Sunday, May 21, 2017

Stone Mountain's Colorful Race-Fun & Friendship

~Doc Lawrence~

Stone Mountain, the historic village near Atlanta, hosted an estimated 3,500 visitors for a fun-filled Saturday. Color Vibe 5K, the 2017 version, brought friends and family for the race, some from far away places, for this amazing colorful event. The runners and walkers were blasted with bright colors made from harmless material while observers like me enjoyed watching from a hill on Miss Ann Hamby’s yard while devouring her homemade hot biscuits, pastries, juices and coffee.

Color Vibe, now the country’s 2nd largest, nationwide, non-traditional color 5K event production company, has become a spring tradition in this city that lies at the base of mighty Stone Mountain, the centerpiece of the park that attracts some 7 million annually.  Under the leadership of the very dynamic Kim Cumbie, a bundle of creative energy, Color Vibe is now an established local tradition, a top-tiered event for the entire region. It’s family friendly, secure and serves the greater good by introducing so many people to this city, its beautiful homes and Main Street’s granite buildings including the beautiful old railroad terminal.

John and Emily Estes were on their way to Florida from their Massillon, Ohio home and decided to see Stone Mountain, maybe even climb it. They learned of Color Vibe and walked to the park where it began. “Everyone one seems to be laughing,” John observed. “Are Southerners always this happy?” You can guess my enthusiastic and cheerful response.

Local Beauties
The Color Vibe Race Series has grown to cover every region of the country. It’s a 3.1-mile fun run/walk infused with bright colors, great music, and, of course, lots of laughter. Last Saturday, runners started the race squeaky clean, then passing through four color stations to be color blasted with blue, yellow, pink, purple, and green colored paint chalk as they passed through the color zones along the course. The reward was a party in the city’s VFW Park with more color, dancing to throbbing music from a skilled DJ and tons of fun.

The Happy Crowd
According to Color Vibe officials, the event objective is to share a life experience with friends and family. Most participants have never experienced a 5K before, so Color Vibe becomes an entryway into a more active, healthier lifestyle.

It became a near perfect Saturday morning in this lovely Deep South city.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Delightful Davio's-Gourmet Italian in Atlanta

~Doc Lawrence~

According to the great Julia Child,  “people who love to eat are the best people.” Believing in this aphorism, I headed deep in the heart of upscale Buckhead to regal Phipps Plaza for dinner with friends who are guided by this belief.

The spring evening was perfect for al fresco dining on the patio at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse comfortably positioned in this Atlanta luxury mall. The Buckhead area where we gathered is renowned for high-tiered restaurants and those of us who write about food, wine and cocktails arrived with high expectations.

We were not disappointed.

Joined by esteemed wine and food expert Jane Garvey and veteran wine and travel writer Greg McCluney, the evening began with passed appetizers of feather-light crispy fried oysters, dates stuffed with blue cheese wrapped in crispy bacon and Philly Cheese Steak spring rolls served with flutes overflowing with La Marco Prosecco.

Center Cut Filet Mignon
True to Steve DiFillippo’s vision, Davio’s Spring Media Dinner menu was Northern Italian. Antipasto was Murray’s cheese burrata with cantaloupe, aged balsamic and focaccia. The 2014 Davio’s Reserve Chardonnay was subtly oaked, served chilled at the appropriate temperature.

Farinanceo became one of the more fascinating items served by Malik, our well-trained waiter, a New York City transplant, whose gentle manners and skills contrasted somewhat with his 6’6” height. (Is Malik Atlanta’s tallest waiter?) The hand-rolled potato gnocchi over morel mushrooms, spring peas with lemon butter could have been comfortable with either the Chardonnay or the 2015 Davio’s Reserve Pinot Noir. With the evening running so smoothly, no one quibbled.

Piatti Del Giorno included a choice of Halibut with Maine Lobster or center cut filet mignon. We opted for the steak and our instincts were soon proven brilliant. Served over a fabulously tasty parsnip puree laced with spring asparagus, the steak was trimmed and cooked to order, becoming the piece de resistance of the dinner. The 2014 Davio’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was the evening’s headliner.

Dolce consisted of vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh seasonal berries and good coffee. A sweet finish to a near-perfect evening in Buckhead. Eccezionale, a wonderfully expressive Italian word, means exceptional in English. In either language, that describes Davio's.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Angel From Alabama

“My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run
My strongest trials now are past, my triumph has begun
Oh, come angel band come and around me stand
Oh bear me away on your snow white wings to my immortal home.”

                             Angel Band-Emmylou Harris

A child of the Depression and World War II, my mother represented the finest of the Deep South. Although she never said it, her role model had to be Scarlett O’Hara. Survival and accomplishment were embodied in a beautiful woman who faced fate squarely and despite unconscionable losses along the way including the death of her youngest child, moved forward relentlessly. 

