Kentuckians get in on the action at Garden and Gun's South-celebrating festival

Contributing WriterJanuary 12, 2014 

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Garden & Gun magazine described its recent Jubilee Made in the South Weekend as "a lively mix of sporting, shopping, food, music and art." Mount Sterling woodworker George Gatewood said that for Southern artisans such as himself, "This is like the Super Bowl."

Gatewood and other Kentuckians made a strong showing at the inaugural festival sponsored by Garden & Gun and the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Jubilee opened Dec. 6 with a breakfast that featured Col. Newsom's aged Kentucky country ham (from Princeton, in far Western Kentucky). Visitors could shop from a selection of curated offerings that included cigars from Kentucky Gentlemen Cigar Co. (Lawrenceburg) and bottles of Rooibee Red Tea (Louisville), 2010 winner of Garden & Gun's Made in the South Awards.

Didn't see any bourbon, but it was impossible to keep track of each of the more 1,000 items on display from all over the South, many of which, mind you, were not cheap. One of those stogies cost $10, and a pair of jeans from North Carolina's Raleigh Denim would set you back $285, and that's after you paid $85 for a one-day Jubilee visitor pass. But, truth be told, if you want cheap and mass-produced, go to Wal-Mart. If you want hand-made, bring your credit card and go to Jubilee.

Garden & Gun invited about 130 carefully chosen artists, artisans and businesses to Jubilee, which, like the magazine itself, is dedicated to celebrating Southern culture — the fun parts, anyway.

Read through the magazine's profiles and you'll notice they're artful, affectionate and fiercely apolitical. You get the sense that the magazine's editors aren't denying the region's complicated past (or present) so much as they're leaving those stories to others. G&G would rather show off the secular and sensory South, a region with sounds, textures and flavors all its own.

The magazine also plays no editorial favorites among artists and artisans, offering equal-opportunity reverence (and space at Jubilee) for a legendary country guitarist such as Junior Brown of Austin, Texas; textile entrepreneurs such as the Hable sisters of Athens, Ga. (and Brooklyn, N.Y.) or an innovative bartender such as Kentucky native Brooks Reitz.

In the world of drink, Reitz is a rising star. He served as a judge for Garden & Gun's 2013 Best of the South Awards, was on the advisory board for Jubilee and has been featured in the pages of GQ and Esquire magazines, among others. While working in various restaurants in Lexington, Louisville and now Charleston, Reitz developed his own tonic recipe for cocktails, "something less brash and harsh than grocery store-bought tonics," he said, something with "some citrus notes." Customers loved it and started asking to take samples home. Reitz decided to turn his creation into a business, which meant he had to decide what to call it.

Reitz grew up in Henderson listening to tales of his great-grandfather, Jack Rudy. "He was presented as sort of a barometer for what it meant to be a Southern gentleman," Reitz said. Thus was born Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. "It was a way to connect with that past," he said.

Rietz — whose business partner, Taylor Huber, is based in Lexington — spent part of Jubilee amiably mixing and serving samples behind an outdoor bar. (For journalistic purposes, I tried one. I found myself tone deaf to the citrus notes, but if that drink were someone I met at a party, I'd be happy to stop talking to everyone else and begin a long, deep conversation.)

Jubilee made its home at Charles Towne Landing, a state historic site, an appropriate backdrop with its 664 acres of live oaks heavy with Spanish moss. Jubilee had plenty of room to accommodate a flycasting station, a concert, a pig roast, dogs, guns and a 4,000-square-foot tent of antiques, plus artisanal crafts of multiple shapes, sizes and uses. The most visible display might have been the 10- by 12-foot log cabin Gatewood and his team from Longwood Antique Woods of Lexington built to serve as a check-in station for Jubilee participants and visitors.

The bones of the cabin were wide, flat, hand-hewn logs, some more than 200 years old. A few came from a house near Carrollton; some were once part of a barn in Bourbon County. Farmers and traders long ago walked on the cabin's floor when it was part of a Winchester tobacco warehouse. The pine sheeting came from Hamburg Place before bulldozers cleared that farmland to make way for big-box stores.

"This cabin's old Southern architecture — primitive and elegant. That's the beauty of it," Gatewood said.

Garden & Gun editor-in-chief David DiBenedetto agreed, calling Gatewood "a magician" for his woodwork.

Still, even with that praise and the presence of Kentuckians at Jubilee, one inconvenient, age-old question lingered: Is Kentucky really part of the South? After all, it never joined the Confederacy.

"How could it not be?" DiBenedetto said.

For G&G, Southernness has more to do with culture and attitude than history. That's why the magazine has profiled numerous Kentuckians and spotlighted Lexington and Louisville.

"We're always looking for interesting people who are doing interesting things and who have great stories," he said. "Kentucky has that in so many ways."

In addition to the popularity Garden and Gun-friendly sports like hunting and fishing enjoy in the commonwealth, DiBenedetto said, Kentucky offers "horses, good food, juleps. What's not to love? To me, Kentucky is a fabulous Southern place."

DiBenedetto's enthusiasm should be good news for Kentucky artisans and businesses looking to be part of the 2014 Jubilee. They have an ally in Ann Evans, the well-connected executive director of the Kentucky Governor's Mansion in Frankfort. Evans attended Jubilee, loved it, and said, "I was delighted to see some (artisans) who were representing Kentucky so well, and I would love to see more."

In fact, Evans came home and made a few calls. There are now efforts underway to convince the folks in Charleston that Kentucky's cultural products deserve a more prominent place at the second edition of Jubilee.

Nothing's official yet, but Evans would say this much about the plan: It involves bourbon.

Graham Shelby graduated from Bryan Station High School and the University of Kentucky. He lives in Louisville and may be reached through his website, Grahamshelby.com.

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