successful venture with all the talent on hand. That was apparently all it took. Made up of popular local music scene veterans, including Shepard, John Kolbeck, Brian Brittingham, George Dale and Michael Garrett, it didn’t take long for Scarlett Begonias to gain a following right away.
The band has evolved from a group of guys who weren’t overly familiar with the deeper catalog of Dead tunes into a full-blown tribute band that has three nights worth of material to pull from. Even though the music of the Grateful Dead is the central theme of the band’s set list, Shepard is quick to point out that they don’t necessarily approach things in the same way as the Dead. They do their own versions of the songs to make them their own. The band also tends to keep the songs short and sweet, without delving into the interminable and never-ending instrumental solos that made the Dead famous. That means very little noodling and meandering, opting for simplicity instead.
Their local popularity has grown to the point where they are now playing shows regionally and opening up for bigger named acts in the jam band world. That’s not too shabby for musicians who weren’t hardcore Deadheads at the very beginning. You can catch them at various venues throughout Augusta, including Wild Wing Café, Southbound Smokehouse and Sky City.
Before Elvis Was King
In 1956, a 21-year-old swivel-hipped singer named Elvis Presley embarked on a tour of the Southern states, which turned him into an international sensation. In commemoration of that life-changing year, Elvis entertainer Cody Ray Slaughter stars in the touring production Elvis ’56, which comes to the Imperial Theater on June 25 at 7:30 p.m. Slaughter will be backed by a authentic 1956 rockabilly band called the Hillbilly Katz. Tickets start at $19.
Upper King • Charleston, S.C.
Why Go: Less than 10 years ago, Upper King Street in Charleston, S.C., offered little more than boarded-up windows, an assortment of dive bars and a Huddle House. Now instead of street grit, you’ll find a cluster of craft beer and cocktails bars, trendy shops and upscale restaurants, making Upper King one of the city’s most vibrant areas.
What To Eat: You can’t venture 10 feet into the Upper King area without stumbling across a bakery, a white tablecloth bistro or an oyster bar. Kick off your gastronomic adventures with a raspberry Nutella turnover at Wildflour Pastry. Lunch might mean crispy clam wraps at Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Bar or the fusion fare at Xiao Bao Biscuit, which pairs Asian comfort food with Southern cuisine. In the evening, nosh on a bone marrow and toast appetizer at the Warehouse and then proceed to Two Boroughs Larder for an ever-changing menu of inventive offerings like Charred Squid and Smoked Harissa Lamb Sausage. For dessert, pop into Parlor Deluxe for a white chocolate-glazed waffle sprinkled with pepita seeds.
What To Explore: Thanks to improved street lighting and updated sidewalks in Upper King, one of the most entertaining activities is to stroll the streets, taking in the amalgamation of the old and the new. For the old, visit Read Brothers, established in 1912, where you can find anything from Caribbean metal art to antique toys. For the new, peruse the paintings in the Art Mecca of Charleston or attend one of the regularly scheduled author appearances at Blue Bicycle Books. Come nighttime catch a play at Woolfe Street Playhouse, which specializes in lesser-known dramas of the 20th century or soak in the city views at the rooftop bar at Stars Rooftop and Grillroom.
Where To Stay: If you’re looking for a historical hotel, the Francis Marion has been on the edge of the Upper King area since 1924. Rooms start at $209. If you want to be in the midst of the action, choose Hyatt Place with rooms starting at $179. Or live like the locals and use a vacation rental service like Airbnb at www.airbnb.com.
The Return of the Arsenal Oak
Acorns from the great tree were planted and grew into saplings. Now one of those saplings has returned to the Augusta University Summerville campus to continue the legacy of the beloved Arsenal Oak. Fingers crossed that it will grow to shade the university’s grounds for at least another 250 years.
Tragedy Girl Delivers Thrills
There’s a new “girl” novel in town. Not Gone Girl, but Tragedy Girl (Flux Books, $11.99), the latest release from Augusta author Christine Deriso. Tragedy Girl has much in common with the wildly popular Gone Girl in that it features a deliciously complex character named Blake, who will keep readers guessing. Is he a cute cad or a murderous creep?
Anne, a high school senior living in the fictional town of Hollis Island, S.C., is initially attracted to Blake because both are grieving. Her parents recently perished in a car accident and Blake’s last girlfriend, Cara, drowned, her body never recovered. The more Anne learns about Blake, the more she suspects he’s hiding something sinister. At times she fears she might meet the same fate as Cara.
Tragedy Girl, a young adult novel, is Deriso’s seventh book and her first psychological thriller. If you’re looking for a tightly plotted novel with enough twists to keep you riveted until you reach the gasp-worthy ending, you’ll love Tragedy Girl.
This article appears in the June-July 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.