Author Archives: André Natta

Preserve Jazz Festival announces sabbatical for 2015

2014preservejazzfestivaladThe Preserve Jazz Festival will not be taking place in 2015 according to an email sent out late Wednesday evening, January 21. There had been no date set for the 2015 edition as of yet. It had just relocated in 2014 from the great lawn at The Preserve in Hoover to Sloss Furnaces. It was also the first year without co-founder Eric Essix, who started a new event, Eric Essix’s Jazz Escape, in September 2014.

Jason Henderson, co-founder of the eight-year-old event, included the following statement:

Dear PFJ Fans

After a great deal of thought, I have decided to take a sabbatical this year from producing the festival.

Thank you for your loyal support over the last 8 years and we may consider a return in 2016 with a rebranded/new jazz concept.


Performances at the festival had included ones featuring Essix, Johnathan Butler, Chad Fisher Group, the Larry Mitchell Trio, and Gerald Albright.

Historic church prepares to rededicate sanctuary on December 7

FirstChurchexteriorUnless one looked closely at the red doors along 19th Street at Sixth Avenue North in recent months and noticed signs posted, there was no way to know there was a transformation taking place inside. This Sunday, members of Birmingham’s oldest United Methodist congregation will rededicate their 1892 sanctuary as the first phase of an estimated $1 million renovation effort.

First United Methodist Church will hold their service of re-dedication and restoration on Sunday, December 7 beginning at 11 a.m. to celebrate the occasion. It is the first major renovation project for its downtown campus since 1972. The work was completed by locally-based construction management firm Hoar Construction — the company’s second major project involving a place of worship in the city’s central business district in the last year — they have also been responsible for the $6.5 million restoration at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The Richardsonian Romanesque Revival structure has seen walls and ceilings scraped and repaired along with new flooring and carpet runners throughout since work began this past summer. The color scheme used for repainting is more in keeping with the late Victorian period during which it was first constructed. (It was originally completed in 1892.) Additional work included the removal of drop ceilings throughout to expose the original tin; the refinishing of the sanctuary’s pews. An update posted to the church’s website (PDF, 6.8 MB) gives a glimpse of the detail work completed.

Additional work planned for the campus in the coming months includes an updating of their contemporary worship space as well as its HVAC, lighting, and plumbing systems.

Magic City Art Connection extends 2015 artist application deadline to November 15

3734546376_671a051b84_zArtists thinking they’d missed the deadline to apply to participate in the 2015 Magic City Art Connection can stop worrying. Organizers for the annual event announced on Monday, November 10, that the regular application deadline had been extended from October 31 to this Friday — November 15.

Those interested in participating in the 32nd annual event, currently scheduled for April 24-26, 2015 in downtown Birmingham’s Linn Park, will want to take advantage of the extension if they can. Currently, the application fee is $25; there is an additional booth fee (ranging from $185 + 15% commission to $600 for a double + an additional $125 added for premium placement near the fountain located in the center of the park).

According to the event website, late applications may be submitted for any remaining space or the (eventual) wait list.  The application fee rises to $30 for those spaces if they are open, with the booth fees increasing on February 1 and March 1. By the way, the photo we’re using is from the 2009 installation for the festival, “Artist’s Fire” by Christopher Fennell.

Art museum holds Community Chat Thursday evening to discuss its future

birminghammuseumonasThursday evening the Birmingham Museum of Art will bring a public feedback event to Ona’s Music Room in Lakeview’s Pepper Place as part of an effort to plan the institution’s future. The gathering starts at 7 p.m. with it most likely ending before a jazz performance scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. Those in attendance will be rewarded with free beer and an opportunity to participate in the public input portion of an information gathering process with potentially significant effects on what’s becoming a culturally focused section of the city.

The gathering is being done in conjunction with a feasibility study undertaken by the museum and wHY Architecture, a firm with offices in Los Angeles, CA and Louisville, KY.  They were awarded the project after an RFP process slightly delayed by the unexpected effects of last winter’s late January snowfall. wHY has already started conducting focus groups, online surveys, and additional community feedback events to learn more about what the community may want to see from the museum going forward in terms of both programming and physical space.  The museum has found ways to raise awareness about current community outreach via a section on their website highlighting those efforts.

According to an email from the museum’s director of marketing and communications, Cate McCusker Boehm, “the feasibility study will produce options for potential renovations and expansion of the Museum on its current footprint.”

2014 National Philanthropy Day Awards recipients, luncheon announced

euniceelliottNPD2014announcementThe names of the local recipients of the 2014 National Philanthropy Awards were announced at Vulcan Park on September 12 by the Alabama chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Eunice Elliott of Alabama’s 13, herself a former executive for a nonprofit organization, emceed the event and will serve the same role on National Philanthropy Day (November 13) during a luncheon at The Harbert Center recognizing the honorees. They were nominated by those active in the city’s philanthropic community.

