Celebrating Sucarnochee

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2008

LIVINGSTON &8212; Sucarnochee. Pronounced soo-car-nah-chee.

For the untrained vocabulary, the word means nothing; perhaps just an old Choctaw word.

The old meaning was &8220;where the possums bathe,&8221; but after the turn of the 19th century the word came to mean &8216;where the hogs bathe&8217;.

Nowadays, for people in the Black Belt area surrounding the Sucarnoochee River, be it Livingston on the north side of the river, as natives know it, or York on the south, the word typically conjures images of a stage show on Friday nights, but this time of the year, it brings to mind a week long festival characterized by folk art, folklore, and folk music of the Black Belt.

The Sucarnochee Folklife Festival has been going on this week on the campus of the University of West Alabama, complete with tellers of tales, cooks and musicians.

Selma resident and retired journalist Kathryn Tucker Windham kicked off the week-long festivities on Monday when she visited the University to share some of her stories and superstitions collected throughout the years.

On Wednesday, author Tony Grooms spoke in the Bell Conference Center on his novel Bombingham. The novel is framed by the Vietnam conflict and set in suburban Birmingham during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It grapples with issues of race, justice and morality. Following his lecture, Grooms, a professor of creative writing at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, held a book signing for those in attendance.

Wednesday closed out with a reading from UWA&8217;s literary magazine, the Sucarnochee Review, held in the Callaway Schoolhouse. The Review, which is a compilation of original writing, art, and poetry by Black Belt residents, is published annually and is compiled, edited and printed on UWA&8217;s campus. Shelia Limerick is in charge of the Review each year.

The Sucarnochee BBQ and Blues Cook-off, which is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, took place Friday. Governor Bob Riley signed a proclamation making the cook-off a state BBQ cook-off.

Live stage performances entertained guests who ventured to each of the 25 teams&8217; booths, sampling different barbeque styles.

Southern rock singer/songwriter Austin Cunningham who has opened for artists such as Martina McBride and Hank Williams, Jr. highlighted the evening&8217;s entertainment. Dr. Debbie Davis, Assistant Professor of Languages and Literature and a UWA favorite, also performed some of her favorite blues pieces.

The winners of the cook-off will be announced today.

As the cook-off was in full swing on the north side of the campus, the Sucarnochee Revue Radio Show was recording live in Bibb Graves Auditorium on the south side of the campus. Host &8216;Jacky&8217; Jack White was joined by Wood Newton, Britt Gully, the New Wave Rockers and others like the show regulars, Mississippi Chris Sharp and his Jangalang String Band and J. Burton Fuller.

The show, now in its fourth year, can be heard on 32 stations across the nation, including National Public Radio 91.5FM out of Tuscaloosa.

Today&8217;s events start at 7:30 a.m. with registration for the Sucarnochee 5K River Run, which begins at 8 a.m.

At 9 a.m., the father and daughter duo of Danny and Danielle Buckalew will take the stage, which will be bustling with activity all day long. Each act will last about 30 minutes and will include performers such as Dr. Joe Taylor, Professor of Languages and Literature, Janiece Poole and the Sumter Academy Players, the West Alabama Gospel Singers, Red Mountain, an old time string band, and others.

At 10 a.m., booths open with artisans showing different crafts native to the Black Belt and the Cornbread cook-off judging will begin. Some of the demonstrations will include basket making, woodworking, quilting, pottery, and metalworking to name a few. The booths will be open until 4:30 p.m. and crafts will be available for purchase at most booths.

Look for the Demopolis High School Drama Club to take the stage at noon under the direction of Livingston native and DHS drama teacher Jody Tartt White. They will perform a folktale from the Ruby Pickens Tartt collection &8220;Meetin&8217; of the Animals,&8221; adapted for the stage. The tale can be found in text in Dr. Alan Brown&8217;s book &8220;Dim Road, Dark Nights,&8221; which is a collection of Tartt&8217;s folktales.

The week-long festival rounds out at 4:30 p.m. with a walking ghost tour of downtown Livingston led by UWA professor of languages and literature and author of six books of ghost lore, Dr. Alan Brown.