Her name was Carrie and true to the good manners of her time, she was addressed as “Miss Carrie.” Poverty denied her much formal education, but she loved to read and found time to read bedtime stories to me before I was in kindergarten. Books, newspapers and magazines have been vital parts of daily living thanks to her.
She departed this world before my first book was published, but she is the reason it happened.

Southern boys often talk about their mother in the context of cooking and family dining. To this day, I have yet to experience staples like fried chicken, creamed corn or fried okra that compared to the quality of Mom’s. She would ask me on Saturday what I wanted for Sunday dessert and the answer was always her lemon meringue pie. When I came home from college for the holidays, the pie would be waiting to be sliced and served. No exceptions.

Big name pastry chefs have never served me anything half as delicious.

She enjoyed working, earning some extra cash to keep her three children a little ahead with occasional extras. While I was a skinny teenager, she worked in the record shop at Rich’s, a legendary department store in Atlanta. She brought home promotional sample records, and I was introduced to then obscure names like Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Bo Diddly, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Patsy Cline and Elvis. A new world of rhythm and harmony opened and I became a rocker with a party band in college, following in her footsteps by earning some money through music.

I was never happier.

I believe she attended all of Elvis’ concerts in Atlanta. One morning during the Dog Days of August, Mom called and informed me of his death. I still remember the pain in her voice.

A devoted Atlanta Braves fan, Mom would not die during baseball season. Her time on earth ended during the December holidays while her beloved Braves were in recess.

Like Emmylou Harris, Zelda Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Helen Keller, Tallulah Bankhead and Truman Capote’s Aunt Sook, Mom was an Alabama girl. Born and raised in Sulphur Springs in the northeast corner of the state, Lookout Mountain forms a spectacular backdrop. I always thought it would be a wonderful place for a child.

I’ll visit her grave early Sunday morning to place roses. As the Georgia sun peeks through the pines, sometimes the air stirs a little. During moments of great peace, I listen carefully for the flutter of angel wings.

                                                     Doc Lawrence

Friday, May 12, 2017

Women Who Lead-The Stone Mountain Woman's Club

~Doc Lawrence~

It was a prelude to Mother’s Day. Before a room filled with members of the distinguished Stone Mountain Woman’s Club, a discussion centered around some exceptional places to visit for either a day trip or a wonderful weekend. The list is long, but two came to mind.

Some aspects of the gathering remain gently fixed in that part of memory where precious memories are recorded. In an era when folks seem to be a little more bellicose, these gentle and lovely ladies conducted their important business with good humor, precision and thoroughness.

Koinonia Farms near Jimmy Carter’s home in Plains, Georgia is a destination qualifying as a pilgrimage. A working farm that began in 1942 as a refuge for the oppressed, it is the historic birthplace of Habitat for Humanity. Founded by the legendary Reverend Clarence Jordan, Koinonia is a living and functional example of the power of the Beatitudes. Often called Georgia’s version of the Garden of Eden, it begs to be experienced and honored.

Women Who Lead Us
For the many thousands throughout the world who have enjoyed Tom Key and Harry Chapin’s glorious musical “Cotton Patch Gospel,” which is based on the works of Rev. Jordan and inspired by the spiritual meaning of Koinonia Farms, the motivation to visit the birthplace of these wonders is profound. We marvel at how this little place on earth has made our world a better place.

A perfect Sunday Down South: Sunday School led by President Carter followed by a tour of Koinonia Farms. dinner on the grounds while singing traditional hymns.

Despite being frail, Reverend Howard Finster was a genuine Georgia giant. His stated mission was to share the word of God through his natural talent of painting and constructing art. Paradise Gardens in Summerville remains his vision of heaven. With the combined efforts of state and private help, this marvel will be preserved for today and future generations. You don’t simply enjoy the artwork of Rev. Finster, you behold everything.
"My Father's House" by Rev. Howard Finster

At the time of his death, Rev. Howard Finster was the world’s most exhibited folk artist. Some of his most acclaimed works are in Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. “In My Father’s House,” the minister’s construction made of found glass is his vision of heaven. To see this is to believe that the artist from rural Northwest Georgia fully served the word of God with devotion.

One of the most useful instructions I received from a very wise father encouraged me to travel far and near. It is the most interesting way to broaden knowledge. The cultural and spiritual rewards are endless and there is the very real possibility of making new friends. It’s not necessary to plan expensive, exotic trips. The treasures close by offer more than just casual surprises. During my visits to Paradise Gardens, I’ve met good people from faraway places including Japan and Ireland who knew about Rev. Finster and were more like pilgrims than tourists. Some told me that they had visions encouraging the trip to this Georgia destination.

Koinonia Farm has an international following with visitors from other countries regularly walking through the pecan groves, fields of crops, bowing in prayer at the farm cemetery and visiting the facilities.