The following is a list of the recipients Darlene Negrotto, president and CEO for Vulcan Park, described as “helping achieve the potential of the city.”

  • Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy: Myrah Taylor
  • Outstanding Charitable Organization: The Woodlawn Foundation
  • The William S. Roth Outstanding Fundraising Executive: Tom Cosby
  • The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham Outstanding Professional Advisor: Nancy Huges and Leah Scalise
  • Outstanding Corporate Citizen: The Buffalo Rock Company
  • The United Way of Central Alabama Outstanding Civic Leader Award: Nancy Goedecke
  • The Virginia B. and William M. Spencer Outstanding Philanthropist: The Brock Family

Tickets are already on sale for the November 13 luncheon through the organization’s website. Through October 16, individual tickets will cost $45, with tables of eight available for $405 and Volunteer in Philanthropy tables of eight at $505. These prices will rise to $55, $495, and $555 respectively after that date and remain available through November 5 (with sponsorship opportunities also possible).

TEDxBirmingham brings “Ideas Worth Reading” to Church Street Coffee and Books

September2014 TEDxBirmingham displayVisitors to Church Street Coffee and Books in Mountain Brook’s Crestline Village may notice a new display next to the counter. Organizers of TEDxBirmingham formally announced a partnership with the popular bookstore early Monday morning.  “Ideas Worth Reading” will be a monthly reading list curated by TEDxBirmingham speakers, with those recommended titles being featured in-store.

The current selection is courtesy of  Graham Boettcher, the chief curator at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Chris Hastings, owner and executive chef of the Hot and Hot Fish ClubJan Mattingly, founder and chief education officer at Dynamic Education Adventures; and Laura Kate Whitney, co-founder of Dogtrot Studio.

The three-year old coffee house/bookstore’s co-owner, Cal Morris, shared with us last week that they’d also agreed to set up shop at TEDxBirmingham’s February 28 event, titled “Move Mountains,” to be held once again at the Alys Stephens Center per a report on from late June. Tickets for their September 15 salon, “Ripples,” will be made available starting today (September 2) at 12 p.m are now sold out, though there is a waitlist available via the same link.


A day of music in Birmingham this Saturday includes a stop at The Junction

The longest-running music festival in Birmingham, AL kicks off tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. with a parade. No, it’s not the one you think it is.

While the Schaeffer Eye Center CityFest (the festival formerly known as the Schaeffer Eye Center Crawfish Boil) also takes place tomorrow with a heavy-hitting line-up — one that includes The Roots (a.k.a. Jimmy Fallon’s house band on The Tonight Show) and American Idol winners Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks — we’re talking about The Function in Tuxedo Junction.

This year’s edition of Function in Tuxedo Junction, its 29th, will take place on the 100thanniversary of the birth of the famous song’s composer, Erskine Hawkins. It was founded in 1985, with Hawkins performing every year until his death in 1993. This year’s lineup featuresThe Manhattans (best known for their 1980 hit, “Shining Star”).

We realize every year we see a tremendous spike in traffic as folks try to find the schedule — which is why you’ll find it below. Please note the start times listed are approximate only and may change. You may also download this PDF of the schedule.

10 a.m. Grand Parade
11:40 a.m. The Christian Heart Gospel Group
12:20 p.m. The Golden Humming Birds of Birmingham
1 p.m. Sherry Reeves & Group
1:45 p.m. Halo & The Rubber Band
2:30 p.m. TBA
3:15 p.m. Birmingham Heritage Band
4:05 p.m. Recognition of Neighborhood officers, dignitaries & scholarships
5 p.m. “Billy Ocean” Witherspoon
5:35 p.m. Clutch
6:20 p.m. Force Five Band
7:10 p.m. Season to Please
8 p.m. The Manhattans

Powering up TechBirmingham

skjellumWhen I sat down back in late January with TechBirmingham‘s Jennifer Skjellum, an ever-increasing level of optimism filled the room. Preparations were well underway for TEDxBirmingham; BarCamp Birmingham and Ignite Birmingham were both aiming for mid-March events (both have since been pushed back to at least early summer); and the city was still basking in the glow of being recognized as a major contender for the title of “Silicon Valley of the South.”

The organization had just spent the last year developing a strategic plan to determine what they wanted to do next and one of the components of that new approach, a new website (at, had just been launched. “The website serves as a primary way to demonstrate the existence of a community to both locals and those looking in from the outside,” said Skjellum, who also runs her own company, Runtime Computing Solutions, in addition to serving as president of TechBirmingham.

