Tag Archives: The Shoals

THE FATHER OF THE BLUES + HANDY FEST

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“Where the Tennessee River, like a silver snake, winds her way through the red clay hills of Alabama, sits high on these hills my hometown, Florence.”
–W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues

We have written many times of our community’s rich musical legacy. The Shoals has a very notable place in modern music history; but, that history reaches much further back than many realize. William Christopher “W.C.” Handy was born and raised here in Florence in the late 19th century. Discovering a love of music at a young age, he took up the cornet and participated in acapella vocal lessons while attending grammar school. Later, after receiving his degree from the Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama, he became a teacher and briefly worked in a piping company before ultimately pursuing music as his true passion. His contributions in shaping the blues were influenced by the African-American musical folk traditions he experienced during his travels across the South, with “Memphis Blues” marking the beginning of his musical career.

For over 30 years, The Shoals community has hosted the W.C. Handy Music Festival. “Handy Fest,” as the locals call it, provides a few moments of unrivaled fun – in the middle of what can be a long, hot summer. Many of us anticipate the event all year and even the most confirmed homebodies spend multiple evenings out and about, listening to live music, visiting with friends, and exploring the community during festival week.

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JULY PLAYLIST 2014: DOC DAILEY

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Doc Dailey is a longtime friend of Alabama Chanin and a talented musician making music right here in our community. He and his band mates weave together music that has a universal appeal, with the distinct flavor of Muscle Shoals. Below, he shares some of his favorite summertime pastimes and songs.

AC: When did you start playing music?

DD: Some of my earliest memories are of singing along to the radio and old 8-tracks; so, in a way, I’ve been playing around with music since I was a toddler. I started playing the saxophone in 5th grade and picked up the guitar and started writing songs in my teens.

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BUNYAN’S BAR-B-Q

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Barbecue is a territorial dish. Every region, every state, every city thinks that they have the best restaurant with the best recipes. We have never been much for arguing about barbecue because, at the end of the day, most of it is delicious. But, all who have ever eaten at Bunyan’s Bar-B-Q will attest to the deliciousness of their pulled pork and hot slaw – which absolutely cannot be replicated, though many have tried.

Bunyan’s has been a local staple since 1972, when it was founded by John Bunyan Cole. Its tiny outpost on West College Street is a frequent stop for my family. They keep a “wall of fame” posting photos of some of their favorite regular customers – and you can find my granddaughter Stella’s photo hanging there. Like all locals, she was weaned on Bunyan’s slaw.

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APRIL PLAYLIST 2014: AROUND THE STUDIO

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For April’s playlist, we’ve gathered some of our favorite songs to share with you. These artists are on constant rotation at the studio (and in the store and café), and serve as daily inspiration for us as we work.

We believe these musicians are producing beautiful work and we know you will love them as much as we do:

St. Paul & the Broken Bones – “Call Me”
A new favorite, from their recently released (debut) album, Half the City. (In case you aren’t familiar, St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a soulful band, recalling the sounds that put Muscle Shoals on the map.)

Pine Hill Haints – “How Much Poison Does It Take”
Alabama “ghost music,” from one of the longest-running bands of the Shoals.

Roseanne Cash – “A Feather’s Not a Bird”
The beautifully- composed opening song on Rosanne’s latest record, which follows her from Florence, Alabama, to Arkansas. In it, she sings of “going down to Florence, just to learn to love the thread.” Read more about Rosanne and The River and The Thread here.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “Alabama Pines”
This song by Shoals native Jason Isbell has become an unofficial Alabama anthem.

Lauderdale – “Dressed Like the Devil”
Southern rock with strong Americana influences, Lauderdale has been making music in the Shoals for nearly a decade.

Dylan LeBlanc – “If The Creek Don’t Rise”
Singer/songwriter Dylan LeBlanc collaborated with music legend Emmylou Harris on this beautifully haunting track.

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THE HEART: ROBERT RAUSCH

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You may have read recently about dear friend, advisor, and co-worker, Jennifer Rausch. As I recounted then, I have known Jennifer and her husband, Robert, since returning to Alabama. After moving home from New York (and after years abroad), I felt a little shy and out of place in my own hometown. It was a relief when Robert reached out to me, seeking artistic alliances. We were both looking for a relaxed camaraderie—someone to relate to in a somewhat unfamiliar world. After years of friendship and collaboration, we have Southern roots, design, sustainability, and family in common.

In those early days, Robert approached me and asked if I would speak to his university photography class about living and working as a fashion and photography stylist. Shortly thereafter, we became fast friends. It wasn’t long before Robert was helping me with projects for my first company. And since those early days, he has been a part of designing and creating images and photographs for the Alabama Chanin website, catalogs, the Studio Book series, and any number of other materials. We have co-hosted dinners, picnics, and events together over the years. We have raised kids, shared a dog, and talked design.

In 2002, Robert bought and restored a historic building in our community, which is now called GAS Design Center. He shares a deep love of sustainability and healthy living and this was evident in his approach to renovating the space and building the business. Every reusable board was repurposed and natural elements were invited in whenever possible. Natural light is perfectly harnessed in the GAS photography studio, to often-breathtaking effects. In fact, our first Alabama Chanin Workshop was held in Robert’s repurposed space—a comfortable place to launch what was then an intimidating venture for Alabama Chanin.