Bring your favorite camera. Both destinations showcase remarkable people and scenes you’ll treasure and be eager to share.
Koinonia's People

Koinonia Farm and Paradise Gardens represent the grass-roots glory of Georgia where love of land and people are celebrated with gratitude. These destinations are ideally suited for visits from esteemed organizations like the Stone Mountain Woman’s Club who serve the greater good.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Baseball In The Afternoon: Sun Trust Park

~Doc Lawrence~

The Judge observed that it was “a day of new experiences: Sun Trust Park, the Cardinals playing the Braves and my first bison tenderloin.” Don Harris, Tennessee native and a widely admired judge in the Volunteer state, joined his wife Gayle and their Atlanta family for a glorious Sunday game at the new major league ballpark.

Judge Don Harris and wife Gayle
A lifelong Cardinals fan, Judge Harris came out the winner as the Braves lost another one in extra innings. But, the facility got some praise and a few suggestions: “Let people inside much earlier, add more directional signs and find some good pitchers.”

Despite surrendering two homers, knuckleball-thrower R.A. Dickey, a University of Tennessee product, pitched well enough for the Braves. Freddie Freeman was every bit the accomplished All-Star slugger and flawless first baseman. But, the Braves have trouble producing runs and holding onto leads. Their annual claims of rebuilding are worn and tired.

Perfect Baseball Day
I’m a Braves fan. It’s bred in the bone, part of my DNA. A stadium does not a team make. It’s the other way around.

We finished off a near-perfect spring afternoon with dinner at Ted’s Montana Grill. Here, Judge Harris enjoyed his first Bison, the Kansas City filet. A happy man with a victory to show for the day, ready to return to his Brentwood home and enjoy good weather so close to Music City.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Kentucky Derby Connection-Horses & Bourbon

Understanding the romantic appeal of the Kentucky Derby and the lure of great Bourbon  takes me to Louisville, specifically to Michael Veach, one of the top authorities on Bourbon today. A Louisville resident, the author, lecturer and Bourbon educator shares his fascinating article for our enjoyment before the big event at Churchill Downs. Michael Veach will be coming to Atlanta. Exciting details soon. ~Doc Lawrence~
Bourbon and Horses
By Michael Veach
            Legend has it that Kentuckians started breeding fast horses after returning from New Orleans. The trip to New Orleans was a dangerous trip that took about nine months to make. They would take flatboats filled with trade goods down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. All along the way there were Native Americans and river pirates waiting to separate them from their trade goods and their scalp. The British were paying good money for scalps in Detroit. Once in New Orleans the goods would be sold and the flatboat taken apart and sold as lumber. The Kentuckian then had a choice to make: catch ship in New Orleans and sail around Florida back to the east coast to return to Kentucky or walk back up the Natchez Trace. The land route was cheaper but much more dangerous as there were still Native Americans and bandits who would be waiting to rob and scalp the traveler returning to Kentucky. The idea was that the Kentuckian would purchase the fastest horse available in New Orleans for the trip home. If his horse was faster than anything the bandits had then he had a better chance of getting home. Once he was home he had a fast horse to breed and race. That is the legend and there is probably some truth to the legend but as all stories of this kind they tell only part of the story.
            The horse racing industry in Kentucky grew at the same time as the Bourbon industry. Many distillers were also known for their stables of thoroughbred horses. Like the Bourbon industry, Kentucky’s horse industry gained its reputation starting in the 1820s up to the Civil War. The War had a devastating effect on both industries as Kentucky was a battleground of bushwhackers stealing horses and whiskey. When the war ended both industries recovered and became even more respected.
            The Gaines family was well known as breeders of fast horses after the Civil War. They were also known for purchasing the Old Crow brand after the death of Oscar Pepper in 1867. Like many distillers they kept a herd of cattle to feed their distillery by-products to, but horse can’t eat spent mash. Horses were used in the distillery to pull wagons and such, but thoroughbred horses were more of a luxury item as far as the distillery was concerned. The horse industry had to come to pay for itself and that was done by racing them against other fast horses. Distillers began joining Jockey Clubs and investing in race tracks. The Churchill family who supplied the land for Churchill Downs were also involved with a distillery. The Jones family, who had brought Four Roses to Louisville became involved in harness racing. Distillers racing horses became a very common site in the late 19th century.
            James E. Pepper was a well-known distiller and horse breeder in Kentucky Pepper had a fine stable of horses. His horse “Miss Dixie” won the 1892 Kentucky Oaks race. In 1893 his horse “Mirage” ran in the Kentucky Derby with Isaac Murphey as the jockey. In 1896 “the Dragon” finished fifth with Monk Overton as his rider. His cousin R P Pepper had been distilling whiskey but after a fire at the distillery he gave up distilling to concentrate on horse breeding and racing.
            Old Rosebud was a whiskey brand owned by Hamilton C. Applegate who was also Treasurer at Churchill Downs. He purchased a majority interest in a horse and named him after his brand of whiskey. Old Rosebud won the 1914 Kentucky Derby with a time of 2:03 2/5 setting a record at the time.  In his career he would race in 80 races and won 40, placed in 13 and showed in 8. His career also boosted sales of Old Rosebud Bourbon.
            Prohibition would sever the ties between the two industries for many years. When Repeal is passed on December 5, 1933, many of the privately owned distilleries and brands were in the hands of larger companies like National and Schenley. There was not the strong ties between the two industries but there was still an emotional connection. The distilleries used the imagery of horses and racing in their advertising and on labels. Stitzel-Weller had the “Kentucky Oaks” label with a horse’s head surrounded by a horse shoe. Glenmore had the Kentucky Derby label with a running horse on the label. There were more indirect ties with brands like “Bashford Manor”, a well-known Jefferson County farm with a major stakes race at Churchill Downs. These labels survived up until the 1960s when the decline of Bourbon sales caused many of the smaller and regional brands to be discontinued by the distilleries.
            Advertising for Bourbon used the imagery of horses and horse farms heavily in print ads. Distilleries also used the fame of the Kentucky Derby to sell whiskey. Glenmore had a series of prints released every year in the 60s which featured the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Tavern Bourbon. Jim Beam did Kentucky Derby decanters. Early Times became the official whiskey for the Mint Julep at Churchill Downs and Brown-Forman sponsored the Early Times Stakes race there.
            In more modern times Maker’s Mark releases special bottles every year to support Keenland Racetrack. Brown Forman releases a special Woodford Reserve bottle featuring artwork for the Kentucky Derby poster every year. Most distilleries sponsor at least one stakes race at either Keenland or Churchill Downs. The distilleries are also very active in sponsoring events during the Kentucky Derby Festival. Four Roses picks a single barrel of their Bourbon to be the official Bourbon for the Great Steamboat Race. The distilleries have a booth at the Chow Wagon were people can sample Bourbons from every distillery in the State of Kentucky. All of the distilleries use the Derby as a time to bring in people to Louisville to attend the races and sell them Bourbon.
            The ties between the Kentucky Bourbon Industry and the Kentucky Horse industry are long and they are strong. It would be hard to think of attending a race in Kentucky and not have a Bourbon. It is also hard to not think about horses and racing when looking at Bourbon advertising and promotions.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Georgia's Dylan Scott Pierce-An Exceptional Artist

