Why Go: The annual Decatur Book Festival, one of the country’s biggest, is always a cerebral feast for lit lovers and this year’s event will be particularly memorable. Organizers are honoring the life and work of the late Pat Conroy. Cassandra King Conroy, Rick Bragg, Ron Rash and others will gather to pay a tribute to the bestselling and beloved author at the keynote event September 2, at 8 p.m. Additionally more than 600 authors will be presenting throughout Labor Day weekend include Emily Giffin, Brad Metzler and Terry Kay. Visit www.decaturbookfestival.com for a schedule of events. Admission is free.
What To Eat: Food, beer vendors and a wine garden are all part of the festivities, but Decatur is nationally known for its inventive food scene. Fuel up for the festival with a serving of Peachtree Polenta at Sweet Melissa’s, a long-time breakfast/lunch spot on the square. Partake of tapas like wild boar sausage meatballs or rabbit empanadas at the Iberian Pig. September is an “r” month so it’s a great time to sample one of the over 15 varieties of oysters at the Kimball House. Pair them with a craft cocktail like a bourbon-based Mississippi Queen or ask for absinthe service.
What To Explore: Books and authors aren’t the only attraction at the Decatur Book Festival. Vendors of all stripes turn downtown Decatur into a street fair. Enjoy live music performed by nationally touring musicians, cheer on the opening day children’s parade and partake of cooking demonstrations by noted chefs. Want a festival break? Visit the nearby Dekalb Farmers Market or the charming neighborhood of nearby Oakhurst, which showcases a number of charming shops and eateries. Or browse the assortment of eclectic shops on Decatur square. Wild Oats and Billy Goats features whimsical art and other handcrafted items, and you can buy your favorite canine a treat at Taj-Ma Hound.
Where To Stay: There are any number of chain hotels nearby but the most convenient to the festival is the Courtyard Marriot on Clairemont Ave. Rates start at $189. Mileybright Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast is located in a restored vintage farmhouse only minutes from downtown. Rates start at $125.
Faces: Fat Man’s Chef Havird Usry
Havird Usry’s first cooking memory? He was 8 years old watching a kitchen worker at his family’s restaurant cut up a chicken with a cleaver. Twenty years later he was a world away, preparing a chicken dish in front of the cameras and millions of viewers, vying to win his own show on the Food Network.
The journey between the two events was long and twisty. Hav, as his friends and family call him, didn’t initially dream of being a star chef. His first love was soccer and he was named MVP during his senior year at Clemson but injuries kept him from playing professionally. Plan B was to attend Helms College and learn the culinary arts. A smart decision, indeed, since Hav graduated at the top of his class and now heads up Fat Man’s Cafe and Catering at the Enterprise Mill.
On a lark he decided to audition for the show Food Network Star, not expecting to be chosen. He had several strikes against him: youth, inexperience and no media training. But Hav’s movie-star smile and just-folks Southern drawl thoroughly charmed the network people and he was selected as one of the 13 contestants. So began a surreal six-week experience in L.A. sharing the sound stage with famous food personalities like Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis.
“I was star struck at first,” Hav says. “But it didn’t take me long to see that they’re normal people.”
He admits he got the jitters, having dozens of cameras register every bead of sweat or chop of the knife but he also enjoyed the challenge. Unfortunately he was the first contestant sent home. Bobby Flay said his chicken tasted of carbon but as compensation TV star Valerie Bertinelli of Hot in Cleveland fame said he was sweet. The young chef was matter-of-fact about the competition’s outcome
“At least I got to be home for my daughter’s 1st birthday…And the personal growth was worth it. It was humbling.”
He still keeps in touch with other contestants through daily texts, and of course, he’s got a business to attend to and has hinted that another restaurant is on the way. When asked what was missing from Augusta’s food scene, he says, “An amazing deli with some salad creations…There might be some news on that soon.” Clearly it’s not the last Augustans will hear of Hav.
ON THE CANAL
September sweeps in crisp evenings and what better way to celebrate cooler weather than with a music cruise? Every Friday evening in the months of September and October, you can float along the Augusta canal, sipping wine and listening to live entertainment. The music varies each week, and this season includes everything from torchy jazz songs to bluegrass to R&B. Bring aboard snacks and beverages of your choice on a relaxing 90-minute journey, watching herons take flight or turtles bask on logs.
Tickets are $25. Visit augustacanal.com for more information.
2nd Annual Black Cat Picture Show
Watch your back Cannes and Sundance. Augusta has its own premier international film festival, returning for its second year Friday August 19 through Sunday August 21.
Friday night’s ticket grants you admission into that evening’s screenings and concludes with the Film Artists’ Reception, a catered celebration of those Film Artists who have been selected for this year’s festival. Saturday night’s ticket grants the bearer admission to that evening’s screenings and events will go late that night concluding the evening with the Wages of Cine pick. Sunday’s ticket will be for the final block of films to be screened followed by the award ceremony.
Festival passes are $25. Visit www.lcnaugusta.com for more information.
