Sunday, August 23, 2009

Village Point Preserve & Daphne Bayfront Park

My sons and I came upon the Daphne Bayfront Park almost by accident. We stopped to get gas at a convenience store and when one of the guys looked down the side street and noticed he could see Mobile Bay and suggested we drive down to it. The park itself is made up of a fishing pier, gazebo and the Richard Scardamalia Pavilion which the city of Daphne rents out. There are no grills in the park and the only restroom was a port-a-john. Adjacent to the park is the Village Point Preserve and it's nature trails.

Village Point Preserve was created along Mobile Bay by the city of Daphne. The park is approximately 2 miles of nature trails and boardwalks. It was once part of the D'Olive plantation created by Louis D'Olive in 1803 and in fact, the plantation's cemetery still exists along these trails. The cemetery site is the only location along the walking trails with picnic tables and port-a-johns. There is a kiosk with an audio recording to educate visitors about the D'Olive plantation history. Louis D'Olive and his wife are buried in the cemetery along with other family members. Many, but not all of the graves have been identified and there is an effort being made to preserve the graves. By the way, according to the kiosk recording D'Olive is pronounced doe-leave.

Not far from the cemetery site is the Jackson Oak; an enormous oak draped with Spanish moss. This tree is so huge I couldn't begin to capture the size of it on my camera so check out the link above. Legend has it that General Andrew Jackson rallied his 3000 troops from the branches of this ancient oak in 1814 while they were making their way to Pensacola to fight with the Spanish as part of the Battle of New Orleans. There is another kiosk at this location but the recording was not working they day we visited so I'm not sure what the city's official story is. Whatever it's history; the tree is majestic. The park has built a boardwalk around it to protect it generations to come.

The nature trails themselves allow for an easy hike. For the most part they're flat and there is shade at various points. There is no drinking water so be sure to bring your own, especially during the summer months. The trails are well maintained and some of them have signage posted to identify the plants for you. Benches have been provided all along the way. There is a second fishing pier at the end of one of the trails that also has a little beach. I was a little wary of using the beach area because there are signs everywhere warning the public to beware of alligators and snakes.

There is a variety of wildlife to see while hiking. One of the boardwalks crosses over an alligator lagoon where we spotted some very young gators sunning themselves on the beach. Birds are plentiful of course, so we saw blue herons, egrets, pelicans, and many, many others. My son's favorite siting was a blue tailed skink, a reptile we had never seen before. These tiny lizards are abundant in the park and the colors are beautiful.

We ended the day sitting in the air conditioning of Marble Slab Creamery on Hwy 90. Their ice cream is a little pricey but its great as an occasional treat. The park is located just off of Hwy. 98 at 6200 Bay Front Drive. It closes each day at sunset. So next time you feel like you need to go burn off a little energy and the weather outside is beckoning you, go walk the nature trails at Village Point Preserve.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Museum of Mobile

Do you know who Ben May, Augusta Evans Wilson, John Leflore and Jeremiah Denton are? If you don't then you need to head down to the Museum of Mobile next door to the Exploreum on Royal Street. This museum is a must see for anyone who lives in Mobile and Baldwin counties. It's a first rate, beautiful museum that is on a par with the museums I've toured in much bigger cities. It's also your best source for learning the history of the Mobile area.

The museum is located in what was once the Southern Market/Old City Hall which was built in 1857 and is now a National Historic Landmark. The lobby is gorgeous and has some wonderful murals painted on the walls. The museum covers two floors of exhibits, but also has some courtyards, classrooms, and an auditorium that can be rented for use after hours. We had just missed the Pirates exhibit and we were too early for the next featured exhibit which is to be called Pillars of the Community: Mobile's Greek Revival Movement. I understand from the website that the exhibit after that will be on George Washington Carver.

The main exhibit covers 300 years of Mobile history which includes settlement by the Mauvilla Indians, slavery and the Civil War, both World Wars, the Depression, the struggle for Civil Rights, and ship building. There is even an area that addresses some of the problems that Mobile is facing today. The nature of the exhibits vary. Many are just display cases with placards explaining the objects. While I found them fascinating, many very young children would probably lose interest quickly. I don't recommend this outing for children under 7. There are, however, several interactive displays sprinkled in throughout both floors. We even got to watch a great old news reel made about Mobile during World War II by the War Department of Information. Did you know that during WWII 150,000 people were brought into Mobile to help with the war effort? When you visit the museum, do not miss out on this film!

There are also some beautiful side exhibits featuring such subjects as the history of wrought iron work in Mobile. It is tragic that so much of Mobile's beautiful cast iron work was lost when old buildings were razed in the name of progress or the iron work was melted down to support the war effort. Besides the cast iron there are also some lovely displays of silver work and antique home furnishing as well as paintings scattered throughout the two floors.

The Rutherford Carriage Collection houses seven carriages that date from the 1850's to the 1900's and have all been beautifully restored. If you've ever read an historic novel and wondered what an omnibus or a brougham carriage looked like, here's your chance to find out. The carriages were collected and restored by Dr. Charles Rutherford in the 1950's and 1960's and later donated to the museum.

There was a fun display of very detailed model homes in another area. My sons referred to them as dollhouses but I can't imagine anyone allowing a child to go near them with dolls or anything else. The intricacy of the work on the outside of the homes was something to marvel at. There are plants on balconies, mailboxes, birdbaths, patio furniture. But it's the inside of these miniature homes that will really leave you dumbfounded. No detail has been overlooked and that includes things like dishes in tiny dishwashers, fully stocked bars, towels hanging neatly on towel racks and photos on the walls. We read that many of they tiny photos in the homes were actual pictures of the creators family members. The exteriors of the homes covered many styles of architecture such as Spanish style, Victorian and Antebellum, while the interiors covered different eras in history.