 ~Doc Lawrence~

Walk into the gallery and the amazing paintings draw you to them. The human eye has an existential connection that enables interpretations of life: a validation of powers not fully understood, but you know it when you see it. “It” happens to be the amazing oils and watercolors of Dylan Scott Pierce.

A native of Marietta, Georgia, the still young artist has won enough recognition that would likely exceed the biographies of other artists twice his age. The old saw says you can’t contain talent. In Pierce’s case, his work with subjects ranging from children to elephants and strangers in a strange land, display a connection between his right brain and the powerfully interpretative forces of the universe.

A Legacy of Hope is the theme of Mr. Pierce’s exhibition at Art Station Gallery in Historic Stone Mountain Village, the heralded theatre, gallery and cabaret adjacent to the giant granite monolith and popular state park. It is a continuation of his travels across the country exhibiting his impressive watercolors and oils that depict in great detail wildlife, portraits of people and scenes of faraway places like Africa.

Dylan Scott Pierce ‘s exhibits total a staggering 40 shows a year including the International ArtExpo in New York City and the Safari Club International in Reno, Nevada. He has already won numerous awards including Best of Show (watercolor), Merit Awards and People's Choice. He regularly attracts praise from local and national media including National Geographic Today, Wildlife Art Magazine, QVC, and Teen People Magazine. His award-winning paintings include the watercolor "Feed My Lambs," that won 1st place and Peoples Choice award in the Portrait Society of Atlanta fall juried exhibition 2016. Another watercolor, "Beholding," earned the 2017 National Award of Excellence in the Alabama Watercolor Society Exhibition.

This Art Station exhibition is slated to close in mid-May. Few galleries have works of such magnitude. His paintings serve not only as a testament to his talent but also confirm the overriding importance of the arts in Georgia and elsewhere.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Apple Pie-A Rite of Passage

~Doc Lawrence~

The stage as a teaching vehicle dates as far back to ancient Greece as playwrights have plucked the family tree for comedy and tragedy. Early Christians used it to spread the Gospel by portraying the sacred stories in Greek amphitheaters. Much of what we know about each other and different cultures is owed to theater. Comedy is the kissing cousin of drama. Pie in the Sky, Art Station’s world premiere production once again makes the case that the arts-inexplicably always under threat-is the core of a civilized society. Diminish the arts even slightly and norms of civility decline.

Where else but the live stage can you examine the complexity of a family while baking a fresh apple pie?

Lawrence Thelen’s Pie In The Sky is a comedy about what happens when the “nesting instinct” is applied to the end of one’s life. Dory, brilliantly performed by Karen Howell lives with her mother Margaret, hilariously portrayed by Barbara Bradshaw. Both are widows sharing a modest home in Abilene, Texas. It’s Dory’s birthday and Mama arises at 4:10 am to start the process of making her recipe apple pie, her gift for Dory. Mama is noisy and very funny.