Let’s Get Cookin’
If you would like to sharpen your culinary skills Helms College offers community cooking lessons on select Saturdays. On August 20, sauces are on the menu. You’ll learn to make small sauces using the five mother sauces such as Béarnaise, Choron, Provençale, Marchand de Vin, Normandy and Mornay.
Try your hand at making sushi on September 17. Learn basic terminology, how to cook sushi rice, prepare fish, present and serve with garnishes and sauces including Nigiri (fish on rice) and variety sushi rolls (California and spicy tuna rolls, etc.) as well as miso soup.
Classes are from 10 am –12:30 p.m. and cost $75. www.helmscontinuingeducation.com.
Imagine you need a new house key. Nowadays you’d have to make a trek to the hardware store but in the near future, you would just press print on your computer and it would appear out of thin air. It’s not magic; it’s 3-D printing. If you want to know more about this exciting process the Clubhou.se will host a meet-up for those interested in 3D printing on August 27 and September
24. Bill Gray of Augusta University will be on site to facilitate discussions and demonstrations of 3D printing.The presentation runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. All levels of interest are encouraged to attend. The cost is $10 for non-members. Email email@example.com for more information.
By Mark Hodges
WHEN SINGER MONET ROBINSON, also known by the stage name Nefertiti, tells the story of how her jazz duo came together, it sounds a little bit like fate was at work behind the scenes. Voxnbass (pronounced “voice and bass”) was a happy accident that resulted after Robinson was asked to sing with local jazz guru Karen Gordon’s band. She hit it off with Gordon’s regular bass player, Travis Shaw and they decided to put together their own group, a minimalist jazz duo featuring, naturally, vocals and bass.
And, as fate would have it, by reputation alone, the duet was able to pull off one heck of a debut public performance, opening up for Ben Folds during last year’s Westobou Festival. Since then, they have become a fixture on the local music scene, playing at various festivals and venues including a semi-regular gig at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts on every 4th Saturday of the month.
According to Robinson, her own love for jazz began as a child when she stayed up late and watched jazz performances on public television. Her love for the genre grew and she dedicated herself to learning all she could about jazz singing. While she was classically trained as a vocalist at Davidson Fine Arts, she found that her jazz skills were something she had to develop pretty much on her own.
Voxnbass plays jazz standards and the occasional contemporary pop song, rearranged and repurposed to fit their unique style of jazz. Currently they are trying to expand their horizons and begin creating their own songs. Both Robinson and Shaw are songwriters and their collaboration will hopefully create new music specifically written for the group. Once that comes to fruition, they hope to go into the studio and record a project together of all original material.
Each fall the Westobou Festival transforms Augusta into an artistic playground, exposing audiences to a cornucopia of entertainment. On September 29 jazz bassist cellist, singer and songwriter Esperanza Spalding will appear at the Bell. She’s the first jazz artist ever to win the Grammy award for Best New Artist. Appearing with her will be the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which was founded in 1961 to protect, preserve and perpetuate traditional New Orleans Jazz.
Former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, Wendy Whelan and choreographer Brian Brooks will bring their dance collaboration “Some of a Thousand Words” to the Imperial Theater on October 2. Installation artist Jowita Wyszomirska’s work will be displayed in the Westobou gallery on Broad Street from September 28-November 18. There will also be artists in words and film, and a varieties of activities in the Augusta Commons including yoga, skateboarding demos, movies and hands-on crafts throughout out the festival.
For an up-to-date schedule and event tickets visit westoboufestival.com.
Creating Flannery O’Connor
She loved peacocks, talked with a squeaky, distinctive Southern drawl and died far too young from lupus. She also might be one of the most dissected and talked about Southern authors ever. Flannery O’Connor has been the topic of countless scholarly articles and a number of books and the latest volume is Creating Flannery O’Connor (University of Georgia, $39.95).
The author, Daniel Moran, explores the development of her literary reputation and how she became known as the “Great American Catholic Author.” Moran focuses on her publisher’s efforts to change O’Connor’s image from that of an odd backwoods Southerner to an American author exploring universal themes. He also discusses how the screen adaptations of her work shaped her reputation as an author and how today’s readers on Amazon and Goodreads perceive her work. A must-have book for those who love Flannery O’Connor’s fiction.
Keeping Country Music Alive
Five-time Grammy winner Marty Stuart believes in authentic country music. Not the hybrid tunes you hear today but the hard-drinking, God-loving, heart-splitting ballads that used to dominate jukeboxes in honky tonks. His website describes his country/gospel style as being “where Saturday night meets Sunday morning.” Stuart’s preservation of traditional country music has also found creative expression through the lens of his camera, capturing scenes from the road.
His music and photography can be experienced in two different events. On September 9 at 5:30 p.m. the Morris Museum of Art will celebrate the opening of his American Ballads. Meet the artist and enjoy food, music, drinks, a fashion show featuring eclectic designs by Manuel, Nashville’s “Rhinestone Rembrandt” and designer-to-the-stars and a talk by Caitlin Arabis, manager of Manuel American Designs. Later that evening the musician will be featured in the Southern Soul and Song concert at the Imperial Theatre.
Visit the www.themorris.org for more information.