It was 10 years ago when we sat on folding chairs in a small room with florescent lights listening to the singer/songwriter Steve Young play. There were about 20 of us that evening who were lucky enough to witness the man who wrote Seven Bridges Road and It’s a Long, Long Way to Hollywood perform live in downtown Lakeland, Florida for a local arts project.
I thought of that experience on Saturday night as we filed into the historic Polk Theatre, just a few blocks away from that small room, to watch our favorite local band debut their first album. Hundreds, if not thousands, of friends, neighbors, and music lovers turned out in support of the Brian Sutherland Band.
We knew the Lakeland area was getting hip. The signs have been there for a while there: wine bars popping up with live music, a specialty bourbon bar and a small indie barbeque restaurant that serves corn dog pops (on a salad if you feel the need to justify).
There’s a genialness that accompanies these enterprises. Whether it’s the 20-something musicians or the fifty-year-old bar owner, these devoted dreamers have fostered an organic community spirit that has rejuvenated Lakeland.
This is not an isolated event. It’s happening all over the South. Oxford, Mississippi and the Southern Foodways Alliance have lead the way with events like SFA’s annual symposium in October; an event that is already sold out for this year and features four days of Taylor Grocery catfish, Virginia wines, dance music and personal reflections with titles like Trash and Class.
In Alabama just last Saturday, the town of Opelika hosted The Revelry Music festival complete with musicians, chefs, and top fashion pop-up stores. This coming weekend, the fashion designer Billy Reid will continue the festivities with Shindig 6: a weekend in Florence, Alabama, featuring new musicians and cuisine from top Southern chefs.
We’ve always preached that you don’t need to live in a major city to eat well, meet interesting people, or witness your favorite band launch their career.
It’s nice to be proven right.