Dory wakes up and helps Mama, who has her own ways of using ingredients and kitchen implements. At times, there isn’t room for two cooks in the small kitchen. Through razor sharp lines, humor intensifies but is never cruel.

Mother (85) and daughter (65) are widows. Aging and the specter of limited days ahead is a backdrop. There are some family secrets and as the clock (and the oven timer) wind down, the opportunity for transparency is at hand.

Pie in the Sky is the anthesisis of those silly productions commonly named Della. Comedy-the real deal-is challenging and falls flat absent imaginative, creative writing and advanced acting. Thelen’s script as interpreted by these two gifted stage veterans pulls the audience into the kitchen. We revisit our mothers for a few precious moments, remembering that while they were set in their ways, they loved us and made few if any excuses for their slips along the way. They taught us how to be human.

Pie in the Sky is tightly directed by David Thomas, one of the real giants of theater in Georgia. Chad Fenimore’s stage management allowed the genuine aroma of a pie baking in the oven to waft around the audience, leaving them fully entertained, yearning for a slice of homemade apple pie.

Running through April 30. (770) 469.1105; 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stone Mountain Strong: Evil Loses

-By Doc Lawrence-

Good triumphs over evil. It’s a story you look for and one just manifested in the historic Village of Stone Mountain, the lovely town beside the mighty granite monolith in one of the country’s most visited parks.

Restoration Team Declares Victory
Mindless vandals defaced a magnificent mural hovering protectively above the lovely town since its dedication in late summer of 2012. Yes, the filth and venom painted over the positive images of the city, its churches, cemetery, theater, ancient homes and memorials at first served the intended purpose: revulsion, sadness and deeply felt outrage. There were two choices: paint over the mural and hide the destruction, or, restore it.

One choice would obviously award evil a trophy.

The mural rests along a large wall of a pavilion on one of the most magnificent tracts of greenspace anywhere. The facility and land is owned and maintained by Stone Mountain First Baptist Church, one of Georgia’s oldest congregations. Over the years, the pavilion has hosted dinners, Christmas pageants, free movies for the public and will again be the site of a giant Easter egg hunt for children. The mural chronicles the city’s heritage and is a testament to the power of community.

The Work Begins
The idea for the mural originated with two local leaders who engaged Georgia artist Olivia Thomason, also a city resident, to lead and design the project. Over a period of sweltering summer weeks the mural took shape, with initial painting done by school children throughout the Atlanta region, local citizens, church members with Ms. Thomason always helping and working, often on a scaffold with paints and brushes at her side.

The entire project was a volunteer effort.

The finished mural incorporated the profound humanity of the village. “The painting,” said Ms. Thomason, “was a gift to the city.” In 2012, on a brilliant late summer Sunday, the mural was dedicated with dinner on the grounds, choir music and a speech and prayer by Dr. Dan Parker, an author, revered Baptist minister and close friend of Ms. Thomason. The diverse audience exemplified the majesty of inclusion. Frank Spence, a retired PR executive with the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Falcons attended and remembered the mural and dedication ceremony “as the South at its very best.”
2012 Dedication Ceremony

Five years after the dedication, on an early spring day in the Deep South, evil struck out. Sadly, the dark forces will be back somewhere, tossing bricks into a storefront window or a windshield, breaking into homes or desecrating a cemetery. But these good citizens demonstrated how to combat vandalism. You never allow a travesty to prevail. Doing nothing fertilizes evil.

The team of volunteers, David Thomas, Bill Leavell, Michael Hidalgo, City Council member Susan Coletti, Danny Ergle and Olivia Thomason completed the successful restoration and said they enjoyed doing it.

The mural looks even better. A sweet victory.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Nina's Musical Spell On Atlanta-Simply Simone Shines

-By Doc Lawrence-

I came close to meeting Nina Simone who performed in Atlanta for the Atlanta Jazz festival, at Morehouse College and at Chastain three years before her death. That emptiness was finally filled while I, along with a packed house, was immersed in the timely and powerful musical, Simply Simone at Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit. With 32 songs performed by four very gifted women portraying Nina Simone from her childhood in Tryon, North Carolina to her performances in Carnegie Hall, foreign countries, jazz clubs and the Newport Jazz Festival, we were treated to a tour de force of much of America’s greatest music.

A complex and passionate Nina told the world that she was not a diva, but The Diva. There are four talented actresses portraying Ms. Simone at different stages of her life: Marliss Amiea, Tina Fears, Chani Maisonet and Chelsea Reynolds. The musical review kicks off with the double entrendre-loaded I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl followed by My Baby Just Cares for Me, and then Simone’s best-known song and her first hit recording, the heart-wrenching I Loves You Porgy from Porgy and Bess. And the show was just beginning.
Chani Maisonet as Nina

Nina Simone’s skills as a pianist helped propel her journey from a North Carolina high school to the Julliard School of Music in New York City and later to an audition for the prestigious Curtis Institute where she was rejected for displaying too much emotion, stinging words of prejudice that inflicted emotional injury to the 17 year-old prodigy. Always defiant, Ms. Simone’s Young, Gifted and Black, another hit recording addresses self-confidence despite rejection and ensuing pain, and stirringly introduces a showcase of her determined plunge into music, singing and playing the blues, jazz, gospel and her signature protest songs.

