Jubilee Festival Celebrates the Best of the South

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Southern culture is alive and well and apparently having a great time in Charleston, South Carolina.

The inaugural Jubilee Made in the South Weekend celebrated the best of the South’s food, drink, crafts, music and more on the grounds of historic Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, December 6-8, 2013.

“In the South, there’s an appreciation for things that are made right,” said David DiBenedetto, editor-in-chief of Garden & Gun, the Southern lifestyle magazine that helped  sponsor Jubilee. “It’s an appreciation of the high and the low,” DiBenedetto said. “(Barbecue master) Rodney Scott is as much of an artist as the painter John Alexander.” Both of them have had their work celebrated by Garden & Gun, and Scott’s barbecue served as the culinary centerpiece of Jubilee’s culminating event, a traditional Southern pig roast.

In fact, visiting Jubilee felt like a walk through the pages of an issue of Garden & Gun, its glossy pictures, characters and crafts coming to life in the shade of live oaks covered in Spanish moss. Among the festival’s features: a flycasting station, a concert from country guitar legend Junior Brown, and a Southern Food Pantry offering samples of duck, wild boar,  cheeses and cocktails.

On Jubilee’s first morning, Charleston restaurant The Glass Onion served an egg-and-sausage breakfast casserole so devastatingly satisfying it led me to declare, out loud, to no one in particular, “Calories, shmalories!”  There were handmade hunting knives, carved duck decoys, plus guns, dogs, a 4,000 square-foot antiques tent and artisanal crafts of multiple shapes, sizes and uses.

In all, more than 130 vendors offered more than 1,000 products, most of them handcrafted, like Billy Ray Sims’ traditional baskets.  Sims said he is, “one of the few white guys who learned at the feet of a Gullah basketmaker,” a reference to the African-American community of the South Carolina and Georgia lowcountry known for its basketweaving artisans.

Based in Alabama, Sims said his work combines Gullah with Appalachian and other styles. The Smithsonian has samples of Sims’ baskets, which he creates in a painstaking process that begins with a long walk in the woods to find just the right white oak tree. Sims, 60, said there’s something fascinating about the resurgent interest in Southern handicrafts. “I see things just like what I grew up with on the farm, and now they’re cool. It’s like everything old is new again.”

Kate Hable and her sister Susan run the Hable Construction textile company. “We feel honored to be included as part of Jubilee,” Kate said. “Everyone is so supportive.” The sisters base their business in both Brooklyn, New York and Athens, Georgia. Kate said that when they’re not selling their own handbags, totes, pillows and artwork, they plan to shop. “I want to buy things here that you couldn’t find in New York.”

Nationally known garden designer John Carloftis has ties to both Manhattan and his home state of Kentucky. Profiled in Garden & Gun for his work restoring a historic home in the Bluegrass State, Carloftis served on the Jubilee advisory board that helped select the participants. “We tried to get representation that was well-rounded, including some companies people wouldn’t have heard of. ” Carloftis said, “We’re proud of where we’re from and want to support local people. That’s what we’re all about.”

DiBenedetto described the turnout, response from visitors and overall experience of Jubilee as a success, “beyond any of my expectations.” G &G and its sponsoring partner, the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, are already making plans for 2014. If the inaugural Jubilee is any indication of what visitors might expect this December, words to the wise would include:

  • Reserve tickets early, some portions of the festival (like 2013′s Dinner and a Show) could sell out.
  • Factor the festival into your Christmas shopping plans, though be advised these goods aren’t cheap. Admission alone to Jubilee 2013 cost $85 for a one-day pass.
  • Take your time. There’s too much to see to hurry, plus conversations among friends and strangers happen easily when you’re surrounded by good food, drink and craft.
  • Wear shoes (or boots) made for walking. While Jubilee  occupies only a fraction of Charles Towne Landing’s 664 acres, the different exhibits are sufficiently spread out (and the park sufficiently beautiful) that it’s worth skipping the tram service and walking.
  • Come hungry.