By Kate and Stephen
We just had a great Saturday.
It was one of those days that make you feel really lucky to live in Montgomery. Friday was a late night. Good friends came over. The August heat had finally decided to offer a tease of September. The punishing heat had, if only for a cloudy night, relented. We had mojitos on our patio. Come Saturday, we slept in. But just a little – there was a lot going on in our hometown.
First, we went to the Capri, where the African-American Film Festival was showing from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. It was sponsored by the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University. Admission was free, so the price was right, and the selection of movies was pretty great.
We missed the Lena Horne movie, Cabin in the Sky, but settled in for a civil rights movie called Soundtrack for a Revolution. We both consider ourselves fairly well-informed observers of civil rights history, but we had never heard of this documentary. All we really knew is that it was: A) about civil rights and B) featured music from some of our favorite musical artists. So with The Roots, John Legend, Joss Stone (and others) acting as drawing cards, we went and were happy that we did. It was one of the best movies about the 1950s-1960s American civil rights struggle that we have seen.
The music was on point (Richie Havens performed a stirring version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken?), but the overall arc of the movie brought home the importance of music to the movement. There were great interviews with a number of folks, all of whom seemed to be speaking pretty candidly. The makers of the movie clearly spent a lot of time doing extensive combing over archival footage, and their efforts pay off. There are a few neat cinematic tricks too, like when the camera scans over a full-screen grid comprised entirely of police mugshots, with the grid folding and rotating showing booking photos of more and more of the human faces willing to be arrested for what was right. It covered Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Mississippi, and the march on D.C. without getting bogged down. A great, great film about American history that uplifts but also reminds you of the urgency of unfinished business.
Afterward, we went across the street and had tasty sandwiches from Cafe Louisa. Even if you’re a meat eater, you can still appreciate the portobello mushroom Reuben sandwich. Sauerkraut plus mustard plus heavy sandwich press equals happy post-movie lunch.
Next stop? Montgomery’s riverside dragon boat races. We weren’t really sure what to expect and had never been to this gathering before. We felt lucky to have heard about it and weren’t sure if there’d be much of a crowd downtown or not. Sure enough, after passing through multiple other inexplicable police barricades shutting down the downtown area for totally unrelated reasons, we parked near the Brewpub and saw people milling around.
While walking towards the river, we decided to stop in the Bishop-Parker furniture store in the Schloss-Kahn building across from the Biscuits stadium. We weren’t looking for furniture, but have always wondered what that cool triangle-shaped building was like on the inside. Since it was the kind of day where you do a little exploring, we went inside. It’s pretty amazing in there. The beams throughout feature old graffiti, many of which inveigh against the city porter in some way. We’re not sure what the city porter’s job was, much less how it might have angered the workers at some point in this awesome building’s 105-year history, but it must have been pretty bad. There was also some very nice furniture inside, and the people there were very kind to let us poke around and take pictures.
When we arrived at the river, it was hot. Very hot. Alabama in August hot. But the festival was free and the smart people that were competing in the boat races had planned ahead, bringing football tailgate tents, which reminded us that we were enjoying the last Saturday of the year before football consumes the brains of otherwise well-meaning folks.
The festival featured live music at the city’s cool riverside amphitheater. As we walked up, a local band called The Signals delighted us by playing some Elvis Costello, but floored us by launching into Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” a super-long guitar-heavy dirge about genocide. They smashed it out of the ballpark, producing a stirring version that somehow, oddly, managed to capture the Neil Young anthemic sound while blending into the sunny civic outdoor atmosphere of people cheering for dragon boats.
We enjoyed rooting for the only all-female team entered into the races, “Chics Ahoy,” right before they won their heat. This made us feel better about the announcer’s insulting pre-race comment that they might not be the fastest boat, but they sure would be the cutest. In general, the scene down at the riverfront was bucolic and happy, with everyone enjoying the races while getting their summer fun on.
Our only quibble was that afterwards, when we wanted to go drink something cold and sit in some air conditioning, neither the Alley Bar nor the Brewpub was open. Why not? There’s a festival going on. It’s a Saturday during the summer. People are hot and want to hang out. Also, is this the business plan that’s going to help you out during college football season? We were surprised. So we went home to cool off.
And all of this activity doesn’t give due to the fact that also on this Saturday were the Black Belt Roots Festival in Eutaw and the Okra Festival in Lowndes County. We didn’t make the quick day trips this weekend, but would love to go next year.
First thing in the morning, we’d seen a movie that reminded us that we live in a city that has, throughout its history, been among the most important in influencing the trajectory of our country. We’d been inspired by photos that have inspired the world – and they were taken right here in our town. Then we met some friendly people and saw a building where new furniture graces old floors. Then we heard soaring music while watching hand-paddled boats slide across our beautiful river. Then we had lemonade. Just another lovely Montgomery Saturday.
Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.