The 1963 bombing of a black church that killed four girls in Birmingham, Alabama, an event that placed Ms. Simone’s voice and star power behind the civil rights movement is described in agonizing detail. The bone-chilling and very provocative Mississippi Goddam, Simone’s response to Birmingham and the murder of Medgar Evers that same year, explodes just before intermission, allowing time to catch a breath and recover some needed equilibrium.

Love me or Leave Me wasn’t composed for Ms. Simone, but when she performed it at the Newport Jazz Festive with a never-to-be equaled piano solo incorporating Mozart and Bach-style counterpoint, the recording stands today as a testament of her capacity to love deeply and never forgive an injury. There is pain on the stage but there triumphant moments of joy as well. Nina Simone was a versatile, virtuoso musician, an American original and a ferociously independent woman.

Beyond the music (the band is flawless), Simply Simone makes the case for the arts in Atlanta, particularly outstanding companies like Theatrical Outfit. On this day, the audience through the auspices of song and dance visited a little girl and a magnificent woman named Nina who expanded the reach of jazz and much of popular music, never hesitating to use her voice as a vehicle for change.

The show leaves the audience dancing and clapping. Nina could express hurt, but she also knew how to stir the spirit.

Created by Robert Neblett and David Grapes, Simply Simone: The Music of Nina Simone is directed and choreographed by Patdro Harris with musical direction by Chika Ma'atunde. Through April 15, 2017 at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s.

Artwork by BreeAnne Clowdus
Photography by Christopher Bartelski

Friday, March 24, 2017

Folk Art In The Sunshine State-Jeanine Taylor Celebrates 20 Years-

 By Doc Lawrence

Original Florida is easy to find. It’s in that vast green prairie with occasional rolling hills interspersed with wetlands, lakes and streams comfortably away from crowded beaches and theme parks. It’s a gentle land where wildlife thrives, coexisting alongside people in picturesque towns with almost endless outdoor recreational opportunities. Here is a unique, deeply embedded culture closely tied to nature featuring big skies, subterranean aquifers, wildlife, literature, music and art.

For those looking for cultural wonders, Florida offers a trove. Art, in particular folk art, symbolically tells so much about the Sunshine State and the Deep South. Jeanine Taylor, a Miami native, was educated at FSU and transitioned from a career in education to owning and managing a successful gallery in Sanford, a lovely town not far from Orlando, but light years away when measured by quiet elegance and charm. Jeanine Taylor Folk Art Gallery occupies a beautiful 100 year-old building and is celebrating a milestone of 20 years. Works by artists who visually tell the world what Florida and the South represent are omnipresent, covering walls, filling display tables, rising from floors and hanging from above. Collectively, they become an indoor rainbow of colors with powerfully positive energy.
"Louie" Guards Thomason's Paintings

Paintings by Atlanta folk artist Olivia Thomason just joined the works of others in Ms. Taylor’s gallery. Some like Missionary Mary Proctor, Ab the Flagman and Eric Legee are also Ms. Thomason’s friends from her days as a gallery owner. An accomplished artist, Thomason has a display case filled with awards including Atlanta’s artist of the year and gallery of the year. Coming to Jeanine Taylor’s gallery in Sanford, she says, “is an exciting opportunity. I want to be around Florida’s authenticity and have a lifelong love of so much of its core culture including legendary authors like Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston.” She added that “knowing and admiring Jeanine Taylor drew me here like a magnet.” 

Jeanine Taylor
Jeanine Taylor says her love of the arts of the region enamored her “with southern art and culture,” leading to the successful establishment of her gallery specializing in contemporary folk art from the Deep South. Ms. Taylor garners praise from high places. GO Inflight, Air Tran’s passenger publication, selected her gallery as one of the “twenty essential galleries in the country” alongside prestigious urban galleries in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Santa Fe and Chicago.

Ms. Thomason, in addition to her awards, has painted poet Carl Sandburg’s home, “Connemara,” a national historic shrine in Flat Rock, NC. Other notable paintings include the billboard greeting Atlanta’s Stone Mountain Park’s 8 million annual visitors. “I’ll always be at heart a country girl and my favorite paintings are based on precious memories from childhood.”

Her memory paintings adorn a lively wall in Jeanine Taylor Folk Art Gallery.

More information: .

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Atlanta's Irish Hero-Father Thomas O'Reilly

By Doc Lawrence

Since childhood days, I’ve known about the incident. Every word is true and remains one of the most fascinating stories I know about the Civil War and St. Patrick’s Day.