The museum is open Monday - Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm. Admission is $5 for Adults, $4 for Seniors, $3 for students and free for children under 6. However, you can do what we did and attend on the first Sunday of each month when admission is free. This seems to be a very popular day for families who are trying to stretch their entertainment budgets. Photography is a bit of a challenge because flash photography is not allowed and the lighting for most of the exhibits is low. Camera flashes damage artifacts so set your camera on museum setting if you have one.

Also be sure to finish out your visit in the gift shop which has some truly wonderful items and offers something in every price range. Proceed go towards the operation of the museum. Keeping a place like this costs money, so consider purchasing a membership or making a donation to the museum. If that's not in your budget, there's information on the website about how you can volunteer for these good folks. Mobile needs to preserve its history and this is a great opportunity for you to help.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Fesitival

Did you know Mobile has a Jazz Festival every year? I didn't and no one I work with did either. But we do and it's in its 11th year. The Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Festival is a series of events that occur over four days every summer. It kicked off Thursday night with a celebration of the spoken word. An Evening of Poetry was hosted by Theola Bright at the Museum of Mobile. It included readings by local writers and a Poetry Slam. Admission was free.

Friday morning was the Jazz Music Workshop which was opened to musicians of all ages and levels of training. Quoting the festival's brochure:

"The workshop will introduce music lovers of any age to rudimentary jazz in a casual atmosphere and by using a variety of formats. Participants need not have any musical background nor does a participant need to be proficient on any musical instrument.. Participants do not need to be able to read music in order to participate in the workshop. Participation is the word. The workshop is not a spectator event."
I wish this information had been on the web site. Although I don't currently play any instruments, I do have a music background so I would have liked to attend. I of course assumed it was for more serious musicians. Next year I will be there. Clinics were taught by Art Sherrod, Jr., Shane Philen and Clifton Thomas, Jr. Again the cost of this event was free. If you're a musician that missed out on Friday morning you're probably kicking yourself. A free clinic taught by musicians with this level of experience just doesn't come along very often.

Last night was the main event - Jazz in Bienville Square. You've probably guessed by now that admission was free. The event was moved from the Square to Club 351 because of the rain and even though it took place in a club folks brought their kids. There was alcohol at the event but it was still very family friendly. I was looking forward to an evening of jazz under the stars but I have to admit there were a lot of advantages to moving indoors. Things like chairs, air conditioning, real bathrooms as well as the noticeable lack of mosquitoes. My only complaint would be that it was noisy. This year's theme was An Evening of Sax and was hosted by Kevin Lee, President of the Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed also known as MOJO. If you weren't at Club 351 I am very, very sad for you because you missed an awesome music event.

The evening began at 4:30 with the Sharon Woodruff Ensemble. I am sorry to say we missed this act because we weren't aware that the concert had moved it's location. Consequently we arrived late. The festival's website description of Ms. Woodruff says that,

"Sharon has established herself as an outstanding vocalist, psalmist, musician, actress, recording artist and composer-arranger by performing at numerous events and concerts. Even at an early age, Sharon's phenomenal, mesmerizing, unique, soulful vocal skills have been compared to an angelic mixture of some of the greatest female artist of the world, such as, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday, Mahalia Jackson, and the Divine Sarah Vaughn."

Next up was Rebecca Barry, a.k.a. D'eva D'luxe. Rebecca grew up in Fairhope and studied sax in New Orleans with Ellis Marsalis and sax guru Ed Petersen. Her sound is described as having a "jazzy, funky, rocking, r&b flavor" and I believe that description is spot on. Ms. Barry plays in venues all over the Gulf Coast so I look forward to hearing her again either in Mobile or New Orleans.

Rebecca Barry and her band "Bust" were followed by Shane Philen and his quartet. Mr. Philen is a professional saxophonist who works as a performer, instructor, band leader and arranger. According to his website he has recorded numerous projects for Integrity Media, Inc. and has performed and/or recorded with Louis Bellson, Big Daddy Weave, The Coasters, Travis Cottrell, Darrell Evans, Ken Folberg Big Band, 4Him, Group 1 Crew, King Pelican, Mandisa, the Moscow Sax Quintet, Aaja Nachle, New Song, Sharmane Adams, Bob Shultz Big Band, The Temptations, TRUTH, Veggie Tales, Ayiesha Woods and various local artists and ensembles.

The headliner of the evening was Art Sherrod Jr. Art is an incredible saxophonist. His music is the kind of sultry, sexy sound that makes us women swoon. He is a native of Texas and now lives in the Baltimore area. He has co-headlined shows with Natalie Cole, Angie Stone, Will Downing, Marion Meadows, Norman Connors, Najee and Roy Ayres. He's even played at the White House. His first CD "All 4 Love" was a huge success and his new CD "Seasons" is currently available for purchase or download at his web site.

The festival ends tonight at 6:30 with a Jazz Jam Session at the Gulf City Lodge at 601 State Street. Admission is $7.00 to the general public or free to any musicians who want to participate. This is your last chance to get in on this event until next year so plan to be there.

By the way, the "Fest" has a different poster every year and they're all fabulous. The artist behind this year's poster is Brian Brown a tattooist and artist. I believe they were selling copies at the performance last night but I forgot to check on the price. I've checked the website to see if there was a way to order one on-line but didn't see anything. You can probably contact the hosts through the site if your interested in making a purchase.

So, now that you know that Mobile has a Jazz Festival put the link for it in your favorites and mark your calender so that you don't miss a single moment next year.