She pointed out the need for “a hub of activity and evidence of a community” for the region’s tech sector, enabling them to find out information about existing user groups, networking opportunities, and potential job opportunities for both those looking to move here and those who have been here for some time. It should help are tech companies to feel more plugged in to area happenings and encourage connections within the region.

“If you’ve moved here recently and there’s just not one place to go. But there’s not a place where like minded technologists, entrepreneurs, and tech companies can come together and figure out what’s going on.”

It isn’t the only thing long time observers of the organization will notice is changing.

“Probably the biggest chance is going to be related to the level of organization,” said Skjellum. She continued, “We’ve been supporters of events and sponsors of events. Now, we want to create a sense of community of and for people who have a sense of membership in.” TechBirmingham was established as a 501©6, making its desire to function similar to tech councils and membership organizations elsewhere in the Southeast (and the country) possible.


It also provides a revenue stream. “We need a budget to start doing the things that TechBirmingham was started to do as well as some new things that have come out of the last 10 years of evolution of Birmingham,” said Skjellum. She cited estimates that the Birmingham metro area is believed to have more than 700 technology companies. The breadth of that ecosystem was something Skjellum learned during the period of strategic planning.

“I thought I was pretty well connected, but there were a lot of companies I have learned about that I had no idea existed here,” said Skjellum. She continued, “I would say there’s not any technology that someone’s not working on in Birmingham. They may not be large scale, but it’s here. It’s really important for us that those don’t slip away. We need to identify them, recognize them, and figure out how to help those companies scale, including providing resources when necessary.”

She and her 26-member board of directors are working to get at least 400 of those companies to join in addition to individual members and the organizations and businesses that support them, including law firms and accounting firms. There will also be sponsorship opportunities available for activities they will sponsor, though Skjellum is quick to point out how they will be different from existing user support and interest groups already active in the region. She says they will focus on “being an advocate for technology companies and doing what it takes to push it to the next level, enabling education and technology training that didn’t exist before.”

Some existing programs, like the monthly breakfast mixer TechFriday, have been tweaked to meet the evolving needs and demands of the community (recently being renamed Tech Tuesday) while others are introduced. One such program, Birmingham Women in Technology, has brought together 80 women working in our local tech community, focusing on mentoring in both early and late-career in addition to working on getting high school girls interested in tech. They have also started working with Birmingham City Schools to start reaching out earlier to make more people aware of the existing opportunities.

When I asked Skjellum what she wanted to see the organization become in the next 3-5 years, she didn’t hesitate giving a reply. “My dream is that TechBirmingham has a healthy budget can support a staff – a vibrant, well-funded organization. The challenge is going to be getting people who don’t have any idea of what we could be.”

It’s a challenge worth tackling, especially considering more than 10,000 people have participated in TechBirmingham activities already through the years. A noticeable reorganization of TechBirmingham as a tech council could significantly increase the opportunities for the Birmingham region to be considered for ecosystem-defining projects like Google Fiber. We would then be able to not just fight for the title of Silicon Valley of the South, but own it outright.

Photo: courtesy of TechBirmingham.

Is the sixth time the charm for Highlands?

Frank StittThe finalists for this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards were announced this morning in Chicago, IL and posted to the organization’s website. Among the nominees for outstanding restaurant is Birmingham’s Highlands Bar and Grill. It is the sixth year in a row it has been a finalist for the prestigious award.

Business Insider posted about the announcement yesterday on their own website (it was syndicated on several others) and were apparently not aware of the restaurant’s current streak, writing it was a “somewhat surprisingly” inclusion. It is co-owned by 2001 winner of the James Beard award for Best Chef – Southeast, and 2011 Who’s Who of Food & Beverage inductee Frank Stitt. The restaurateur, based on this piece shared today, is treating the nomination as old-hat.

The winners will be announced during a ceremony in early May in New York City.

Birminghamlet? Yes. Other cities doing it? Check.

birminghamletcoverIt was only a matter of time. When Carrie Brownstein of Portlandia partially name-checked Birmingham during an interview with Salon in late 2012, it got a little buzz. The full acknowledgement of being Portland-like in an interview with Splitsider in early 2013 caused a wild sensation locally online.

Now, local Ian Cunningham has shown us what the opening to a similar show based in Birmingham would look like. Behold, Birminghamlet:

For reference, here’s the Portlandia opening:


Now, it’s not the only alternate version of the opening getting attention in recent weeks. Besides the one created for Asheville, NC included in yesterday’s post, there’s this one from Homewood, IL (just outside of Chicago):


This could take off like Tebowing – or Spanning. It’s got to be only expanding the reach of the creator of the show’s intro theme, Washed Out.