Father Thomas O'Reilly
This wasn’t about battlefield courage, a strategy that resulted in a monumental victory, or a stirring, inspirational speech. No, it was about how an Irish immigrant priest acting alone on behalf of God and innocent civilians, confronted a mighty warrior, faced threats of execution squarely in the eye and peacefully won a victory that somehow escaped history books.

A native of County Cavan, Ireland, Thomas O’Reilly, appointed as pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, arrived in Atlanta in 1861. Atlanta was a strategic transportation center for the Confederacy, and in 1864, the Union army, commanded by Gen. William T. Sherman, held Atlanta under siege with intense artillery bombardment. During the horror of Sherman’s extended assault, Father O’Reilly ministered to the wounded and dying of both armies, along
with civilian casualties.

Church of the Immaculate Conception
After the Battle of Atlanta, the city fell and was occupied by Sherman’s army. The decision was made to destroy Georgia’s infrastructure as part of Sherman’s well-known “March to the Sea.” Sherman issued the order for Atlanta to be burned, including all homes and churches. Enraged, O’Reilly gained an audience with Sherman at his headquarters, now the site of the Carter Center and Presidential Library.

The confrontation was unpleasant. O’Reilly, failing in his efforts to persuade Sherman to spare the city, was told by Sherman that he was pondering whether to have the priest summarily executed by firing squad. Undeterred, O’Reilly reminded Sherman that his army was substantially Irish Catholic conscripts who would likely mutiny before burning a Catholic church. O’Reilly also informed Sherman that, in the event of the destruction of churches, he would take official measures to have every Irish Catholic soldier in Sherman’s army excommunicated.

Sherman relented. Although over 5,000 were destroyed, five Atlanta churches were spared: Immaculate Conception, St. Phillips Episcopal, Second Baptist, Trinity Methodist and Central Presbyterian.

Father O'Reilly Memorial
O’Reilly was not executed. Upon his death in 1872 at age 41, he was buried in the basement of his church. A few possessions are on display. His resting place, which may be viewed by appointment, has the feel of a sacred shrine. I have visited there regularly over the years.
Each year, at the end of Atlanta’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta places a wreath at the memorial for Thomas O’Reilly, which stands on the corner of Atlanta’s city hall. The congregations of the churches he saved erected it long ago.

The courage and tenacity of Father Thomas O’Reilly embody the ecumenical spirit
that continues to define Atlanta an international beacon for human rights.

                                      Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

An Evening At Sassy's-A Gem In a Historic Village-

By Doc Lawrence

Joan Monroe With Her New Works
STONE MOUNTAIN, GA-Sassy’s is one of those welcoming places where you want to hang out. Joan Sharpe’s highly regarded creation is housed in a stately historic building made with granite from nearby Stone Mountain. Entering on this lovely late winter evening was a step into a fairyland of happy people literally surrounded by paintings, good books, jewelry, designer dresses and most anything else that stimulates the imagination.

Olivia Thomason (L), Joan Sharpe and Aalaia Foreman
This was Sassy’s sneak preview, a festive celebration that included the unveiling of new paintings by the accomplished artist Joan Monroe whose works adorn a red wall in one of Sassy’s rooms. “This is art you can use,” Ms. Monroe explained, noting that the clocks with brightly colored animals represented a new challenge beyond her popular paintings on silk. “I am very pleased with the results.”

Olivia Thomason, another well-known artist, said the works by Joan Monroe reminded her of a legendary artist: “I thought of Andy Warhol and the use of colors in some of his best known works like Marilyn Monroe. I love Joan’s new works.”

Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe
The visitors browsed through the rooms examining jewelry, books, and a potpourri of interesting items including eye-catching clothing for women, costume jewelry, shelves of collectible books and a cornucopia of unusual items that would make memorable gifts. The festive atmosphere was boosted by servings of wines and sangria, a prelude to the longer and more relaxed days of springtime just ahead.

Sassy’s is impossible to miss. Located at 975 Main Street in the Historic Village of Stone Mountain, you’ll find Joan Sharpe to be the accomplished hostess who immediately makes strangers feel like close friends. The selections are vast, varied and interesting. Prices are very reasonable (I am a happy customer) and when you see that glorious red wall with the colorful works by Joan Monroe, you will want to stay a little longer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dr. King-Requiem for a Wine Taster

 By Doc Lawrence

It’s one of the most fascinating stories about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Imagine a chance meeting between a global champion of human rights, and a racist former governor of Georgia at a wine store near the state capital building in Atlanta. And all this during the heyday of segregation on the eve of the civil rights revolution. Add the presence of a Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper editor and the host, a progressive, well-educated wine shop owner who would become the father of fine wines in the South.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. walked into Sanders Wines to buy a good bottle of wine to celebrate his marriage anniversary dinner at home. Already there was former governor Marvin Griffin, a highly public adversary and outspoken critic of King and Ralph McGill, editor of The Atlanta Constitution (now AJC). Jim Sanders preserved the story in a copyrighted manuscript he gave me just prior to his death in 1999.