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JACK-O-LANTERN FARM + COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE

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As most of you know, Alabama Chanin strives to support local farmers whenever possible—especially now that we’ve opened The Factory Café and are sourcing local and organic ingredients for all of our dishes. Our kitchen manager, Arron, has built a strong relationship with our friends Steve and Connie Carpenter, who operate nearby Jack-O-Lantern Farm. Each week, Steve delivers the freshest local produce to our kitchen, which Arron incorporates into our seasonal menus. Steve also picks up bags our Factory Blend Coffee and house made granola that he then sells at his farm, just across the river. Watching Arron and Steve collaborate these past few months has been a wonderful (and educational) experience.

Jack-O-Lantern Farm is getting ready to launch their 2014 Community-Supported Agriculture box program—and The Factory will be a pick-up location beginning Friday, May 16.

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THE SOUTHERN BAKERY + SUGARBAKERS’ WEDDING CAKE

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My love for cake, from traditional layer cakes to simple pound cakes, has been well documented over the years. While I delight in the homemade sweets of the South, one of my favorite cakes comes from a local bakery here in the Shoals called Sugarbakers.

The family owned-and-operated bakery opened over twenty years ago in nearby St. Florian. A few years ago, the main location, which focused on baked goods, closed and the bakery operation moved to a restaurant called “The Drink Box,” which serves up delicious milkshakes (Maggie’s drink of choice) and chicken salad, as well as old Sugarbakers favorites and layer cakes.

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THE FACTORY | THIS WEEK 2.24.2014 – 2.28.2014

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“We are celebrating a generation of makers. We are reshaping how people consume and interpret the handmade. I want to remind people that craft is what you make it… It is a labor of love, appreciation, and respect.”
–Faythe Levine, Handmade Nation

At Alabama Chanin, we like to describe ourselves as makers and educators, working to elevate and merge design, craft, and fashion. We hope to see you this week at The Factory and that you may be inspired to create something yourself…
xoNatalie

Here is what we have going on at The Factory Store + Café this week, Monday, February 24 – Friday, February 28:

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This week, we are having an in-store special on stenciled fat eighths. Come browse our Studio Style DIY section, and receive a 15% discount on our selection of fat eighths—9” x 20” pieces from our 100% organic cotton jersey. They are perfect for quilting, appliqué, placement reverse appliqué, and small projects.

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CHICKEN STEW

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As a Southerner and a cook, I often find myself included in lively debates about regional cuisine, long-winded discussions of the dozens of types of barbecue preparations, cornbread recipe swaps, or conversations on the perfect biscuit dough. Those of us who love food treasure the dishes we were raised eating and love to swap recipes and tips.

In my travels, I have done my fair share of boasting about my hometown’s specialties. One dish that I speak of frequently, that is such a big component of The Shoals’ local food culture, is chicken stew. And almost every time I mention it (outside of my home region), no one else in the room seems to know quite what I’m describing.

“Is it like a vegetable soup?” Not exactly. “A Brunswick stew?” Hmm. Not really.

So, I gradually came to understand that this dish—that was as ubiquitous to every neighborhood kitchen as cornbread or tea—wasn’t a staple meal for the rest of the world. In fact, it really doesn’t exist much outside of our small region of the Tennessee Valley.

Truthfully, the origins of chicken stew cannot be traced. And, no one can explain exactly why it is so specific to this region. I remember being told by an aunt that, once upon a time, chickens were kept for the eggs they produced. By the time a family killed a chicken for its meat, it was a “tough old bird,” only suitable for stews and other slow-cooked dishes. As with many rural households, you made the most of what you had and, logically, a stew fed more mouths than one fried chicken. Most likely, as with most regional foods, the recipe was created when poverty crossed paths with farmers, native people, and West African-style dishes. The result, in this case, is a dish that’s similar to existing recipes but that remains explicitly exclusive to one place.
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THE HEART: JENNIFER RAUSCH

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Shortly after my move from New York to Alabama, I was sitting alone at our local Italian restaurant, reading magazines. After a while, a couple who’d been sitting across the room approached and introduced themselves to me. That couple, Jennifer and Robert Rausch, quickly became fixtures in my life; they’ve remained integral members of my Alabama family since that day.

These days, you can find Jennifer overseeing the day-to-day operations of the new flagship store and café at The Factory. She agreed to work with us at just the right time. The company was growing and I needed someone I could trust to help me make decisions that were thoughtful and confident. Growing a company can make one feel vulnerable; having an old friend there for support (especially one with an incredible work ethic) put me a bit more at ease.

She moves effortlessly between tasks and has a real desire to connect with everyone who walks through our door. This genuine approach, coupled with her wicked, infectious laugh, drew me to her initially and continues to make me smile, calm me, and draw me out of my shell when I become too introspective. She is practical and doesn’t hesitate to offer her opinion, even to play devil’s advocate in tough situations.

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