Sanders, who earned a Master’s in English from Emory University, had a small room in the rear of his wine shop where a select few would be invited to sit, talk, sip and eat, a tradition Sanders maintained without interruption until his death.

Dr. King would soon join in the wine enjoyment and conversation. After a glass or two of fine French Burgundy, tensions dissolved, replaced with good-humored storytelling.

Here is my radio broadcast and podcast based entirely on Sanders’ spellbinding manuscript, “Requiem for Three Wine Tasters” which you can enjoy:

Listen and feel the earth tremble.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What Would George Do?

A President’s Day Observance

By Doc Lawrence
It’s the perfect day to ponder the life and times of George Washington, the undisputed Father of America. A fascinating man: Soldier, gentleman, leader and whiskey maker. Your trip to Washington’s Mount Vernon home just outside the nation’s capital is culturally enriching. Tour and relive vicariously daily life at the farm and distillery. You can even purchase a bottle of George Washington Rye Whiskey for around $100 dollars, made, of course, in accordance with our first president’s formula.

Nan Marshall and Helen Broder’s What Would George Do? Advice from our Founding Father (Pelican Publishing 2013) is my trusted guide for daily behavior. Inspired by Washington’s use of 110 Rules and Decent Behavior copied during his school days from a Jesuit publication, the formidable mother-daughter pair of steel magnolias provided me with a reference when I need reminding (almost daily) of how to conduct myself and the respect others are due from me no matter the situation or circumstance.

This authors apply easy to use wisdom to common situations where guidance is often quite handy.

Several presidents have left a legacy of culture, daring and even a little romance. Those who have visited Monticello in Charlottesville learned that Jefferson was more than the author of the Declaration of Independence. Add farmer, college founder, entertainer and wine collector to his accomplishments. FDR’s favorite picnic location, Dowdell’s Knob on Georgia’s Pine Mountain has a spectacular view and it’s easy to visualize Roosevelt enjoying martinis and food which he regularly shared with friends. Each visit to the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach inspires a vision of an evening in Camelot admiring Jack and Jackie on the dance floor.

Today, I will uncork that bottle of Washington’s Rye Whiskey, pour a couple of jiggers in an Old Fashioned glass, and toast to our first president in gratitude for his devotion to good manners, love of country, excellent whiskey, generosity and dignity.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Judy Garland and Bette Midler On Stage-

Somewhere Over The Rose Sparkles

                                   Reviewed by Doc Lawrence

Music has the transcendent power to stimulate emotions. Love is more than a word when part of a song that is totally associated with a particularly accomplished singer. Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and Bette Midler’s “The Rose,” forever belong to them as extensions of their everlasting souls. Kathy Halenda’s performance of the show she created, Somewhere Over The Rose, at Stone Mountain’s heralded ART Station Theatre brings the timeless songs of these two legends to the stage and for two hours, Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” and Janis from “The Rose” were there in spirit, serenading a very receptive audience.

Somewhere Over the Rose is described as a celebration of the songs, styles and stories of these two incredible yet completely different American icons. Judy Garland, whose life and career was plagued with tragedy, is long gone while Bette Midler is, to say the least, still with us, outrageously entertaining and refreshingly unpredictable. Bejeweled Kathy Halenda, dressed in sequined costumes, asks the question: what could these two stars possibly have in common? Her answers include timeless songs propelled by her amazing mezzo voice, fascinating stories, similarities and a few coincidences that take you on a sophisticated and sassy adventure.

Opening with a Judy Garland classic, “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” from the movie “Listen, Darling” (1938), the lyrics introduce with a little irony, the singer/actress:

Never could carry a tune, never knew where to start
You came along when everything was wrong and put a song in my heart
Dear when you smiled at me, I heard a melody
It haunted me from the start
Something inside of me started a symphony
Zing! Went the strings of my heart.

 Bette Midler is seamlessly juxtaposed with Ms. Garland. To this day, Ms. Midler excels on the screen, belts out classic recordings like “From A Distance,” and leaves concert audiences breathless. There are heartless demons around both and in Ms. Garland’s case, they overwhelmed her at the tender age of 47. Midler, who eschews boundaries, has dealt with hers and remains as irreverent and gloriously independent as any superstar around today.

As the first verse of  “The Rose” began, there was a measurable sigh from the audience:

Its the heart afraid of breaking, that never learns to dance
Its the dream afraid of waking, that never takes the chance
Its the one who won't be taking, who cannot seem to give
And the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live.

Many remember ART Station’s raucous production of Sophie Tucker: Last of the Red Hot Mama’s also starring Kathy Halenda. Somewhere Over The Rose is equally entertaining and more nostalgic. There are moments of hilarity, but the songs take us back to special memories indelibly fixed in American culture. To no one’s surprise, Patrick Hutchcison’s rich piano accompaniment is flawless.

Kathy Halenda took a moment during her performance to ask that we reflect an important message in “From a Distance,” a Bette Midler signature song: “God is watching us.” Indeed.

Continuing through February 22. 770-469-1105;